The Southeast Regional Undergraduate Research, Scholarly, and Creative Activities Conference was hosted by UVA-Wise April 21-22. Six COPLAC campuses were represented at the conference, five in person and one at a distance.
COPLAC’s undergraduate conferences are interdisciplinary experiences where students can connect with colleagues across disciplines in addition to their own fields. Not only do the presentation sessions span the disciplines, with art history and chemistry majors presenting alongside each other, but many of the research projects presented by students are interdisciplinary themselves.
For instance, Savannah Whitefield, Psychology major from University of Montevallo, presented research on “Demographic Predictors of Inmate Early Release.” Whitefield wrote 180 lines of computer code in order to sift through hundreds of records from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data. According to Whitefield, most psychology majors are not required to learn code and would use a standard analytics program called Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) for this type of work.
“I had a really big interest in coding, and I actually liked learning it a lot more than SPSS because it was a lot more hands-on experience,” said Whitefield.
According to Whitefield, she was able to tailor the program to better fit her needs using code. With little to no background in coding, Whitefield felt that using this program would be a challenge, but one she was happy to accept.
“It’s a different thing that you don’t always get to do, and I was happy I got to do it,” said Whitefield.
Often, students want to explore interdisciplinary techniques to answer new questions. At liberal arts schools, this kind of inquiry is not just encouraged but fully supported by both the faculty mentors and the institutions. COPLAC institutions take pride in ensuring students are learning on a human scale.
Pierce Holloway, an Environmental Studies major at UNC Asheville, said that mentor Jonathan Horton took his role above and beyond.
In his presentation, “Indoor Cultivation of Piptoporus betulinus (Bull. ex Fr.) (Birch Polypore) P. Karst. on Nitrogen-Enriched Betula sp. Substrate,” Holloway featured a picture of himself working in the garage of Horton’s parents collecting sawdust for the project. Holloway noted that while UNC Asheville has resources that could have allowed him to collect the sawdust on campus, it wasn’t the most efficient way to accomplish this work given his timeline.
“We didn’t have time to get permission and go over there with all of the birch boards […] [which] we already [had] at his parents house,” said Holloway. “I believe [Horton’s] father is a wood worker, so he already had all of the tools. It was really just a time restraint and the most efficient thing to go there.”
Holloway’s project experimented with reproducing a particular fungi that had been used for medicinal purposes thousands of years ago. However, there has only been one other paper published on cultivating these fungi, which made the support of his mentor even more valuable, according to Holloway.
“We kind of had to discover how to do this along the way,” said Holloway. “Having a mentor who is that willing to answer questions even when things get frustrating – and still be there to help you out – is incredibly supportive. I can’t even imagine trying to do this project without a professor who was really there to help you out.”
Not only do COPLAC students push the limits with the content of their projects, but with the format as well. Ryan Huntington, music major at University of Virginia’s College at Wise, presented “Pérotin to Pärt: Developing the Composing Mind” – a unique approach to a senior presentation in his department.
A music major at UVA-Wise typically performs a recital piece for the final presentation. However, according to Huntington, he wanted to challenge himself to study and compose music from historical stylistic music periods, showing that through research, students can become quality composers as well as performers.
“If I go to a larger conference like NCUR, people can pick and choose what they go to. Musicians primarily come to a music session,” said Huntington. “When I present to an interdisciplinary audience, it’s more of look what I did – it’s cool that music can be research.”
Huntington finds that a lot of people do not realize the kind of research that goes into composing music – particularly types of music they aren’t familiar with.
“Introducing people to new types of music is important,” said Huntington. “I’m sure a lot of people here were introduced to a new type of music today. They may have heard it before, but they didn’t know that it was impressionist music.”
The next Southeast Regional Undergraduate Research, Scholarly, and Creative Activities Conference will be in Spring 2018.
2017 Participating Campuses: Georgia College, New College of Florida (at a distance), University of Montevallo, University of North Carolina Asheville, University of South Carolina Aiken, and University of Virginia’s College at Wise.