Award heralds GCSU’s entry into international research consortium

Award heralds GCSU’s entry into international research consortium

Georgia College & State University (GCSU) is growing its reputation as an institution focused on undergraduate research.

“At orientation, I had a student in criminal justice come up and say that GC Journeys was the reason she chose Georgia College,” said Jordan Cofer, associate provost for Transformative Learning Experiences. “And then I had the parents of a biology student come up and tell me they're so excited about undergraduate research. They wanted to know all the opportunities that are available. They wanted to go see the lab. We’re getting that reputation.”

It's not just prospective students who are taking note.

Georgia College has joined the Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) consortium and recently won an award for interdisciplinary collaboration in undergraduate research from this international research organization.

The Vertically Integrated Projects consortium is a group of over 40 universities operating in 13 countries across the globe. The consortium promotes and supports projects that sustain long-term research activities.

GCSU English Professor Dr. Jennifer Flaherty, second from right, accepted the Innovation in Partnership Building Award on behalf of the university at the VIP Conference in Atlanta.
GCSU English Professor Dr. Jennifer Flaherty, second from right, accepted the Innovation in Partnership Building Award on behalf of the university at the VIP Conference in Atlanta.

This summer, Georgia College joined the University of Georgia and Georgia Southern University in winning the Innovation in Partnership Building Award at the VIP Consortium’s 2022 Annual Meeting. Georgia College received the award for cultivating a group of multi-year, interdisciplinary research projects that bring people together to tackle societal challenges, explore innovative technology and develop new understanding and knowledge.

 

Vertically-integrated projects help [student researchers] make that connection to their team—to start as a freshman or sophomore and continue for two or three years.
– Hasitha Mahabaduge
The award recognizes the environment of collaboration Georgia College researchers foster across multiple research projects. By recruiting talented student researchers from different colleges and departments, Georgia College researchers benefit from a variety of perspectives at project conception, a larger skill set when designing and facilitating research and a greater reach when communicating the results.
Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge
Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge

The research teams that helped Georgia College win the award amplify those attributes by following the VIP model of inviting undergraduate students to dedicate themselves to projects over multiple years. Through sustained involvement, student researchers have the opportunity to participate in a project from ideation to dissemination and benefit from closer relationships with their peer researchers and faculty mentors.

“Most of the time we do undergraduate research in senior year—it might be a kind of capstone experience,” said Hasitha Mahabaduge, associate professor of physics and director of Georgia College’s VIP program. “Vertically-integrated projects help them to make that connection to their team—to start as a freshman or sophomore and continue for two or three years.”

Mahabaduge said Georgia College’s liberal arts mission provides an ideal foundation for VIP projects because it encourages students to engage the issues they’re passionate about with the curiosity to explore the topic in ways that are not confined to a single discipline.

It shows the importance of having different minds go into these areas and explore them, so that you can make it accessible to people, regardless of the industry.
– Erin Dickman

He thinks Georgia College’s early success in VIP is due to Georgia College promoting long-term, interdisciplinary projects for years.

The institution formalized its commitment to undergraduate research through the creation of the Mentored Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (MURACE) program. MURACE seeks to foster creativity and critical thinking by encouraging mentor-mentee relationships between undergraduate students and faculty members and providing funding for research opportunities across campus.

 

 

 

One of the research projects that contributed to Georgia College’s entry into the VIP consortium and to winning the Innovation in Partnership Building Award involves the development of solar technology.

In 2019, Mahabaduge worked with a group of undergraduates to apply ongoing research in solar cell technology to the development of a solar-powered charging station with the expressed purpose of generating interest in the technology among students at Georgia College. But what started as an in-house endeavor took on institution-wide involvement when the project was selected as Georgia College’s entry into the inaugural Georgia InVenture Prize competition.

Our students stand out because they've had these really unique experiences … It’s so much more engaged than if it was just theoretical.
– Jordan Cofer

The InVenture competition invited teams of college and university students to develop and pitch innovative products and services to a panel of judges in hopes of taking home the coveted Georgia InVenture Prize Cup. 

Georgia College’s Luma Project team included students from physics, marketing and liberal studies. The team tailored the technology to the application, created an eye-catching design for the charging station and developed a marketing plan for the pitch to InVenture judges.

Liberal studies graduate Erin Dickman, ’19, joined the Luma Project team to help develop the brand identity for the InVenture competition entry. She described her experience of working with the team of interdisciplinary collaborators as liberating.

“It was so exciting to hear different minds that are outside of your normal field contribute, add and enhance an entire piece of work,” she said. “It shows the importance of having different minds go into these areas and explore them, so that you can make it accessible to people, regardless of the industry.”

Dr. Jordan Cofer with the Innovation in Partnership Building Award on GCSU’s Front Campus.
Dr. Jordan Cofer with the Innovation in Partnership Building Award on GCSU’s Front Campus.

The Luma Project didn’t win the InVenture Prize Cup, but the entire team learned the potential of reaching out beyond their comfort zones and organizational silos to put together a team capable of success.

Experiences students gain by participating in these vertically-integrated, multidisciplinary research projects better prepare them for the work environment they’ll encounter after graduation.

“Employment is less about major than it's ever been—a lot of employers are no longer looking at specific majors,” Cofer said. “Our students stand out because they've had these really unique experiences; they’ve been able to disseminate the research; and they’ve got the communication skills so that they can go out and talk about them. It’s so much more engaged than if it was just theoretical.”

It's really an honor to help take Georgia College to the next level.
– Hasitha Mahabaduge
And Georgia College’s focus on developing the skills to communicate success contributed directly to our institution’s entry into the VIP Consortium. Mahabaduge said consortium organizers at Georgia Tech recruited Georgia College to join after he and student Catherine Boyd made a presentation during the closing plenary at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research presentation for winning the 2020 Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments from the Council on Undergraduate Research.

Mahabaduge knew it was not just an invitation to share in the combined knowledge of the different member institutions, but a chance to elevate Georgia College’s ambitions as an institution that excels at undergraduate research.

“It's really an honor to help take Georgia College to the next level,” Mahabaduge said. “Once we set up a VIP Team, they add Georgia College’s name to that list of consortium members around the world, so I think it literally places our name on the map at an international level.”

And to be recognized at the outset of its VIP journey with an award highlighting Georgia College as an institution that’s developing the environment to enable future success and the generation of impactful knowledge is validation of efforts that are bearing fruit.

“It is someone from the outside putting a stamp on us and saying ‘what you're doing is right, what you're doing is appreciated,’” he said.

You can learn more about Georgia College’s Vertically Integrated Projects program on the VIP website.