Colonial Academic Alliance awards Elon faculty members ‘Innovate/ Collaborate’ grant

Elon faculty members Tony Weaver, Caroline Ketcham and Eric Hall will partner with the university’s nine fellow Colonial Athletic Association member institutions to study access issues for student-athletes to high-impact educational practices.

Members of Elon’s Department of Sport Management and Department of Exercise Science spearheaded a proposal that secured a grant totaling $40,000 from the Colonial Academic Alliance, an organization that academically links the 10 member institutions of the Colonial Athletic Association. The grant is among the first to be awarded under the Alliance’s new Innovate/Collaborate (IN/CO) Grant Program, which supports initiatives that address pressing policy challenges in higher education, fuels collaboration between institutions, and promotes innovation in intellectual inquiry.

The grant, titled “Innovative Strategies for High Impact Practices: Access, Success, and the CAA Student-Athlete,” will provide $20,000 per year for two years. Additionally, participating institutions will provide in-kind or monetary matches to support this initiative.

For the grant initiative, a team of Elon faculty members will partner with the university’s nine fellow CAA member institutions to study access issues for student-athletes to high-impact educational practices. High-impact practices, such as study abroad, internships, learning communities and undergraduate research, have repeatedly been shown to positively affect academic performance, yet not all students have equal access. This is particularly true of students who have high time demands and resource constraints such as student-athletes. 

Tony Weaver, associate professor of sport management, is the principal investigator on the grant proposal and collaborated with co-principal investigators Caroline Ketcham and Eric Hall, professors of exercise science. Hall also serves as Elon’s faculty athletic representative, while Weaver and Ketcham are the chairs of the Department of Sport Management and Department of Exercise Science, respectively. James DeVita, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, will serve on the grant’s leadership team.

The four professors will partner with fellow faculty and administrators at CAA member institutions to collect “foundational data” to understand high-impact practice offerings and student-athlete participation rates at conference institutions. Additionally, the grant will connect experts in both academics and athletics across multiple CAA institutions to develop a best practices approach to improving student-athlete access and success in high-impact practices.

“Research tells us that if these high-impact experiences are run correctly, they have a positive impact on a student’s experience in college,” Weaver said. “But the issue is, who participates in these experiences? What we know of a student-athlete’s time demands are they don’t always have the opportunities that other students have. We know that high-impact experiences work, but are student-athletes fully able to take advantage of them? Which practices do they participate in more? And if they are not participating, how come? Ideally, we want to figure out how to make them available for all students, including student-athletes.”

The long-term goal of this grant is to develop “transferable solutions” at both the institutional and conference level, allowing for greater student-athlete participation in high-impact practices. This process will start with the more immediate goals of assessing and understanding student-athlete opportunities at CAA institutions. 

Weaver expressed excitement at researching this topic at a conference level, which is often overlooked as a cohort to study. 

“Any time you think of improving the student-athlete experience, it’s good to work on the institutional level,” Weaver said. “But the down side is it only affects a single institution. The NCAA level is ideal, but it’s so large that it can be difficult to effect change. It makes me think that the best way to examine the improvements of the student-athlete experience is at the conference level with like-minded institutions – like this. That’s what makes this collaborative grant such a great opportunity for us and our fellow CAA schools.”

Steven House, Elon’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, commended the grant’s objectives, as well as the team of Elon faculty members for leading the initiative. 

“The goal of the IN/CO Grant Program is to support faculty and staff at our member institutions who generate innovative and powerful ideas to creatively address the challenges we face in higher education. As chair of the Provosts' Council of the CAA and Elon’s provost I could not be more pleased and proud that Elon faculty spearheaded this proposal that partners with all our fellow CAA member institutions,” House said. “This is the quintessential project to exemplify the CAA mission of engaging faculty, staff and students in meaningful initiatives that challenge the status quo, enrich the academic environment, and advance student success.”

The IN/CO Program was launched in 2017 to provide grants of between $5,000—$20,000 per year (for two years), creating an opportunity for teams of faculty and staff from two or more Alliance member institutions to collaborate. The awards were selected by the Alliance’s Provosts’ Council, its governing board.

“The IN/CO Grant Program affords our member institutions a unique opportunity to work together with other universities and develop creative initiatives to address shared challenges,” said Lindsey Interlante, executive director of the Colonial Academic Alliance, in a Jan. 30 release. “Given the diversity and geographic range of our members, we believe that IN/CO grant awardees will positively impact their institutions, advance scholarship on teaching and learning, and bring a fresh perspective to some of the shared challenges we face in higher education.”

The Colonial Academic Alliance members include the College of Charleston, University of Delaware, Drexel University, Elon University, Hofstra University, James Madison University, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Northeastern University, Towson University, and the College of William & Mary.

The grant is one of two awarded recently by the Colonial Academic Alliance to Elon faculty members. Todd Lee and Amy Overman received a grant in support of their project, Learning to Learn: A Student Operator’s Manual for the Brain that seeks to help students develop strategies about how to be successful learners.