The David J. Prior Award for Students

The David J. Prior Award was created in 2012 to recognize senior-level undergraduates whose academic careers and future goals have been shaped by the transformative power of the liberal arts and sciences experience at a COPLAC institution. Each student's reflective personal essay highlights one or more of the following features of COPLAC's student-centered approach to teaching: emphasis on active learning, ethical reasoning, interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge, community engagement, critical and reflective skills, and connections between liberal learning and informed, active citizenship.

The legacy of David Prior - his career-long commitment to superior undergraduate teaching, his desire as a consortium leader to make the outcomes of an education at our public liberal arts institutions widely recognized, and his deep concern that all students, regardless of financial circumstances, have equal access to a high-quality education anchored in the liberal arts and sciences - is the inspiration for this award.

2023 Winner of the David J. Prior Award

Iva Welbourne, Truman State University

Iva Welbourne is a senior Agricultural Science major at Truman State University with a minor in Environmental Studies. She has participated in two undergraduate research projects while at Truman, one working to de-stigmatize insect based protein sources, and one in conjunction with the city of Kirksville to survey trees and educate the public on urban forestry. Iva will be participating in the Peace Corps volunteer program as a Forestry and Environment Extension Agent in Senegal after graduation.

Read her essay here.

2023 Honorable Mentions

Gabrielle Nickerson, University of Alberta, Augustana

Gabrielle Nickerson is a senior majoring in Physical Education with a concentration in Kinesiology and Sports Studies at the Augustana Faculty of the University of Alberta in Camrose, Alberta. Throughout the last four years, she has focused on studying the human body, environment, and sociocultural aspects of sport alongside connecting with her campus community. Following graduation, Gabrielle will pursue her PhD in Chiropractic at the University of Western States in Portland, Oregon.

Previous Winners

Charles Dunn Award for Faculty

The COPLAC Board of Directors, in memory of the contributions of Charles Dunn to the advancement of the consortium and to student success in the public liberal arts sector, had established an annual faculty award in his name.

As President of Henderson State University for twenty-two years, and as a COPLAC President (2000-2001) and Board member for ten years, Dr. Charles Dunn placed student well-being and academic success ahead of all else, affirming Henderson State University's reputation as the "School with a Heart."

Charles Dunn understood that members of the faculty play the essential role in advancing this mission. Therefore the COPLAC Award recognizes a faculty member whose commitment to student success goes "above and beyond" the classroom and office, the traditional roles of teacher, academic advisor, and mentor. She/he will have demonstrated, over the course of many years, extraordinary attention to students as individuals who sometimes face unique challenges, both on and off campus, that may compromise their academic performance.

Examples of student-centered service "above and beyond" are myriad and include: hosting an undergraduate who would otherwise be alone for the holidays, stepping in to assist with transportation to the airport or for a medical appointment, or extending a gesture of friendship when a loved one has been lost. The review committee seeks to recognize a COPLAC faculty colleague who consistently practices the vision of a public liberal arts campus as a community dedicated to learning on a human scale.

2023 Winner of the Charles Dunn Award

Dr. Catrena Higginbotham Lisse,
Georgia College and State University

A member of the faculty at Georgia College and State University since 2002, Catrena Higginbotham Lisse is a Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Science Education Center. Prior to becoming a faculty member at GCSU, she completed her doctoral work in analytical chemistry at Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Lisse is rigorously active in teaching, undergraduate research, scholarship, and service. For her diligent efforts to campus and community, Dr. Lisse has received the GCSU Inclusive Excellence Award and more recently the GCSU Bobcat Award for Outstanding Service to Students.

Dr. Lisse works tirelessly to remove the barriers that impede historically underrepresented groups from accessing higher education and has made accessibility in STEM-related fields a priority on the GCSU campus and within the community. In 2015, Dr. Lisse launched a traveling STEM program for rural communities called STEMing into the Community led by student volunteers. Dr. Lisse encourages GCSU students to increase their engagement with STEM while also giving back to the community, emphasizing the importance of civic engagement. Since 2007, Dr. Lisse has had a profound and lasting impact on financially disadvantaged, underrepresented high school students through the GCSU Young Scientists Academy. Additionally, Dr. Lisse participates in a Leadership Development Affinity Group: Women in Science, which provides professional support and networking to women in STEM, and she actively engages with the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Next STEPS Institute for STEM Learning and Leadership.

As shown by Dr. Lisse’s teaching and mentored undergraduate research record, she demonstrates a deep commitment to liberal arts education and firmly believes for students to engage and to learn, they need to feel respected and supported. She currently mentors two chemistry students through the National Science Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program at GCSU, which aims to recruit and support academically gifted, low-income students majoring in chemistry. Over the past two decades, she has mentored more than 60 undergraduate research students and celebrated their milestones as they move beyond GCSU. Dr. Lisse has transformed her students’ personal and educational journeys through her commitment to lifelong mentorship.

Previous Winners