Regions' COPLAC Students to Gather at MCLA for Northeastern Undergraduate Research Conference


NORTH ADAMS, MA - Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) will host the first Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) Northeast Regional Undergraduate Research Conference on Saturday, Oct. 2, in Murdock Hall from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

The conference will bring students, faculty and others from MCLA and five additional COPLAC campuses - Eastern Connecticut State University, Keene State College in New Hampshire, Ramapo College of New Jersey, University of Maine-Farmington, and SUNY Geneseo - for scholarly exchange regarding independent student research.  

The public is invited to attend this conference, which will feature 72 presentations of research in the humanities, the arts, the social sciences and the natural sciences. Students will discuss their work with students and faculty in their discipline from all six COPLAC colleges. 

In addition, a student art exhibit featuring work from each contributing campus will be shown at 18 Holden St. in downtown North Adams. It will open as part of the DownStreet Art "Last Thursday" event on Thursday, Sept. 30. The event is free and open to the public. 

"One of the main goals of the regional conference is to bring together students from public liberal arts colleges, where undergraduate research is a recognized 'high impact' practice," said COPLAC Director Bill Spellman. "Students will interact with their peers from other COPLAC campuses and perhaps think about a semester 'study away' experience through the National Student Exchange (NSE). Sixteen of the 26 COPLAC campuses, including MCLA, are members of NSE."  

According to David Langston, MCLA English professor and conference organizer, public liberal arts colleges have taken up undergraduate research as a way to give distinction to the special kind of educationally intense environment characterized by mentorship and a close faculty-student bond that they claim as their special mission. 

"Undergraduate research is an area of higher education that is becoming more prominent as a learning strategy," Langston said. "It combines intensity and in-depth study with the high motivation of having one's own project to pursue."

Another goal is to provide student researchers with an outlet for their work. 

"COPLAC sponsors an electronic undergraduate research journal called 'Metamorphosis,' and student presenters will be encouraged to submit their work for publication," Spellman said. 

While each institution had its own procedure to decide which students should participate, MCLA choose its presenters from nominations put forward by the faculty. A faculty committee met over the summer to select which of those students would attend. According to Langston, many of the nominees gave distinguished presentations at the MCLA Undergraduate Research Conference in April.

"The students participating in the conference are some of our most intense and focused students at the College," he said. "They all have high ambitions for careers in the professions, and they all are headed to graduate school."

Spellman and Langston anticipate the conference will become an annual event.

According to Langston, "This type of activity motivates students, gets them to feel positively about their education, and channels them toward careers."

He added that undergraduate research flourishes at public liberal arts colleges because these schools promote close connections between students and faculty through which students become apprentice scholars.  

"While deepening a student's disciplinary education, research can also integrate disciplines from across the spectrum by bringing together methods and materials from diverse fields like poetry and physics or psychology and the arts. Research allows students to expand their personal knowledge of a specific topic, and presenting their results fosters respect for mastery of a subject, concern for clear and logical organization and the satisfaction of sharing one's work," Langston said.

In addition to the COPLAC Undergraduate Research Conference and the MCLA Undergraduate Research Conference, MCLA students will be involved in two other conferences this school year - the 25th National Conference on Undergraduate Research at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., and the 17th Annual Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference UMass-Amherst.

The first COPLAC Regional Undergraduate Research Conference took place in November 2009 at University of North Carolina-Asheville. This southeast regional conference included more than 50 students and their faculty mentors from Georgia College, the University of Virginia's College at Wise, the University of Montevallo in Alabama and the University of North Carolina-Asheville. 

The COPLAC Northeastern Regional Conference art exhibit will remain open through Oct. 17 during DownStreet Art hours: Fridays from noon to 6 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

For more information and a schedule of presentations, go to coplacurc.