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Eastern to host first virtual Northeast COPLAC conference

Published on November 05, 2020

Eastern to host first virtual Northeast COPLAC conference

A slide from Emily Hailu's presentation on editorial cartooning and freedom of speech.

A slide from Zoe Buntz's presentation on charitable giving.

A slide from Tara Nguyen's presentation on the achievement gap witin the Asian-American community.

A slide from Allen Horn's presentation on the role of horses on the Civil War.

Eastern Connecticut State University will host the first-ever virtual meeting of the Northeast Regional Undergraduate Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity Conference on Nov. 7. The event is sponsored by the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) and will spotlight the work of approximately 80 students from nine public liberal arts institutions across the Northeast.

Conducted entirely remotely, the conference will feature synchronous and asynchronous components. Presentations were pre-recorded and uploaded to the conference’s online platform, with designated viewing times followed by live Q&A sessions on Zoom with each presenter.

“Thank you for participating in this year’s virtual conference,” writes Eastern President Elsa Núñez in her welcoming remarks. “It is fitting that our institutions have found a creative solution to the challenge of COVID-19; I am proud of my colleagues on our campuses as well as the staff at COPLAC for making this virtual experience possible. We hope the conference provides you with insights, networking opportunities and affirmation as you continue to advance your academic goals.”

Conference topics cover the breadth of a liberal arts education and feature a range of presentation formats, including artwork, creative writing, performance and oral and poster presentations. All submissions to this competitive event were vetted by the students’ respective institutions.

“Students throughout the region are eager to showcase the results of their inquiring minds, their talent and their effort to produce high-level works of research and creativity,” said Psychology Professor Carlos Escoto, who serves as undergraduate research coordinator at Eastern. “We admire their perseverance and tenacity to participate in this conference in light of the difficulties brought on by the pandemic.”

Zoe Buntz

The virtual nature of this COPLAC conference has presented newfound challenges and opportunities to presenters, 12 of whom are Eastern students.  

Senior Zoe Buntz found that pre-recording her presentation resulted in many takes and redoes. “It was a lot easier to be a perfectionist,” said the economics and business administration double major. “For any tiny mistake I noticed, I could do it over and over again. This was both a pro and a con, but allowed me to upload a presentation that I am very proud of.”

Buntz’s oral presentation is titled “Charitable Giving: The Effect of Framing and Nudges on Donation Sizes.” “Creating an entirely virtual presentation equipped me with new technological skills and confidence.”

Emily Hailu 

Sophomore communication major Emily Hailu, whose oral presentation is titled “Editorial Cartooning and Freedom of Speech,” said, “One of the biggest challenges for me was making sure my presentation was as engaging and attention grabbing as it would be in person. I enjoy the thrill of presenting to a live audience and having a pre-recorded presentation made it more difficult for me to imagine the thoughts of the viewers.”

To ensure audience engagement, Hailu relied on pictures to create visual slides and also made use of voiceovers. “I wanted to add a sense of togetherness even though (we’re in this) virtual format.”

Unique obstacles call for creative solutions, as shown by senior Sarah Potter, who double majors in theatre and music, and junior music major Samantha Warshauer. Their performance of act 1, scene 1 of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” has been in the works since the beginning of the fall semester.

During their in-person opera class, the duo would rehearse with physical distancing and wear face masks as they sang their parts. In order to show their faces for the COPLAC conference recording, they used separate practice rooms to record their parts individually, following pre-recorded piano backing tracks.

“One of us was in the practice room recording their part while the other was outside looking into the window so we could interact like our characters,” said Potter. “We both had one AirPod in one ear to hear the music and follow along. We wore our costumes and used props in our own respective practice rooms. It was a new experience to get used to—recording and performing apart from the other musicians—but I'm happy that in these difficult times I was still allowed to create music.”

Allen Horn

Faculty mentorship is a key component for every undergraduate research project. Thanks to prior experience with virtual presentations and the support from his research mentor, senior history major Allen Horn said, “I had few challenges in the recording process. With a lot of assistance from my wonderful thesis mentor Dr. Thomas Balcerski and Eastern's state-of-the-art digital history lab, I was able to get a good recording of my presentation in one hourlong session.

“Dr. Balcerski knew how to record video of me and my presentation at the same time, as well as what microphones would provide the best sound quality,” said Horn, whose project examines the role of horses during the Civil War by using the concept of animal narration.

Senior philosophy major Christian Giliberto’s project explores the question of whether or not artificial intelligence can “think.” “The fact that I could participate in the conference from the comfort of my home office significantly lowered the barriers to joining, mainly due to the lack of need for prohibitive travel.

“Even when this pandemic is hopefully under control,” concluded Gilberto, “I would like to see more virtual conferences to increase accessibility, albeit as a supplement to in-person events rather than as a replacement.”

Tara Nguyen

With the various takeaways of adapting to this virtual experience, one sentiment prevails for most of the students — gratitude. Senior Tara Nguyen is a sociology major whose research explores the achievement gap within the Asian-American community. “Given our current circumstances, I am really grateful for the opportunity to be able to present at this conference despite everything going on in our world right now.”

This year’s virtual conference includes Eastern, Keene State College, Mansfield University, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Shepherd University, State University of New York at Geneseo, University of Maine at Farmington and University of South Carolina Aiken.

In describing Eastern’s peer institutions, Nunez writes in her remarks, “COPLAC members share a commitment to the liberal arts and sciences, access to public education and a student-centered mission. Our graduates become successful professionals and engaged citizens, learning throughout life and adapting to the changes occurring in society, the workplace and our daily lives.”

Established in 1987, COPLAC is dedicated to the advancement of high-quality liberal arts education in a public college setting. COPLAC represents a distinguished sector in higher education consisting of 30 colleges and universities in 28 states and one Canadian province. Eastern is Connecticut’s designated public liberal arts university and joined COPLAC in 2004.

Written by Michael Rouleau