COPLAC grant promotes distance-mentored research

In February, the Teagle Foundation awarded the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges with a $150,000 grant to put toward a two-year pilot program.

The program will focus on distance-mentored undergraduate research, spanning over a period of 27 months. The project will officially start after the COPLAC annual meeting at the University of Virginia in June 2012.

According to the COPLAC website, COPLAC is an organization of 26 college campuses across the United States and one province in Canada, all of them small- to medium-sized public liberal arts colleges.

Eleven of these campuses, Geneseo included, plan to participate in the pilot program. The grant covers a total of 25 mentoring projects between the fall of 2012 and the fall of 2014.

The program offers students the chance to take part in areas of study that might not be available at their schools, and it gives faculty the chance to advertise research opportunities for interested students. Roughly 10 prospective faculty members from each school will be participating in the start-off program. With the implementation of the pilot program, a faculty of 329 becomes 4,500.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Long said COPLAC’s main goal is to create “a broader mentoring that gives students the opportunity to work in areas that aren’t available on their home campus.” For example, Fort Lewis College of Durango, Colo. has a whole program dedicated to Native American Studies, an option Geneseo doesn’t offer.

Long said that this kind of communication would require advanced or extensive means of contact, other than phone or email, to relay coursework and research information. Bill Spellman, executive director of COPLAC, said that he wasn’t prescribing the program a specific technology.

“This is one of the main issues that will be addressed,” he said. “Technology will be driven by the need of the mentor and student.”

COPLAC should establish at least three mentoring projects before January 2013. The three student-faculty groups will attend an American Association of Colleges and Universities conference in Atlanta, Ga. and report to a national audience.

Long said that the Teagle Foundation is interested in COPLAC because “they like to look at assessment and lines of inquiry in general.” According to Long, members of the Teagle Foundation realize the importance of experimenting with different kinds of technology and they want to use these advanced forums to aid in the strains of distance.

“COPLAC’s website, Macademia, will be set up so that the participating professors can list their areas of research,” said Anne Baldwin, director of sponsored research at Geneseo. “This will then allow students to search for areas of research that they are most interested in.”