Georgia College receives national award for focus on undergraduate research

Georgia College has been named a recipient of the 2020 Campus-wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments (AURA) by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). This annual award recognizes institutions with exemplary programs that provide high-quality research experiences for undergraduates.

Student assistants in Special Collections at the Russell Library examine a botanical illustration.
Student assistants in Special Collections at the Russell Library examine a botanical illustration.

“We have seen the value undergraduate research can bring to a student’s education and have chosen to provide as many opportunities as we can for our students to participate in research,” said Dr. Costas Spirou, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “This national recognition is a reflection of the exceptional work of our dedicated faculty who are strong supporters of students in their research efforts, and that is key to their success.”  

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

Student conducts lab research.
Student conducts lab research.

Now in its sixth year, the AURA award draws on CUR’s Characteristics of Excellence in Undergraduate Research(COEUR), which outlines criteria for exceptional undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity programs. For AURA recognition, campuses must demonstrate depth and breadth in their undergraduate research initiatives and evidence of continual innovation. Institutions of different Carnegie classifications are considered for the award.

“The 2020 AURA recipients reflect a dedication to wide participation of students and disciplines, curriculum-based experiences, opportunities for student-faculty recognition and publication and improvements based on data,” said CUR’s Executive Officer Lindsay Currie. “Amid the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is inspiring to see the steadfast commitment of these higher education institutions to excellence in undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative inquiry on their campuses.”

During the 2019-2020 academic year, at least 2,325 of our students participated in an undergraduate research experience."
– Dr. Jordan Cofer, associate provost for transformative learning experiences

According to CUR, Georgia College showed impressive growth of its undergraduate research program over a 10-year period. The university integrates undergraduate research with other proven high-impact practices, participates in dialogue on undergraduate research at a national level, applies survey data to improve the program, infuses undergraduate research into curricula (including a capstone experience), and emphasizes interdisciplinary collaborations that involve many student populations providing a model for other campuses.

“During the 2019-2020 academic year, at least 2,325 of our students participated in an undergraduate research experience,” said Dr. Jordan Cofer, associate provost for transformative learning experiences. “That’s about 40 percent of our student body.”

Georgia College provides opportunities for students across every major and department ensuring all students can 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.”

Undergraduate research continues to grow and expand at the university with the latest endeavor being the launch of a new national journal in early 2021.

“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.” 

The AURA award will be given out during a virtual ceremony Thursday, April 22. More information is available here