4-VA@Mason is offering ten $4,000 grants to support faculty interested in developing and piloting alternative assessment strategies for online learning. The goal of the effort is to examine student evaluation practices and help bolster student engagement, encourage academic integrity, and reduce tendencies toward academic outsourcing. To ensure broad representation from all disciplines, proposals for the grants are encouraged from all ten colleges within the university.
The grants are being offered under the direction of The Stearns Center, which will provide 1:1 instructional design support for the accepted proposals.
“When we pivoted to remote learning in March, through the Instructional Continuity Working Group, we quickly heard that faculty were struggling with academic outsourcing and other integrity challenges,” said Charles Kreitzer, Executive Director of Online Operations. “Through these grants, we want to work together to develop strong, tested models for assessment.”
The proposals are due November 20. The planned timeline builds out the assessments in the spring, with pilot programs running in the summer and fall. From there, each program will go through data analysis to closely examine impact before they are introduced for use.
“One of the pillars of our mission at 4-VA@Mason is to identify and grow innovative ideas in teaching and learning,” explains 4-VA Campus Coordinator and Associate Provost Janette Muir. “This effort to reimagine online assessment practices clearly supports that goal.”
For more information, contact your school’s Instructional Continuity Working Group representative.
Nine Mason faculty members were recently awarded 4-VA funding for research projects spanning colleges throughout the university. Each of the lead researchers plan to collaborate with at least one of the other partner 4-VA schools.
“The 4-VA@Mason Collaborative Research Grants provide opportunities for our faculty to work in conjunction with colleagues at other schools to advance their study of a particular issue,” said Janette Muir, Associate Provost for Academic Initiatives and Services and the 4-VA@Mason Campus Coordinator. “These grants capitalize on the importance of partnerships and avoids researching in ‘silos’. What’s more, 4-VA collaborative efforts offer the ability to leverage the strengths of each partner university in order to accomplish more than any individual university could achieve alone.”
Recipients of the 20-21 4-VA@Mason Collaborative Research Grants are:
Sabine Doebel – College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Applied Developmental Sciences
Does Social Understanding Support the Development of Executive Function in Early Childhood?
This project will examine ‘executive function’ in children — the ability to regulate thoughts and actions in the service of various goals. Because much remains unknown about how the change in executive function occurs, this team will test the hypothesis that as children become aware that others evaluate them (a form of self-awareness), they become increasingly capable of engaging executive function to accomplish goals. The team plans to identify promising ways to support executive function in preschoolers.
Pei Dong – Volgenau School of Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering
A study on the ultrahigh salt adsorption capacity of an energy-efficiency water desalination technology
To relieve a growing water crisis worldwide, much emphasis has been placed on the effective desalination of salt water, as 97% of the earth’s water is held by the oceans. The goal of this collaborative research grant is to design next-generation electrode materials to advance the energy-efficient capacitive deionization technology.
Olga Gkountouna – College of Science, Department of Computational and Data Sciences
Is AI capable of identifying meaningful patterns in the temporal behavior of solvated macromolecules?
This team will investigate Artificial Intelligence (AI) methodologies that enhance the analysis of solvated macromolecules time evolution. They plan to implement a convergence system bridging the temporal and spatial evolution of molecules and macromolecules in liquid environments to visible patterns of behavior, aggregation, and networking evidenced by data analysis. The resulting information will be fundamental for finding solutions for drug delivery at the nanoscale, environmental pollution, skin and nerve remediation, among other applications of nanoscience.
Wenying Ji – Volgenau School of Engineering, Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering
Modeling of Stakeholder Communication Network in Disaster Response
(with UVA and VT)
Effective communication among stakeholders is necessary to facilitate efficient coordination and targeted planning following disasters, thereby enhancing community resilience. The research objective of this proposal is to derive a quantitative model to represent stakeholder communication networks and evaluate communication efficiency among all parties.
Laura Lukes – Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning
Energizing Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Production in Virginia through the Development of a Regional Community of Practice for SoTL Faculty Developers
(with UVA, JMU, VT and VCU)
Through this grant, a Community of Practice model of support for faculty developers engaging faculty in Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) will be established and produce open access planning resources for faculty developers. The goal is to ultimately improve the research competitiveness and dissemination success of faculty at Virginia institutions in the area of SoTL research projects.
Kelly Schrum – College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Higher Education Program
Reimagining the History of Higher Education in The Digital Age
The objective of this collaborative research grant is to redesign a core course on the history of higher education in the United States to include a focus on historical thinking, digital literacy, and research skills. The team will also create an open educational resource (OER) on the history of higher education.
Xiaoyan Tan – College of Science, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Accelerating the Discovery of Novel Polar Thermoelectric Materials with Density Functional Theory Calculations
(with UVA and JMU)
This project will study polar thermoelectric materials, which transform heat into electricity. Because the fundamental mechanisms that govern the thermoelectric properties are not fully understood, the team hopes to identify a series of materials to better predict novel polar thermoelectrics with tailored properties. This could lead to turning large sources of waste — released by spacecraft, motor vehicles and industrial plants – into electricity.
Girum Urgessa – Volgenau School of Engineering , Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering
Scaled Testing of Projectile Penetration in Conventional and High-Performance Concrete Targets
This 4-VA team will design and conduct small-scale testing of projectiles penetrating high-performance concrete targets. The outcomes of the experiments will allow the ability to model/predict projectile penetration depths across a variety of concrete strengths and types, and address questions surrounding the underlying penetration mechanics in next generation cementitious materials. This information will be valuable for military analysts and decision makers responsible for infrastructure vulnerability assessment.
Monique van Hoek – College of Science, National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases
Computationally designed antimicrobial peptides against antibiotic-resistant bacteria
Through years of excessive use or misuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock, bacteria have developed many resistance mechanisms. There is an urgent need to identify new compounds to kill these antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antimicrobial peptides are small strings of protein that target bacteria by binding to the bacterial membranes, and then kill the bacteria. The objective of this research is to computationally design and then test novel antimicrobial peptides for antibacterial activity against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Each of the 4-VA@Mason Advisory Board members which reviewed and approved the grants noted the breadth and depth of the timely proposals. “Our Board was clearly impressed with the value of the research being put forth,” said Muir. “Thanks to 4-VA, we’re advancing some important research in a thoughtful and efficient manner.”
Established in 2010 upon the recommendation of the Governor’s Higher Education Commission and the Governor’s Commission on Economic Development and Job Creation, 4-VA grants are offered in four broad areas—collaborative research, course redesign, shared courses and degree completion.
Expectations for 4-VA@Mason’s grants include thoughtful, impactful research; statewide collaboration with partner universities; and experiential learning opportunities for students. However, the 4-VA@Mason story grows stronger when that learning opportunity gets elevated to supporting post graduate work.
Over the past two years, students in Haw Chuan Lim’s lab at Mason’s Science and Technology campus have contributed to the work done on Dr. Lim’s 4-VA grant “High-throughput bee pathogen survey: Combining expertise in pollinator biology, bioinformatics and genomics to yield insight into pollinator health.” They looked deeply at whether the presence of managed or feral honeybees, with their large colony sizes, influences pathogen populations of native bees (bumble and mason bees).
To do this, Lim’s students — including master’s candidate David Lambrecht — collected bees across 10 sites around Northern Virginia and analyzed pathogen strains – viruses/fungi — using high-resolution genotyping techniques. They partnered with UVA’s T’ai Roulston, who is appointed to Blandy Experimental Farm, along with landowners and farmers of the Virginia Working Landscape project. The resulting research will be important as beekeepers and farmers navigate the continuing loss of bee colonies.
That research was the foundation of Lambrecht’s master’s thesis “Prevalence and Cross Infection of Eukaryotic and RNA Pathogens of Honeybees, Bumble Bees, and Mason Bees” which he recently defended via Webex during the Coronavirus shutdown. “This 4-VA opportunity gave me a chance to research honeybees and other pollinators important to our ecosystem,” explains Lambrecht. “The results provide some guidance for successfully supporting their populations.”
Armed with his new MS, Lambrecht is off to join the ranks of the Environmental Protection Agency, where he will intern and help with gene editing regulations.
“At 4-VA, we’re always proud of the research opportunities and resulting outcomes we have to show,” noted 4-VA@Mason Campus Coordinator Janette Muir, “but when we get to combine research and collaboration with these types of prospects for our students — that’s a great success!”
While interest in Open Educational Resources is expanding exponentially, sometimes the search results come up short. This was clearly evidenced by the OER research undertaken by Dr. Nathalia Peixoto for her ECE 385 course. Electric Circuit Analysis I is a complex course with many different attributes, covering the first half of electric circuit theory and practice. Topics include analyses of circuits with resistors, capacitors, inductors, and operational amplifiers; all supplemented with lab experiments to reinforce the subject matter. As Peixoto looked for suitable written resources, she found they did not meet the needs of her course.
Peixoto’s research then took a hard turn. While she couldn’t identify any written sources, she did find videos of lectures and presentations – primarily on YouTube – that more directly addressed the subject topics. So, she began down the video road, compiling four pages of links to 66 different videos of nodal and mesh analysis, operational amplifiers, capacitors and inductors as well as first order and second order circuits, and more. In the end, the free video series she curated served as an adaptable substitute for the textbook, which sold for $300. With 100 students taking the course each year, it resulted in a total savings of $30,000.
Although Peixoto’s proposal to provide free, engaging and enlightening written materials for her students in ECE 385 did come to fruition, the mode employed was not what she had anticipated. She offers some perspective on her journey, noting that the 4-VA grant, “helped me move forward helping out students.” Peixoto plans to develop her course notes to share with the wider Mason faculty and more fully test the course materials.
After tackling the development of an OER textbook for ASTR 113 which resulted in enlightening, digitized materials for the course and saving students up to $200 on a textbook, Dr. Mario Gliozzi applied for and received a second 4-VA@Mason grant to take on the challenge of producing an online homework system to complement and support the redesigned educational resources.
Gliozzi recognized that students were not attending to their homework assignments, which are integral in testing understanding of topics on a regular basis. Therefore, Gliozzi and colleague Dr. Rebecca Ericson were interested in developing a homework system closely related to the new OER material including weekly quizzes with multiple choice, multiple answer, ordering, matching, and jumbled sentences, with feedback and clarification accessible after the quiz deadline. Additionally, Gliozzi wanted to utilize the many illustrations/graphs available online, which helped prompt questions on fundamental concepts and allowed the students to learn the importance of understanding and interpreting graphs and diagrams.
After employing the new homework program for a semester, Gliozzi tweaked some of the elements and employed them fully the next year (ASTR 113 is only taught in the spring semester). He noticed that once the importance of the weekly homework assignment was properly emphasized at the beginning of the semester, and the students realized the close link between the homework questions and the questions in the proctored tests, the homework quizzes were recognized as one of the most effective tools for preparation and success in the class.
After fine tuning the homework and quizzes, they were made available to all Mason astronomy instructors by uploading them on their permanent ASTR 113 Blackboard repository. Thus, the new materials were a positive change for the students, but also for fellow faculty.
Gliozzi notes, “This 4-VA@Mason grant gave me the chance to develop a tool that proved useful (and free of charge) to complete the student preparation out of class which gave them the best tools possible to be successful in ASTR 113.”
Due to the current Coronavirus health crisis, the deadline for calls for Collaborative Research Grants has been extended to April 24.
As 4-VA@Mason continues to steadfastly move forward in support the Mason community with the development of meaningful education and research projects, we do recognize the potential for future funding uncertainties. Consequently, while we are still accepting calls for proposals for 20-21 Collaborative Research Grants, we do want to note the possibility of budget cuts in the next fiscal year.
Faculty considering applying for a grant to develop research and design education projects with collaborators at Mason and at the 4-VA partner schools should contact 4-VA@Mason Faculty and Community Outreach Coordinator Elizabeth Gillooly for more information.
About the Grant:
“The 4-VA program provides our Mason faculty the opportunity to bring a research idea to life that can benefit our students, higher education, and Virginia citizens statewide,” explains 4-VA@ Mason Campus Coordinator Janette Muir. “We are especially interested in research collaborations that leverage the strengths of each partner university and improve efficiencies in higher education.”
In addition to encouraging cross-collaboration between institutions, 4-VA seeks to engage undergraduate and graduate student researchers. “Our goal is to afford our students substantive and meaningful research opportunities,” continues Muir. “4-VA student researchers leave our schools with important and real-world experience that will help them transcend from ‘just’ a job applicant to a standout candidate.”
Now in its 10th year at Mason, the 4-VA program has grown to include William and Mary, James Madison, Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia.
Currently, eight 2019-2020 grant awards are underway at Mason covering a range of topics including these collaborations with other institutions:
“Communication Across the Curriculum: Creating Faculty Resources for Building Communication Skills in the Discipline” Partner Institutions: VT, JMU
“Developing a Blood Test to Support Treatment of Surgically Induced Type I Diabetes” Partner Institution: VCU
“Species Richness Resilience to Habitat Fragmentation and Restoration in Tropical Rainforests” Partner Institutions: JMU, UVA
Faculty interested in applying for a 2020 – 2021 grant can learn more by visiting the Research Grants tab on this website.
Of the 21 iterations of the definition of the word ‘scale’ in the Oxford Dictionary, one is particularly applicable to the latest 4-VA grant project “Scalable Molecular Dynamics;” that is: “the full range of different levels of people or things.” This definition illustrates both the scope of the research and the collaborators involved in the effort.
While orchestrating a variety of other projects and programs at Mason’s Center for Simulation and Modeling (CSM) located in the College of Science, lead PI Dr. Estela Blaisten-Barojas took on one more when she applied for and received the 4-VA grant. Blaisten-Barojas was interested in undertaking a serious study of predictive computational and simulation-based approaches in chemical and materials sciences combined with engineering approaches. This study is central to finding innovative solutions for environmental pollution, healthcare, sustainable energy resources, global warming, and ways of fighting terrorism, crucial to both Virginia’s and the nation’s competitiveness in science and engineering.
To launch and deliver “Scalable Molecular Dynamics” a full-throttled balancing act was necessary, Blaisten-Barojas called in her colleague Dr. Robert Handler from the Mechanical Engineering department at Volgeneau and Dr. Eric Weisel, Executive Director, Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center (VMASC) at Old Dominion University, a 4-VA partner school. Then, she added a number of talented students, including Gideon Gogovi, Scott Hopkins and James Andrews, to her 4-VA team. Each brought countless hours of research to the project – enhancing both the collective mission and their personal portfolios.
Blaisten-Barojas was interested in testing computational techniques for scaling up various aspects of a molecular simulation in which a large molecule is solvated or flows in a viscous solvent. Specifically, they studied the atomistic behavior of the polymer polyacrylamide, or PAM. This polymer, when immersed in gel-type solvents, is used for the separation of proteins, an important component in bio detection.
The team’s research identified several interesting and notable characteristics regarding the structure and energetics of PAM in implicit and explicit solvents – as team members studied the chain shape and the diversity of coiling and twists of the polymer in the various solvents. The researchers noted closely the changes in shape from an elongated spaghetti string to a more football-like object. Importantly, based on what they learned, they were able to make some scaling up predictions about how big structures can grow. This new understanding is valuable for efficiently controlling the performance of devices based on molecular components.Once the project got moving, the full range definition of scalability was set in motion. In fact, the simulations were so complex that they reached the maximum allowed in Argo, Mason’s centralized research computing cluster.
Already, two conference presentations have been made based on the research – a talk and a poster at the recent American Chemical Society (ACS) Mid Atlantic Research Meeting; two journal papers are in submission.
Blaisten-Barojas notes that although the research, results and dissemination have been gratifying, it was the new-found relationship with the VMASC which capped the full range of different levels of people and subjects concept. “This is a very important first step,” Blaisten-Barojas notes. “We now know who they are and they know who we are. I know that if they see possibilities in some of their initiatives, they will knock on our door first and we will do the same.”
Like any cutting-edge research team, the undergrad and grad students assembled in Dr. Geraldine Grant’s molecular and cell biology lab at George Mason’s Science and Technology Campus knew that in order for their project to be successful they needed a few things to break their way. Specifically, for their 4-VA grant “Prognostic Noninvasive Biomarker Investigation of Induced Sputum and Peripheral Blood in IPF” (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis), they would need a lot of science, a touch of luck, a drop of art, and more than a little bit of help from their friends.
Their goal was ambitious: Identify biomarkers that would help track the diagnosis and progression of the disease as well as the efficacy, if even detected, of medical treatment. The goal would be a tall order for this difficult-to-diagnose and difficult-to-treat lung condition which affects more than 200,000 people in the U.S alone.
IPF is a progressive, fatal lung disease that is survived by few patients three to five years after diagnosis. With IPF, patients experience severe scarring (fibrosis) of the lungs for an unknown reason. Over time, the scarring gets worse and it becomes difficult for the patient to take in a deep breath and inhale enough oxygen to fill the lungs.
Long-time Grant Lab member and part of the initial team writing the 4-VA@Mason proposal, Dr. Luis Rodriguez explains, “Diagnosing IPF is a difficult task. Most of the time, diagnosis is simply a continuing series of elimination testing. Doctors back into the diagnosis because it was determined that it’s not A, B, or C.” What’s more, Rodriguez points out, “The disease can present in a number of different ways and the only standard for diagnosis confirmation is a sample from the lungs, but through that, the patient is at critical risk.”
However, tackling the diagnosis was just a part of the Grant lab challenge. Treating the disease can also prove problematic, as it can progress slowly or rapidly and the efficacies of treatment are difficult to determine. With few therapeutic options, little to no systematic tracking of treatment, and a wide range of patient responses to said treatment, the work was cut out for the team.
First, they needed data, and a reliable stockpile at that. Their objective was to get a large sample of patients suffering with the disease and to extract RNA. The next step would be to correlate the RNA with the current status of each patient’s disease, which included precise measurements of two important criteria: 1. How they breathe in and out, and 2. How far they can walk in six minutes.
That’s when they called on their first partner in the grant project, Northern Virginia’s INOVA Hospital and Dr. Steve Nathan. INOVA has long been a recognized care and treatment center for IPF and has a history of successful lung transplants for IPF patients. Through INOVA, the Grant team wanted to build that necessary data set to track, if possible, the measurements of disease progression. Nathan and the clinic were all in.
With a base of 40 patients in Nathan’s province, the Grant team got to work – monitoring, measuring and capturing data. The process was long and tedious, and they encountered their share of difficulties. One such roadblock meant refining mitochondria sensors in the patient blood samples measuring changes in oxygen that, in turn, captured the progression of the disease and the effectiveness of the treatment. Their perseverance paid off, however, with a statistically significant reliable data set. (Which, Rodriguez points out, continues to grow and provide valuable information.)
Their next task, then, was to analyze said data in a meaningful and productive way. That’s when they called in their second partner Dr. Norou Diawara, of the Math Department at 4-VA partner school Old Dominion University. Diawara has vast experience and expertise in the field of Biostatistics, which fit the bill for the Grant project.
All efforts paid off with noteworthy results, as the research identified gene signatures that indicated what patients responded to treatment and those that didn’t – a giant leap forward in their medicine.
What’s more, Rodriguez notes, is that the initial grant has spawned a cadre of further opportunities including OSCAR undergraduate students continuing the analysis of the data set, and grants submitted to NIH, as well as to NSF for a grant on the biology of mitochondria. The project has also been featured in several poster presentations. One such notable presentation was at the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation Summit in September, a convocation of the leaders of research and treatment of Pulmonary Fibrosis, where the poster ranked in the Top 10.
“The 4-VA grant got this ball rolling,” concludes Rodriguez, “and we’ve progressed a long way from the start of this effort. However, I can see this initial research continuing to produce important results for years to come.”
More than 140 leaders from Virginia’s K-12 and higher education institutions, out-of-school providers, the private and business sectors, and state officials and institutions joined together recently to begin the work of developing a blueprint for a statewide STEM network. This structure will be the basis for creating cross sector pedagogies providing Virginia’s youth access to a learning environment which will allow them to grow important skills to engage in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from PreK – 16. “Virginia’s STEM Summit” was hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University and sponsored through a grant from 4-VA. The project was developed by a group 4-VA schools – VCU, Virginia Tech, George Mason, James Madison, and University of Virginia in coordination with the Virginia Department of Education and the Office of the Governor.
Governor Ralph Northam has charged Virginia’s STEM leaders with the job of creating an infrastructure, with input from all stakeholders, for the newly-appointed Virginia STEM Education Commission. The strategic plan is due next year.
As 4-VA grant team member and Associate Director of the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts at Virginia Tech Susan Magliaro, explained, “Our goal today is to provide a well woven tapestry of information from our STEM leaders.”
The day-long conference began with a keynote address from retired NASA astronaut, materials science engineer, educator, and former NFL wide receiver Leland Melvin. Melvin shared with the audience how STEM education necessitates an open mind, perseverance, and personal support in order to be successful. George Mason University’s PI on the project, Dr. Padmanabhan Seshaiyer noted, “Leland was the perfect kick-off for our conference. He clearly illustrated that STEM doesn’t have to be stuffy or difficult to understand, it’s a hands-on experiential learning opportunity which can open doors for all of our students, and especially our minority or underserved students. It can bring projects and process to life.”
Other Mason participants in this 4-VA summit included members with diverse backgrounds and expertise in STEM including Dr. Rebecca Jones, Ms. Kelly Knight, Dr. Karen Lee, Dr. Kammy Sanghera and Ms. Kerin Hilker-Balkissoon.
The conference also included a panel discussion addressing some of the more difficult obstacles to overcome while implementing STEM programs, presented by a range of leaders from the business, education and policy arenas. Each highlighted best practices developed by state or local school boards from around the country. The consensus was that successful existing ecosystems in STEM were developed by building a culture which welcomed all stakeholders, and where the resulting guidelines represented a convergence of values and practices.
Following the panel discussions, attendees joined together to hammer out the framework for such ecosystems based on their professional backgrounds.
Longtime STEM proponent Amy Sabarre, Director of STEM Education for the Harrisonburg City Schools, observed, “I’ve been involved with the development of a core curriculum for STEM in the Commonwealth for years, and this Summit has been a long time coming. But, we’re here now, and we’re making great strides.”
Concurrently, newer stakeholders see the same bright future. Says Makerspace coordinator at William and Mary, Jonathan Frey, “Makerspaces have been growing and evolving at a dramatic pace throughout the world. What was once a location for tinkerers to play with technology has now become an impactful community engineering center both in academia and the private sector. Here in the Commonwealth there are dozens of makerspaces and it’s time to coordinate collaboration throughout Virginia. The 4-VA STEM Summit offers an opportunity for introduction and collaboration between such efforts from the peaks of Appalachia to the sands of the eastern shore.”
The day concluded with a group effort to integrate the work created at each roundtable into a viable framework for the Commonwealth. The conclusions will provide the basis for the STEM ecosystem build out and will be forwarded to the Virginia’s STEM Education Commission.