NEH Award Expands 4-VA Piloted Project

The National Endowment for the Humanities recently awarded $220,000 to a project originally funded by 4VA@Mason to focus on a deeper approach to teaching the history of higher education in the United States. Thanks to 4-VA’s seed funding, this research developed at the state level will now be propelled onto a national platform.

“Reimagining the History of Higher Education in the Digital Age,” was awarded a 4-VA@Mason Collaborative Research Grant in 2020, proposed by professor of higher education Kelly Schrum. Virginia Tech assistant professor Chase Catalano also received a 4-VA Complementary Grant at that time to launch the project in Blacksburg.

Once off the ground in 2021, colleagues at William and Mary, James Madison, and Old Dominion were interested in joining the endeavor, with Ben Boone, Art Dean, and Kim Bullington and Bill Nuckols, respectively, at the helm. WM, JMU, and ODU faculty also received 4-VA support for their contribution to the research.

Collaborating with Schrum at Mason is Nate Sleeter, Director of Educational Projects at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

Since the outset of the project, participating faculty, students, and student researchers have curated more than 100 primary sources, created asynchronous learning activities for the course, collected input from history of higher education instructors, and developed an extremely well-received database of resources for the project website, the History of Higher Education: An Open Educational Resource —

In addition to primary and secondary sources, the website contains an invaluable database of institutional archives with digitized historical content, including yearbooks.  Seven hundred institutional archives are cataloged on the site, including 48 Hispanic-Serving Institutions, 24 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and 15 women’s colleges. Additionally, the list includes 63 community colleges — especially important given the historic lack of attention to these institutions.

Recognizing the value of this new approach to more fully understand the history of higher education, the NEH grant will allow the 4-VA collaborators to expand the project and to conduct a Summer 2024 four-week institute, “Unpacking the History of Higher Education in the United States,” designed to improve the history of higher education courses nationally and to deepen humanities engagement among future higher education leaders.

“This project has been a wonderful exercise in collaboration and research,” concludes Schrum.  “Working together and leveraging the resources at each university through 4-VA made this effort a success.”

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Globalization in Reverse: A Look at the Diffusion of K-Pop in the United States


Over the last decade, Korean pop culture (K-pop) has swept the United States with unexpected and unprecedented popularity. However, an investigation behind the supra-ethnic and cross-border nature of this explosion of interest is almost nonexistent in literature and within Virginia research universities where the Asian student population has grown dramatically in recent years.

To look closer at this phenomenon, Byunghwan Son in Mason’s Global Affairs Program was interested in creating an intellectual space where systematic research on contemporary Asian and Asian American studies subjects could be nurtured and fostered.  To do so, he turned to a 4-VA@Mason Collaborative Research Grant for funding to build on data he had already collected between 2019-2021.  His objective was to conduct additional interviews necessary to glean a more in-depth understanding of the cross-ethnic and -racial nature of K-pop. Son’s plan was to coordinate faculty at Mason and UVA to recruit and advise graduate and undergraduate students to conduct the work, providing rich research opportunities.  These opportunities would include collecting, cleaning, and coding interview data of K-pop fans in North America.

Two of Son’s colleagues at Mason — Dae Young Kim, Associate Professor in Sociology & Anthropology and Young A Jung, Assistant Professor in Modern and Classical Languages –- supported the student research and acted as mentors. Senior Lecturer Yoon Hwa Choi at UVA joined the project to do the same. “We were committed to galvanizing and enhancing the scholarly collaboration between Mason and UVA researchers at both the faculty and student levels,” explained Son.

Armed with the 4-VA grant, the team got to work.  Nine students at Mason and two at UVA were recruited to undertake the goal of interviewing 50 fans of K-pop music to provide more insight for their research.  “The success of our project was due in large part to the effectiveness and competence of the research assistants. They were key to this effort,” says Son.

Faculty and Students Studying K-pop fans in the US

The research revealed interesting results. “We recognized a number of important commonalities amongst the K-Pop enthusiasts — these fans found untraditional types of genders in K-pop artists, were torn between their own racial identities and their loyalty to the artists (which often didn’t align very well), lean liberal ideologically but remain reluctant to make direct political actions and have found a new place of belonging in the fan communities,” notes Son.

Mason students participating in the research were graduate student J. Orisha and undergraduates Kennedy Pendlebury, Janai Byrd, Alexus Kelley, Sarah Lepre, Nida Nawaz, Pilar Gore, Kiah Percy, Sohee Kim, and Yoo Jeong Seong.  At the time of the research both Kim and Seong were students studying on the Mason Korea campus.

Working with Choi at UVA were undergrads Anusha Choudhary and Jessica Caroline Ross.

“This grant gave us the opportunity to collect an exceptionally rich amount of interview data on K-pop fans. Not only is our interview data larger in numbers and wider in scope than any previous study we know of, but each of the interviews also engages the fans in significantly deeper and more intricate ways. We attribute much of this innovation to the cross-university collaboration of 4-VA as it enabled us to reach some of the interviewees that we otherwise would not have recruited.”

A paper outlining the research was presented to the Eastern Sociological Society (ESS).  Currently, the PIs are submitting their data to peer-reviewed academic journals.

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Ethical Data Analytics: Investigating Data as a Pedagogical Practice for the Humanities

While data analysis is critical to any research, it is important that users are acutely aware of what is behind the data — including the moral obligations regarding the gathering and protection of the data.  It is recognized that researchers should be informed about ethical sources and uses of data and understand both the potentially marginalized voices and the audiences within the dataset.  Faculty at four 4-VA partner schools (VT, ODU, JMU and Mason) coalesced around the need to raise awareness about the opportunities and limitations in data analytics as an area of research and practice for the field of humanities.  Moreover, they were interested in building a methodological framework for humanities instructors.

As the team saw it, the need for critical data literacy should not be limited to data scientists or engineers. Communicators, designers, developers, artists, historians, and more are asked to make sense of increasingly complex data sets. They were interested in developing practice-oriented pedagogical resources to enable instructors to support students as they seek jobs and internship opportunities throughout the state. In this way, they could add diverse voices to the technology sector and Women in Tech opportunities, especially for students who are not able to afford an engineering degree.

While data analysis is critical to any research, it is important that users are acutely aware of what is behind the data — including the moral obligations regarding the gathering and protection of the data.  It is recognized that researchers should be informed about ethical sources and uses of data and understand both the potentially marginalized voices and the audiences within the dataset.  Faculty at four 4-VA partner schools (VT, ODU, JMU and Mason) coalesced around the need to raise awareness about the opportunities and limitations in data analytics as an area of research and practice for the field of humanities.  Moreover, they were interested in building a methodological framework for humanities instructors.

As the team saw it, the need for critical data literacy should not be limited to data scientists or engineers. Communicators, designers, developers, artists, historians, and more are asked to make sense of increasingly complex data sets. They were interested in developing practice-oriented pedagogical resources to enable instructors to support students as they seek jobs and internship opportunities throughout the state. In this way, they could add diverse voices to the technology sector and Women in Tech opportunities, especially for students who are not able to afford an engineering degree.

The project was led by Mason’s Nupoor Ranade, Assistant Professor in the Department of English.  Ranade was joined by ODU’s Daniel Richards, Associate Professor, Department of English; JMU’s Ja’La Wourman Assistant Professor, School of Writing, Rhetoric & Technical Communication: and VT’s Sweta Baniya, Assistant Professor, Department of English.

Armed with a 4-VA grant, the group set to work on the planning and execution of a one-day workshop for delivery at each of the four campuses.  Targeted attendees included tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty, post-doctoral scholars, graduate teaching and research assistants and graduate students.  The co-PIs acted as organizers at their respective institutions and were present for the workshops.

The workshops were delivered during April 2023 and were very well received, garnering many positive results.  Attendees left the workshops with specifically designed training materials including PowerPoint presentations and handouts.

The team’s next objective was to disseminate the workshop resources and results to the broader community, which came to fruition through their website

They then presented part of their findings at the International Society of Technical Communication’s Summit in Atlanta in May 2023, which resulted in numerous messages from industry practitioners interested in collaborating on further opportunities to add to the research. They have also shared the workshop summary and workshop outcomes at the Association of Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Design of Communication October conference in Orlando, Fla.

“This grant gave Daniel, Ja’La, Sweta and I an opportunity to develop and share concrete pedagogical resources with Virginia faculty (and beyond) that will enable humanities researchers and students incorporate data analytics studies in human-centered audience analysis,” concludes Ranade.  “It looks like this is just the beginning!”



4-VA@Mason Collaborative Research Grant Applications Now Accepted


Calls for proposals are now open for Mason faculty interested in launching pilot research projects in conjunction with colleagues at one or more of the universities within the 4-VA system in Virginia.  These Collaborative Research Grants (CRG) are designed to facilitate and support alliances which leverage the strengths of each partner university to improve efficiencies in research and higher education; reduce working in silos; and provide hands-on experiential opportunities for students. Other 4-VA institutions include William and Mary, James Madison, Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia.

The program is designed to encourage the development of baseline research projects in the sciences and humanities which could help fuel future research and funding. “The 4-VA Collaborative Research Grant program provides our Mason faculty an important first step to bring to life a research endeavor that will benefit our students, higher education, and citizens statewide and beyond,” explains Vice Provost, Academic Affairs and 4-VA@Mason Campus Coordinator Janette Muir.

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis through February 15, 2024. Further information can be found at

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4-VA Team Develops Communication Center Tutor Training


While Communication Centers on college campuses are a relatively new concept — they were originally introduced to provide student support for basic communication and public speaking courses — over the last 20 years they have exploded in number have expanded offerings to include a wide range of communication skills assistance.  Although the model has been widely credited for a range of student accomplishments, there is a recognition that overburdened faculty charged with operating the centers suffered from the lack of time and resources necessary to create and deliver suitable training materials for tutors. This challenge was faced at the Communication Centers located on several 4-VA campuses — Mason, JMU, and VT.


Shelby Broberg, Communication Center Director on Mason’s Fairfax campus, connected with Paul Mabry, Communication Center Coordinator and Assistant Professor at JMU, and VT’s Brandi Quesenberry, Director of Undergraduate Programs and Zack Sowder, Advanced Instructor and Associate Director at VT’s CommLab to see how they might lessen the training needs bottlenecks using a 4-VA grant.

“Shelby’s vision to work in collaboration with her partners at JMU and Tech exemplifies how 4-VA can work for higher education in Virginia,” says Janette Muir, Vice Provost, Academic Affairs, and 4-VA@Mason Campus Coordinator. “By sharing resources, strengths, and workloads, this team has created a training package that is a valuable tool for both faculty and students.”

The project began with an extensive survey of 53 Communication Center Administrators and 35 Communication Center Consultants. Explains Broberg, “Through our research we were able to conclude that the majority of communication centers in the nation need a more cohesive, effective, and accessible training program for their consultants.”

They then developed open-access training materials with ten modules of interactive content for communication center consultants: “This content was largely sourced and developed by our undergraduate students who participate in training and have extensive experience as the target audience for these educational materials,” noted Broberg.  The students were Sabeen Akhtar, Erandy Cruz-Alcantara, Erin Hess, Fadzayi Sambana, and Kamryn Satterfield from Mason; and Heather Opie, Sara Montgomery, Riley Miller, Grace Warren, and Tessa Cyrus from JMU.

Broberg credited graduate students Briana Stewart, Aditi Goel, and Neha Gour of Mason and Mercy Faleyimu of JMU for leading the undergraduate team.

The project and results were presented at the National Association of Communication Centers (NACC) Conference last spring in Blacksburg, Va, and recently at the National Communication Association conference in National Harbor, Md.  Broberg reports, “The response was really exciting. Directors from centers all across the country were grateful for the new resources to help training be more consistent and reliable nationwide.”

The Communication Center Training Team at the National Communication Association conference — L to R: Mercy Faleyimu (JMU), Brandi Quesenberry (VT), Shelby Broberg (Mason) Zack Sowder (JMU)

The 4-VA project will now be extended to two other areas identified as needing support within Communication Centers — working with multilingual clients and STEM related content. “This is somewhat unsurprising as our college campuses continue to become more linguistically diverse and current trends of popular majors include STEM-related studies,” says Broberg.

“We believe these resources will meet a crucial need for Communication Centers to train their consultants to provide expert feedback to the diverse needs of students we see on campuses across the country,” concludes Broberg. “Participants have been incredibly enthusiastic and there has been a great deal of interest in the outcomes of our 4-VA supported research.”


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4-VA@Mason Funding Smartphone App to Support Transfer Students


Over the past 10 years, 4-VA@Mason has bolstered efforts to smooth the transition for first-generation transfer students from NOVA to Mason via roles in ADVANCE, developing the Bachelor of Applied Science program, and aligning course subject content and objectives between NOVA and Mason.  It was natural, then, for 4-VA@Mason to step in to fund a proposal for a novel smartphone-based augmented reality campus tour of Mason to help traditionally underserved transfer students.

The concept is being led by Kelly Schrum, a professor in Mason’s Higher Education Program in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.  Schrum has brought together a group of faculty members, undergraduate, and graduate students to put the plan into action. In addition, representatives from ADVANCE, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, and the First-Gen+ Center will also play a role in the project.

After reviewing the considerable research on common challenges facing transfer students, including the need to feel connected and find community, the group is developing a prototype of the app for prospective students to download. “After much research, we believe that an app of this type can go a long way to help make our transfer students more comfortable in the new Mason environment,” explains Schrum.  “We are so pleased with the initial enthusiastic reception from students as well as our partners in this effort.”

Through the app, students will ‘meet’ a virtual character — wearing a First Gen Mason T-shirt — who welcomes them to Mason.  Students will see a virtual panel where they will find questions and answers from current students and be invited to add their voice to the conversation.  Encouraging words from the First Gen+ Center will appear on the screen, such as “You are the first, but you won’t be the last.”

The virtual character will encourage the student to walk toward the Johnson Center where a simulated First Gen+ table is set up for an ice cream social. The student will create a sundae — with Mason colors — while interacting with the character who will share fun facts about Mason regarding first gen transfer students and provide an overview of events and activities hosted by the First Gen+ Center. The student can ask questions, powered by a chatbot, and can also submit more personalized or in-depth questions that will be directed to the right department, such as Admissions or Success Coaching, all designed to make the students more comfortable with campus and their fellow students.

The prototype is being tested this winter with prospective students in coordination with ADVANCE. The Admissions office will distribute flyers about the app, place them in bags for transfer students, and highlight the app on transfer student tours.

“This is a great opportunity to help our new transfer students feel more comfortable with their transition to Mason, and get them off to the right start,” says Janette Muir, Vice Provost, Academic Affairs and 4-VA@Mason Campus Coordinator.

Following the beta testing, Schrum’s team will collect and analyze data with the goal of improving and expanding the prototype, contributing to scholarly research on using technology to improve student success, and applying for external funding.

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Mason Study Aims to Reduce Avian Window Collision Mortality

Ornithologists, ecologists, environmentalists in the Mason Nation, and many others will welcome the findings of one of the most expansive survey-based studies to date designed to reduce avian window collision mortality. Avian window collisions are a national concern, with estimates of avian mortality between 300 million to one billion birds every year in the United States. The investigation, conducted over the past 12 months on multiple Mason campuses, was led by Biology Professor Daniel Hanley and his co-PI David Luther, with support from collaborator John Swaddle at William and Mary. Most significantly, the study has identified a critical factor — the gloss of the windows – as playing a significant role in avian window collisions and is the first research of its kind to make this important link.

Daniel Hanley
David Luther

The study was funded with a grant from 4-VA@Mason, as part of 4-VA’s commitment to help launch pilot explorations which support collaborations of faculty in higher education throughout the commonwealth.  The 4-VA research also encourages opportunities for student research that can make a positive difference for Virginia and beyond.

Jamison teaches students about window strikes at a volunteer event on the Fairfax campus


Smith distributes information to raise awareness about the project at one of two events he led during Global Bird Rescue Week.

Hanley explains, “Through a large-scale Mason community effort, we conducted one of the most comprehensive investigations on this subject. We completed 3,415 surveys across multiple Mason campuses — 3,017 on the main Fairfax campus alone — and found 82 total fatal collisions, with 62 at the Fairfax campus.” The surveys were undertaken by a team of more than 40 volunteer undergraduate students under the direction of graduate students Quentin Jamison and Shawn Smith.

“On our Fairfax campus, the strikes were not clustered in any particular area. Instead, we found that certain buildings were more problematic than others. Not surprisingly, buildings with greater glass coverage experienced more fatal window strikes, as this has been documented before,” notes Hanley.

Smith documents a window strike mortality event during a citizen science walk.
Smith shares avian insights with volunteers using the Lab’s teaching collection.

The researchers recorded the abundance of window strikes within the campus interior. Horizon Hall and Southside posed the greatest risk on the Fairfax campus, however, Exploratory and Thompson Halls also had a large number of strikes.

The core of the study considered the reflective properties of windows on 34 buildings as well as the proportion of glass on each side of these buildings. The team implemented a model to determine which factor could predict the count of fatal avian window strikes. “We used high-end glossmeters — Rhopoint IQ — to quantify the degree to which the glass reflects light and images to on-coming birds. There have been very few studies that have experimentally measured these features of glass. Therefore, our study provides a critical baseline for future endeavors in this field,” says Hanley.

The team coordinated with Mason Facilities, the Patriot Green Fund, and other interested parties. Further, they aligned with researchers and students at Virginia Tech, Radford, Bridgewater College, and William & Mary who are tracking fatal window collisions on their campuses. Additionally, outside organizations including the Virginia Master Naturalists and the Virginia Chapter of The Wildlife Society participated. Through this 4-VA supported research, PIs Hanley and Luther aim to greatly reduce window strikes throughout Mason campuses.

Jamison presented the project at the 2023 annual meeting of The Wildlife Society’s Virginia Chapter.

Graduate student researcher Jamison presented preliminary study results at the annual winter meeting of the Virginia Chapter of the Wildlife Society and, as a result, the group is now building a consortium on causes of window strikes and methods of reduction among researchers at the other universities in Virginia. Jamison presented at the American Ornithological Society conference in Ontario, Canada this summer as well.

Jamison at the American Ornithological conference.


There’s more to come.  “We have a draft manuscript on the topic, in collaboration with Dr. Swaddle from William and Mary, which will be submitted to a peer reviewed journal later this year,” notes Hanley.  “We are now focusing on the sensory perception aspect of avian vision and understanding how birds see the glass (or not) while flying in order to design methods to make the glass more obvious to the birds so that collisions are reduced.” This research could result in external funding from energy companies and developers to install avian collision avoidance systems on their infrastructures — wind turbines, power lines, transformers, and buildings.

More than forty undergraduate students participated on the project, including: Aaidah Nizumudeen, Aaron Amin, Aaron Morton, Alexander Perez, Amal Ahmad, Ari Masters, Carolina Sanabria, Caroline Tate, Caty McVicker, Chloe Fowler, Deena Chouf, Eatha Lynch, Elham Sarangi, Emily Le Bron, Grace Rapoza, Grace Shimizu, Holly Haw, Hye Jeong Kim, Jessica Winey, Jordan Bertaux, Jordan Davis, Kaitlyn Moore, Kate Mateyka, Katie Russel, Kennedy Ream, Kiersten Jewell, Maddy Gonzalez, Merri Collins, Mohammad Alaadhab, Morgan O’Donnel, Natali Walker, Nibal Negib, Nimra Kashif, Quinn Griffin, Raina Saha, Ruth Leilago, Sameer Jame, Sara Abarra, Sarah Weikel, Trent Gasso, and Zahra Slimani.

Virginia Tech undergraduate students Madeline Alt and Rachel Morse also shared expertise from years of surveys on their campus.

“We couldn’t have pulled all this together without the 4-VA@Mason funding,” concludes Hanley.  “This was a significant undertaking, and we needed the time and space to get this done right.  We believe this is just the beginning of what we hope will be a turning point in reducing avian collision mortality.”


Assessing Tobacco Prevention Policies by Mining Nontraditional Social Media to Complement Traditional Simulation Modeling Approaches


Curbing the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and vaping among youth is a priority of public health agencies and health services to prevent this population from health complications and reduce the loss of productivity and healthcare costs in the future. For public health analysts concerned about the use of tobacco and e-cigarettes, it is insightful to look at how social media might play a role in affecting beliefs and behaviors. Further, to understand the complete picture of the social media landscape on tobacco and e-cigarettes, it is also important to consider how youth interact with and respond to conversations about e-cigarettes across platforms.  Armed with this information, appropriate, actionable, and effective social media-based intervention campaigns and policies can be implemented to combat the use of these harmful products.

Rather than utilizing the traditional approaches of simulation modeling and survey-based methods for public health research, which can be slower to collect and analyze relevant data, social media itself provides a unique opportunity to gather more timely, real-time information about youth’s daily activities. Although social media mining methods are routinely leveraged to understand customer behavior about brands, their use in public health research is underexplored. Faculty across multiple colleges at George Mason imagined that utilizing this non-traditional data could inform policy evaluation and implementation programs faster than what had been done in the past.


Thanks to a grant from 4-VA@Mason, a team with broad expertise in social media mining, public health policy, and epidemiology came together to examine the best way to move forward.  Lead PI Hemant  Purohit, Associate Professor in the College of Engineering and Computing, Department of Information Sciences & Technology at Mason, who studies Social Media Mining, connected with fellow Mason faculty member, Hong Xue, Associate Professor in the College of Health and Human Services, Department of Health Administration and Policy. Purohit and Xue then reached out to involve Bernard Fuemmeler of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center in an advisory role.  Fuemmeler is a Professor in the Department of Family Medicine & Population Health, and Scientific Director for Health Communication and Digital Innovations. The team aimed to develop a social data-driven approach toward informing and evaluating intervention designs and policymaking to prevent e-cigarette/vaping use.

With the help of a former undergraduate student, Anuridhi Gupta (who has subsequently transitioned to the doctoral program at Mason) they began by reviewing theories used for guiding behavioral health interventions in public health literature and identified the relevant theory for this research, specifically Social Cognitive Theory. Based on this framework, they designed a study to look at a range of user intent classes in the conversations on e-cigarettes and vaping by examining behaviors across multiple social platforms, in particular, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube. The team then created a novel resource of labeled data from Twitter and Reddit conversations to support research and development of social media mining tools to aid intervention designs for curbing e-cigarette/vaping usage.

From there, the team performed an extensive experimental analysis to examine the capability of machine learning-based automated classification systems to categorize social media posts into relevant intent classes, which could inform the development of a scalable analytical tool to assist public health analysts. Further, they identified insights on promoting or discouraging e-cigarettes and vaping on Twitter and Reddit by analyzing social media posts categorized with relevant intent classes using topic modeling and psychometric techniques. The analysis indicated that Accusational posts were the most prevalent on Twitter, indicating that the public often undermines the credibility of information sources, agencies, and officials by blaming them. Similarly, Anecdotal posts were the most prevalent on Reddit.

“Without this multidisciplinary research, it would not have been possible to achieve these insights and the resulting data-driven framework for scalable social media analytics in this short timeframe.  We are grateful to the 4-VA grant program for supporting us to kickstart our mission for healthy society and well-being,” Purohit said.

The research team has submitted a manuscript to a journal with a focus on a novel intent mining framework to understand online conversations on e-cigarettes to inform social media-based intervention design. Further, the team is currently working on a plan to write a National Institutes of Health proposal based on this preliminary work as a promising direction for data-driven policymaking for public health.

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4-VA@Mason Awards Funding for 12 Promising Investigations Led by Mason Faculty plus Eight Additional Collaborations for Mason Co-PIs


4-VA@Mason, announces the Collaborative Research Awards for the 23-24 academic year — with 12 projects spearheaded by Mason faculty, and eight for Mason faculty acting as Co-PIs.  “These 4-VA@Mason Collaborative Research Grants are the core of what our state program is all about — providing seed funding to encourage faculty from our eight partner schools to launch novel research efforts and build critical relationships among the institutions,” said Janette Kenner Muir, Vice Provost, Academic Affairs and Campus Coordinator of 4-VA@Mason.

Approved proposals were from a range of colleges at Mason including the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Computer Game Design/Virginia Serious Game Institute; the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Engineering and Computing; and the College of Science.

One proposal funded this year is Dr. Chris Jones’ work, Using Taxonomic, Pigment, and Molecular Analysis to Characterize Algal Blooms in the Shenandoah River. Professor Jones, a member of the Environmental Science & Policy Department and Director of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, has already seen the benefit of 4-VA support with growing research projects focused on harmful algal blooms that threaten Virginia’s Shenandoah River and also plague waters throughout the world. In the Shenandoah, these blooms originally consisted of green algae, which while troublesome for recreational activities, did not present a danger to humans and wildlife.  In the past two years, however, the blooms have included cyanobacteria that contain toxins.  Environmental engineers recognize that it is critical to identify the toxic bacteria quickly and definitively, but current methodologies are inadequate.  Jones’ team of Mason faculty and students, together with their partners at Old Dominion University, will tackle this important challenge.

The following are the 4-VA@Mason 2023-24 Collaborative Research Grant winners, with partner schools in parentheses.

  • Akerlof, Karen Bridging Science and Policy in the States: A Study of Emerging Mechanisms to Train Scientists and Engineers (VT)
  • Enfield, Jacob MySQL Murder Mystery (VMI)
  • Furst, Kirin Emlet The role of the air-water interface in breakthrough of PFAS and phthalate esters during wastewater treatment (VT)
  • Jones, R Christian Using Taxonomic, Pigment and Molecular Analysis to Characterize Algal Blooms in the Shenandoah River   (ODU)
  • Kang, Pilgyu Machine learning assisted laser manufacturing of alloy nanoparticle graphene hybrid materials for high performance hydrogen sensing (UVA)
  • LaFrance, Michelle The Virginia Community and Public Writing Collaborative (JMU, VCU, VT, UVA)
  • Lawrence, Heidi A Rhetorical Approach to Challenges in Blood Donation (VT)
  • Raffegeau, Tiphanie Using Virtual Reality to Study Cognitive and Affective Risk Factors for Falls in Older Adults (ODU)
  • Straus, David The Role of Diabatic Heating in Determining Atlantic Storm Paths (UVA)
  • Van Aken, Benoit Protection of RNA by Association with Macromolecules Implications for Wastewater Based Epidemiology (VT)
  • Yu, Yun Nanoscale Visualization of Electrocatalytic Carbon Dioxide Reduction Activity at Cu Nanocatalysts (UVA)
  • Zhu, Ziwei Towards Consolidated and Dynamic Debiasing for Online Search and Recommendation (VT)

The following Mason faculty received funding as Co-PIs collaborating with other 4-VA institutions in parentheses:

  • Chowdhury, Ahsan The Commonwealth Proofs Project Collaborative: Promoting Students’ Understanding of Logical Implications and their Transformations (VT)
  • Dromgold-Sermen, Michelle New American Resources: Partnerships and Initiatives at Virginia Higher Education Institutions to Strengthen Virginia’s Migration Support (VT)
  • Jing, Hao Acoustics-enabled Noncontact Manipulation, Patterning, and Assembly of Complex-shaped Micro/nanoparticles for Advance Manufacturing (VT)
  • LaToza, Thomas Visualizing Code Changes to Understand Students’ Mental Models in Programming Education at Scale (VT)
  • Stone, Victoria Increasing Mental Health Services in K-12 Settings by Helping Provisionally Licensed School Counselors Meet the Requirements for Full Licensure as Professional School Counselors in Virginia (JMU)
  • Stone, Victoria Supporting K-12 Students after Psychiatric Hospitalizations: Piloting Mixed Reality Simulation Training for School Mental Health Professionals (UVA)
  • Van Aken, Benoit Hyperspectral imaging for the real-time detection of microplastic particles in seafoods (VT)
  • Zhu, Ziwei Break the Dilemmas between Model Performance and Fairness: A Holistic Solution for Fairness Learning on Graphs (VT)

“We are looking forward to the new discoveries we will find with these 4-VA collaborative projects,” comments Vice Provost Muir, “Our faculty, students, and the Commonwealth of Virginia will benefit from these partnerships as the schools approach the work from their own perspectives and strengths, building solid partnerships for future initiatives.”





National Experts, UVA, and Students Join 4-VA@Mason Research on Battery Storage



While 4-VA@Mason’s Collaborative Research Grants mantra is ‘two heads are better than one,’ Chao Luo, Assistant Professor in Mason’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, took this concept to the next level in his recent 4-VA research project titled “Metal sulfide-based nanomaterials for high-performance multivalent metal batteries.” For the task, Luo and his co-PI at UVA, Sen Zhang, assembled a team of 12 researchers, faculty, and students from five locations for an 11-month journey — yielding great success.

Luo’s primary research interest focuses on rechargeable batteries; however, he and Zhang were interested in exploring new materials and nanostructures for sustainable energy storage. Their goal? To design and synthesize polymer cathode materials and test the electrochemical performance of these materials in rechargeable magnesium and Aluminum-ion batteries, as well as redox-flow magnesium batteries, used for grid-scale energy storage.

With the 4-VA@Mason grant in hand, Luo assembled a team. He began in-house, identifying students who were interested in studying battery properties.  Luo selected a postdoctoral student, Dr. Kaiqiang Qin, who received specific training on the project from Luo, as well as PhD students Kathryn Holguin, Motahareh Mohammadiroudbari, Eric Youngsam Kim, and undergraduate student Annieka Reno, who each performed experiments for the research. In addition, Luo reached out to prominent scientists, Enyuan Hu at Brookhaven National Lab, Zhenzhen Yang at Argonne National Lab, and Tao Gao from University of Utah, who agreed to advise on the study. Two graduate students from Brookhaven and Utah also volunteered on the project.

Regarding the research, Mohammadiroudbari noted, “Developing novel materials is pivotal to meeting the ever-growing demand for high-performance and sustainable batteries. It has been an exciting journey working with such a great team to evaluate the nanomaterials in multivalent metal batteries.”  Team member Kim commented, “Research on sustainable batteries is important. It is exciting to research different types of batteries. This research was great to investigate various sustainable batteries.”

The research results were published in three journals – ScienceDirect, American Chemical Society, and Chemistry – and spotlighted via an in-person oral presentation at the 242nd Electrochemical Society Conference.

Based on the reception and the success, Luo is now applying for continued research support with the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and

Luo concludes, “The 4-VA@Mason grant offered me a valuable opportunity to collaborate with prominent scientists in Virginia and around the country. The team will continuously explore new materials and chemistries for sustainable batteries. This is the start of our journey to promote energy and an environmentally balanced future.”