Georgia College’s 23rd annual undergraduate research conference moved online

Georgia College’s 23rd annual undergraduate research conference moved online

A s COVID-19 was changing the way we work and live, more than 60 Georgia College students lost the chance to orally present undergraduate research at prestigious peer gatherings nationwide.

Georgia College moved quickly to ensure students did not also lose the opportunity to present their findings at its spring conference, as well.

Just in time for National Undergraduate Research Week—Georgia College is hosting its 23rd Annual Undergraduate Research Conference. Normally held on campus—it was reorganized to stream online starting at noon April 20, and run through 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 24.

Interested viewers can access the conference at this link to see digital posters and video presentations, divided by academic disciplines. Faculty, students, staff and community members can interact with researchers via comment boxes. After Thursday, research abstracts will be archived online for viewing, but comments will end.

Poster for Georgia College's 2020 Undergraduate Research Conference, being held online this year.
Poster for Georgia College's 2020 Undergraduate Research Conference, being held online this year.
“When we reached out to students and told them we weren’t cancelling our research conference, they were pretty excited,” said Dr. Jordan Cofer, associate provost for Transformative Learning Experiences.

The hardest part is the lack of real-time feedback. But I’m happy that, despite all the complications of moving online, we still have a platform to share our students’ great work.
– Dr. Jordan Cofer
“The hardest part is the lack of real-time feedback,” he said. “But I’m happy that, despite all the complications of moving online, we still have a platform to share our students’ great work.”

Multiple conferences in the United States were canceled, including the National Council for Undergraduate Research (NCUR), American Chemical Society (ACS), Southeastern Psychology Association (SEPA), Southeastern Biologists Association (SEBA), Marketing Management Association (MMA) and Southeastern Sociological Association (SESA), as well as the undergraduate research conference for COPLAC (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges).

That’s why senior Colin Calvert was relieved to learn there was still a venue to display his work on ancient sea snakes. Calvert was going to present his findings at the Georgia Academy of Science conference at Valdosta State University in March. But it was canceled. He’s been busy at his home in Roswell making his original poster digital, while also finishing classes online.

Senior environmental science major Colin Calvert, working at home.
Senior environmental science major Colin Calvert, working at home.
“I’m happy that I get to share my work, but I would much prefer to do it in person,” Calvert said.

Safety was first on everyone’s minds, when social distancing became the norm. But never once did Dr. Doreen Sams think of canceling Georgia College’s undergraduate research conference. A marketing professor and coordinator for Mentored Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (MURACE), Sams once presented online research in Spain. Her first reaction to the coronavirus shutdown was: “Okay, we can deal with this.”

Sams and Kelly Massey, conference co-chairs, and Cofer worked with Holly Croft, digital archivist at Ina Dillard Russell Library, to put the undergraduate research conference online.  In the short time they had to regroup, they decided to use KnowledgeBox for an online venue. Plus, they watched webinars on the topic and sat in on community chats for the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). Colleagues worldwide are sharing tips, Sams said.

Dr. Doreen Sams talks about putting the conference online.
It’s not been without its challenges. Even without a pandemic to worry about, spring is MURACE’s busiest time of the year. In addition to usual tasks, they had to contact all student researchers by email about the changes, create an online presence for the conference and update information on their websites. Meanwhile, they’re getting weekly requests via WebEx and Zoom from students, who need help with digital posters and videos.

There are always unforeseeable challenges, but Georgia College has such good people that we’ve been able to keep moving with this conference, despite the hiccups.
– Dr. Jordan Cofer
“There are always unforeseeable challenges,” Cofer said, “but Georgia College has such good people that we’ve been able to keep moving with this conference, despite the hiccups.”

“This is an exciting opportunity to see what works online,” he added. “It might open up some new avenues for us going into the future.”

The review process to be accepted to Georgia College’s conference was waived this year for students who had other conferences canceled. Sams hopes this will result in more students presenting this year. They expect to have about 84 participants.

Because the conference will be four days, instead of one, more visitors are also expected.

It’s been a difficult road. But students will have something worthwhile to show for their last-minute efforts and stress. Research is a high-impact practice that’s needed more than ever in today’s world, Sams said, so it’s worth the hard work.

Overcoming obstacles is what we do. We’ll overcome the current difficulties of COVID-19. During this time, everyone’s learning how to adapt and be creative and flexible in our decision making. How we address life’s challenges shows in who we are as a people.
– Dr. Doreen Sams