Morgan Mellum 23’ and Lillie Ortloff 22’ Present at MPCC Scholars Showcase

Posted on March 4th, 2022 by

Quality and breadth of undergraduate research at Gustavus was represented by Morgan Mellum 23’ and Lillie Ortloff 22’ at the recent Minnesota Private College Council  (MPCC) Scholars Showcase. The MPCC Scholars Showcase focuses on a connection to public good and included 17 institutions this year. 


These students have a wide range of ambitious academic interests. Mellum is a Geology, Environmental Studies, and French triple major, and Ortloff is a History major with minors in Public Health and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. 


In addition to their academic achievements, these students are also very involved on campus. Ortloff is the co-president of the Women’s Action Coalition and is on the executive board for Students for Reproductive Freedoms. She also is on a few committees on campus and works in the history department. Mellum is Vice President of the Geology club and works in the Geology department. Both researchers are also on the Gustavus Women’s Swim & Dive team.


Prior to being selected, these researchers had never heard of the conference before. They found out about this opportunity from connections at Gustavus. Ortloff stated, “My advisor in the history department told me about the conference. She sent me some of the information and gave me Hayley Russell’s contact info.”

Preparing their work for presentation was filled with obstacles and challenges to overcome. The students had a swim meet the weekend before their presentations, so they had to begin preparing slides over a week ahead of time. In the end, the work was all worth it because the women’s swim team won second place and their presentations were a huge hit. 


The virtual format of this conference was quite familiar to these researchers. Ortloff has presented over zoom to members of the history department and at a conference at the University of Minnesota which focused on covid-19 and immigration, a perfect fit for her research. Mellum presented her research on the changing paleoclimates of mass extinctions at the virtual Fall and Spring research symposiums at Gustavus. She also had the opportunity to present in-person at a national meeting for the Geological Society of America in Portland, Oregon. Comparing her experiences online and in-person, Mellum said, “I liked the in-person one a lot better because it was a poster presentation, so I was really able to interact with the people who came and people would look at it and ask questions.” 


The MPCC conference was formatted with each presenter in their own zoom room with a 15 minute time slot; 10 minutes for the presentation and 5 minutes for questions. In preparation, the time limit was a challenge for the presenters. Mellum stated, “The most challenging thing was with the time limits given being able to explain both research projects enough that people understood what I was talking about while also not going into too much detail.” Ortloff agreed, stating, “I did this research for an entire year so it’s like, how do you decide what exactly can fit into a 10 minute presentation.” 


The researchers had to curate their presentation for a general audience, meaning no prior knowledge of their subject matter or academic discipline. Mellum worked this into her practice and commented, “I had really only presented this to geologists or stem majors so I ran through it with a roommate who is a non stem major.”  


When asked what they enjoyed most about the conference, Ortloff responded, “Probably getting to watch Morgan’s presentation honestly. I mean because we’re really good friends, too, so it was nice to see her excel at something too.” Mellum reciprocated this statement and added that she also enjoyed the audience’s questions. 



Both students are planning to pursue a graduate degree and value experiences like this to prepare them for future graduate-level research and presentations. After further developing their presentation skills, the students offer advice to follow student researchers.

Ortloff said, “Be open to any experiences you can get presenting your research or doing something with it. It’s a little bit nerve wracking so I have to present it but it’s a really great experience to share something you’ve worked so hard on.”

Mellum said, “Be confident. You’ve spent a ton of time on this research and you know a lot more than you think you do going into a presentation.”


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