By Lisa Feng –
On December 13, 2010, in Washington DC, the Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR) announced that the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) was one of three recipients of a National Science Foundation grant. Its purpose is to “build and enhance a culture that supports undergraduate research at the institutional and system/consortium level.”
Since 2007, the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus has been the only Canadian member of COPLAC, a collection of 26 liberal arts and sciences campuses that seeks to “advance the aims of its member institutions and drive awareness of the value of high-quality, public liberal arts education in a student-centered, residential environment.” Other recipients of the CUR grant were the California State University System and the University of Wisconsin State System.
COPLAC will use the grant to host a workshop in summer 2011, in which 24 teams from member colleges and universities will participate. At the workshop, faculty members from COPLAC institutions will talk about different models for undergraduate research in a smaller, liberal arts and sciences environment. COPLAC’s Director, Dr. William Spellman, said that the summer workshop will “strengthen collaborative efforts in the high-impact practice of undergraduate research. This workshop will have a long-term impact on the public liberal arts sector.”
Dr. Neil Haave, Associate Dean (Teaching) and Professor of Biology, is UofA Augustana’s point person for the summer workshop. He says he looks forward to the discussion between COPLAC faculty members on how to promote the idea that “at a liberal arts and science college, students do research before they graduate; this is just something that happens.” He says his impression is that the CUR’s inclusion of COPLAC will serve to “counteract the idea that research only happens at big, research-intensive institutions.”
UofA Augustana is already a leader in the liberal arts and sciences in its promotion of undergraduate research. Students here take part in environmental science research at Miquelon Lake, in community service-learning projects in Camrose, and earn Roger S. Smith Undergraduate Research assistantships to fund summer research projects with professor-supervisors. Since 2007, UofA Augustana has also hosted the hugely successful Student Academic Conference, a biannual symposium in which students conducting independent work for credit can present their research findings.
UofA Augustana’s Dean, Dr. Roger Epp, says that the CUR grant is one example of why the COPLAC membership is an important asset. “This is one of the benefits of being part of a very good, ambitious peer group. It will make us better. It will, in the end, increase opportunities for students. And it’s an opportunity that wouldn’t come along but for our being part of [COPLAC].”
Dr. Haave agrees, and says that, ultimately, the purpose of undergraduate research is not only to assist students in admission to professional or graduate schools, but that beyond this, it “empowers students to be thinkers, researchers, writers, and workers.” To this end, the promotion of undergraduate research allows UofA Augustana to further its own mission of nurturing students to be ” capable of engaging life with intellectual confidence and imaginative insight, equipped for leadership and service, and committed to the betterment of their world.”