WFU classes travel to D.C. for ‘ACCelerate’ festival

Students showcased two exhibits in ‘ACCelerate’: Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival


Christa Dutton

The FYS on misinformation presented posters about conspiracy theories, algorithms and news literacy.

Maddie Stopyra, Staff Writer

This past weekend, April 8-10, two Wake Forest classes traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in “ACCelerate”: Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival. Alongside the Smithsonian Institution, 12 schools in the Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC) participated in the event. 

Wake Forest presented two exhibits entitled “Fake news, Fact-Checking and Facebook: Teaching Misinformation and Disinformation in the Perfect Storm” and “Viral Outbreaks: Preparation and Prevention in a Connected World”. These two exhibits were inspired by two First Year Seminar courses taught at Wake Forest — one about misinformation on the internet and one about pandemics. 

Facilitated by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology and the Smithsonian Institution’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, the festival was held at the National Museum of American History. Free and open to the public, the event showcased 25 exhibits across the participating schools. The official ACCelerate website gives a brief description of the festival. 

“ACCelerate is a celebration of creative exploration and innovative research happening at the intersection of science, engineering, arts and design from across the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Smithsonian Institution.” 

The misinformation exhibit focused on conspiracy theories, algorithms and strategies to combat misinformation online. Its goal was to promote news literacy and caution among internet users while consuming information online. 

Amanda Foster Kaufman, a learning and instructional services librarian at the Z. Smith Reynolds Library, was involved in the exhibits and described her team and class that participated in the festival. 

“I was co-leading the team discussing fake news, fact checking and Facebook with Hu Womack, Meghan Webb and Roz Tedford,” Kaufman said. “All of us had taught first-year seminars in the past several years that covered these topics and several of our former students joined the trip.” 

At the event, museum attendees were eager to engage with the exhibit and share their perspectives. Kaufman expressed her enthusiasm regarding the public engagement with her students’ work. 

“I was pleasantly surprised by how busy our booth was,” Kaufman said. “Lots of people wanted to talk about misinformation, conspiracy theories and social media algorithms. I suppose that makes sense because it’s something most people have personal experience with. We had hundreds of great conversations with people about their own experiences, what we can personally do to be more mindful online and what we can do to advocate for a more responsible internet on a systemic level.”

Students involved in the viral outbreaks exhibit researched recent pandemics such as Ebola and HIV, utilizing the Smithsonian Natural History Museum DIY Viral Outbreak materials. They aimed to educate attendees about viruses that leave a significant impact on communities. 

When asked about their main takeaways from the festivals, students shared how they gained practical presentation skills and were able to get hands-on experience with other schools.

“It really helped me to understand how much attention should go into the presentation of complex topics,” sophomore Kylee Rappaport, who presented at the viral outbreak booth, said. “It has made me want to explore ways in which public health information can be presented in ways that are easier to understand!” 

Alongside gaining new skill sets, students emphasized the connections they made during ACCelerate. Because of the wide array of schools in attendance, groups were able to learn from each other and discover the research being done by their peers. When asked about the benefits of attending ACCelerate, sophomore Emily Mann explained the importance of connecting with other ACC schools in academics as opposed to sports. 

“I think it will be really beneficial for the students participating because it gives students a sense of what other people are learning,” Mann said. “I think it is important that, we as students, are exposed to what other students in the ACC are doing academically rather than just sports. It can teach students how to interact with other schools and the general public.” 

More information regarding the ACCelerate Festival and the exhibits presented can be found at their website.