For the second year in a row, a Northern Arizona University graduate student won a statewide award for a research presentation.

Sofia Sweeney, a masters of arts of teaching Spanish student, won NAU’s 3 Minute Research Presentation (3MRP) contest on March 27, winning over the judges and the crowd with her discussion of using Instagram to teach Spanish to her students. She took first place at the 3 Minute Grad Slam at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, beating nine other grad students from NAU, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.

“I’m happy the judges were excited about my research and that my passion for teaching and learning shone through,” Sweeney said. “I think people are genuinely interested in the ways we can use technology and social media to create more meaningful and fun learning experiences for language learners, and I am now even more inspired to continue sharing my findings with others in the future.”

Alexanndra Heyert, Jenna Fejervary and Alexis Okurily, who rounded out the top four finishers from NAU, also presented, with Okurily, a doctoral student in physical therapy, winning the people’s choice award with her presentation on using exercise as a treatment option for people with Parkinson’s disease. Her pilot study showed that patients with the neurodegenerative disease who participated in a disease-specific exercise program helped them stay active and improved their quality of life as compared to patients in a general exercise program.

“3MRP has helped me become more comfortable explaining complex topics to people of all ages and education levels,” she said, adding feedback from previous presentations helped her to shine this time around. “I modified my presentation to be more engaging to the audience by ending with something they could take with them and share with others.”

Maribeth Watwood, dean of the Graduate College, said the 3RMP competition, in its fourth year at NAU, is more than each student’s 180 seconds on stage. Graduate College and Cline Library staff work with students to explain their research, refine their presentations and hold practice sessions and preliminary heats.

“We are willing to make such an extensive investment in professional development because we are convinced this particular skill set—communicating complex ideas to lay audiences—is critical to professional success,” she said.

This is the second year the three Arizona institutions have held the 3 Minute Grad Slam and the second year for an NAU student to win; in 2016 Uzra Tahir took first place in the statewide contest before winning the regional Western Association for Graduate Schools (WAGS) 3 Minute Research Presentation in early March. Associate dean John Masserini said Sweeney will be invited to present at the next regional WAGS conference, held in Las Vegas next year.

“All throughout our competitions this year we received a flood of comments from the audience members and the judges on the level of polish and professionalism our students demonstrate,” he said. “We want every competitor to gain valuable skills and have a positive experience from this event.”