Georgia College named finalist for national undergraduate research award

Georgia College named finalist for national undergraduate research award

G eorgia College makes undergraduate research opportunities for students a priority. Over the years, undergraduate research has grown from a small, faculty-driven initiative into a campuswide “transformative experience” in which the university purposefully encourages all students to take advantage of during their time here. 

Theatre student's research board.
Theatre student's research board.

Now, Georgia College has garnered national attention for its work in promoting and engaging students in undergraduate research. The university was recently named a finalist for the Council on Undergraduate Research Campus-Wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments (AURA).

“The award is essentially for the top undergraduate research programs in the nation,” said Dr. Jordan Cofer, associate provost for transformative learning experiences.  

“The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) is well-known when it comes to undergraduate research. That’s the major organization everyone looks to, so this sort of national recognition is important,” he said. 

According to the CUR website, this award recognizes higher education institutions that have successfully implemented the characteristics of excellence, have devised exemplary programs to provide high-quality research experiences to undergraduates and have evaluated the success of these programs. 

“Last year, at least 2,325 of our students participated in an undergraduate research experience. That’s about 40 percent of our student body.”

-Dr. Jordan Cofer, associate provost for transformative learning experiences

Georgia College provides those high-quality experiences for students across every major and department ensuring all students have the opportunity to take part in undergraduate research. But it all started from humble beginnings. 

“Our story is really compelling because in 2011 we had a group of faculty get together to create learning communities, and they really investigated what it would be like to centralize undergraduate research,” Cofer said. “Those initial faculty members really helped build our undergraduate research program from the ground up.”

Dr. Dee Sams, faculty coordinator for Mentored Undergraduate Research & Creative Endeavors (MURACE), worked with the group that hoped to more strategically bring undergraduate research opportunities to students at Georgia College. They knew the impact a centralized approach could have for students. 

“I saw so much value in it for students, and, even back then, I had been doing research with undergraduates,” said Sams. “For me, it was kind of a no-brainer.”

“The energy was so positive among the group members, and the vision was so clear.” -Dee Sams

She joined in faculty circle 2011 as they came together to research, plan and, in the end, write a proposal to submit to the Provost’s Office outlining the importance of undergraduate research and ways of expanding the practice on campus. 

“The energy was so positive among the group members, and the vision was so clear,” said Sams. 

In August 2012, MURACE, among other things, was created from that faculty-led project. Sams has been at helm since then. 

She said she couldn’t have imagined back then “that we would be where we are with the campus engagement and being up for this award.” But she and other faculty hoped the initiative would take hold. 

The work from Sams and many others across campus through the last nine years has helped put Georgia College on the forefront of the undergraduate research movement. 

Sams has helped write a handbook for mentoring undergraduate research students, which is used across the world.

Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge with junior Catherine Boyd and recent graduate Bo Cavender at Posters at the Capitol this spring.
Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge with junior Catherine Boyd and recent graduate Bo Cavender at Posters at the Capitol this spring.
The university also launched a national undergraduate research journal in Spring 2020. The first volume is set to be published in Winter 2021.

“We have an internal journal as well,” said Cofer. “We’ve created an event for the State of Georgia, Posters at the Capitol (PaC), where students can present their undergraduate research for legislators.” 

Faculty mentors can apply for mini-grants to help fund research with students. At the National Council for Undergraduate Research Conference two years ago, Georgia College had the third most students presenting—out of all the universities in the country. 

Students even started their own organization that focuses on undergraduate research.

“It fits our mission,” Cofer said. “It’s an important practice to do and getting national recognition for something we do really well, I think that’s really important—especially for the faculty to be recognized for something they’ve done and have been doing.” 

Sams even helps lead a course for faculty to design undergraduate research projects.

“I was ecstatic. I don't know if Jordan or I was happier,” she said about learning Georgia College was named an AURA finalist. “For me it was just like, ‘oh wow, we've worked so hard to bring this to our students.’ And, and to have others recognize it, is great.”

The finalist application is due to CUR by mid-September. The winners of the award will be announced in the coming months. 

For more information on the award, visit https://www.cur.org/what/awards/aura/