MCLA

Reaching Undergraduates beyond our Campus

05/15/2013

MCLA's reach extended to Missouri over the spring semester as anthropology professor Dr. Sumi Colligan mentored a Truman State University student in Kirksville, Mo., through a grant from the Teagle Foundation.

The program allows a student at a Council of Public Liberal Arts College (COPLAC) institution to carry out an undergraduate research project under the guidance of a faculty member at another COPLAC campus via electronic technologies.

"It fosters the growth of strong students on other campuses by opening up opportunities to them that they might not otherwise have," Colligan explained. "One of the benefits to the faculty is the opportunity to work with an undergraduate who's really interested in something that overlaps with their own interests."

In this instance, Colligan mentored Analia Albuja as she researched "The Impact of Structural Factors on Latino Health."

"She was interested in looking at the way that economic, political and social factors impact Latino health," Colligan said. "While I'm not an expert on Latino health, I felt like I had a broad background in medical anthropology so that I could support her project."

Colligan's role was to mentor Albuja as she wrote her 30-page paper. They "met" at least weekly online and through phone conversations so Colligan could monitor her progress and answer any questions she might have.

The topic also fit into Colligan's "Culture, Health, and Illness" class. One day, Albuja joined MCLA students via Skype as she presented her research to them. The MCLA students then asked questions before they presented their own research.

"In addition to furthering a conversation on general themes in medical anthropology that we had already touched upon, I think she served as an excellent role model for the students enrolled in my class because she was enthusiastic about the research she had conducted and had examined literature on many facets of her topic, giving her presentation some depth," Colligan said.  

Although Colligan and Albuja (pictured right) both had some initial reservations before starting the project because of the number of miles between them, the experience was so positive that Colligan signed up to do it again.

"It was very rewarding. We were able to develop a relationship and I was really pleased with what she produced," said Colligan. "She worked really hard and exhibited some really strong research and writing skills."

Albuja agreed.

"I was able to focus exclusively on the research and develop a good relationship with my mentor. The independence was also very challenging, because I had to manage my time much more than with my other classes. The project was largely self-paced. I believe that this benefited me the most, because I was able to develop my time management and organizational skills."

Albuja said she would "definitely recommend" the program to other students. "It was a very good learning experience, and I enjoyed getting to work on a topic that I am interested in."

Thanks to a stipend provided by Teagle, Colligan and Albuja will meet in person next month at a COPLAC conference at Shepard University in West Virginia, where Colligan will discuss faculty experiences of long-distance mentoring.

Next, Colligan will mentor a student who attends SUNY-Geneseo in New York, who will examine religious movements in contemporary Egypt, and the way in which they are influenced by external forces and how they impact gender and class identity.

MCLA students interested in participating in the Teagle program should contact psychology professor Dr. Maria Bartini or Dr. Ann Billetz, biology professor. For more information, go to www.coplac.org/teagle/projects .