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Bringing Technology to Public Good

Mason and JMU “Engineers” Project for Hard-of-Hearing Community

When a proposal to fund a project entitled “Toward T-Shaped Graduates: A Joint Capstone Program at the Nexus of Mechanical Engineering and Science and Technology Policy” arrived at the 4-VA@Mason office, it was quickly apparent that it would check more than a few 4-VA boxes – creating an interdisciplinary, wholistic approach for education which utilizes technology for societal good.  As it turns out, the 4-VA Advisory Board agreed, and a grant for the research was extended.

This project asked students from James Madison University and Mason to consider how technology can be applied to solve challenges that include both technological and policy components.  Through trans-institutional partnerships, students were challenged to innovate outside of their disciplinary backgrounds by collaborating across programs.  They were guided by four faculty advisors from a range of fields — engineering, biotechnology, political science, and communications. As the lead PI Dr. Jeffrey Moran explains it, “T-shaped graduates are those that represent both a depth (the stem of the capital letter ‘T’) and breadth (top of ‘T’) of expertise.”

Moran sought to task students with the goal of addressing public needs; this often means tackling problems that straddle boundaries between disciplines. Moran noted that today’s environment calls for a new type of student and professional – an individual who is skilled in transcending disciplinary silos to address undertakings that do not fit into a single, specific category. 

Mason student and team lead Kyle Hall called the project assignment complex and challenging. “It was so broad and open, it was hard to know where to begin,” Hall says.  That, along with the shutdown brought on by the pandemic, the team (naming themselves ‘Level 6’ — see below) was prevented from meeting in person with the JMU students or with policymakers (as originally intended) to discuss the project.  Nevertheless, they forged ahead armed with research confirming that the deaf and hard-of-hearing community were often hampered by their disability when driving. 

Looking toward the future of autonomous vehicles (AV), the team settled on creating an alert system for an AV to support hard-of-hearing adults as they rode in an AV.

Their first assignment would be to learn more about the specific needs of the population. Fortunately, Hall notes, the JMU group had experience in theory and research reports and were able to provide the necessary foundation to begin project development. Additionally, because the JMU team also had experience in research involving human subjects, they were able to obtain permission from an institutional review board to start the study almost immediately.

Following the JMU start, the Mason team procured a golf cart to function as the prototype vehicle for the project, and they launched on a series of technological modifications to alert the ‘driver’ to activities around the vehicle.

First, the students created an alert system using a 360-degree microphone mounted in the cart.  The microphone, linked to a Raspberry Pi (a small onboard computer), reads sounds in the immediate area. Using machine learning approaches, the system detects 10 different sounds that signal the need for increased caution, including an ambulance, fire engine and police siren, honking horn, construction work, people yelling, children playing, and dogs barking. The process was sometimes time-consuming – as is typical for machine learning, the system had to be “trained” to recognize these sounds, sometimes taking up to 100 hours for the network to learn one sound. When one of the 10 noises is detected, a seat cushion outfitted with a haptic sensor vibrates to let the driver know that a hazard is nearby.  The driver is then prompted to read a tablet screen on the dashboard which identifies the noise.

One additional piece of instrumentation outfitted in the vehicle is a camera installed on the ceiling, which is pointed at the driver’s forehead and can read body temperature.  Although not solely relevant to deaf users, the team anticipated that body temperature checks will be widely considered the norm for ridesharing in the post-COVID-19 era.

This labor-intensive systems creation and testing was undertaken in a workshop located on the Science and Technology campus in Manassas, where the group met most Friday afternoons during the spring semester. There, Hall says, they each focused on specific elements of the technology, but worked together to ensure a seamless final product.  (In one positive outcome of the general switch to virtual learning due to the pandemic; a JMU student on the team, who was living at home in Northern Virginia taking online classes, was able to join the Mason team in person in Manassas.)    

“This project allowed the advisors and students to tackle complex, multifaceted problems for the public good while building a great relationship with our colleagues at James Madison, which will continue in the future,” says Moran.  “And the students far exceeded our expectations for finding creative solutions to difficult problems, especially during this complicated year and with such an open-ended project.”

Nathan M. Kathir, Associate Professor & Director of Senior Projects in the Department of Mechanical Engineering Projects agrees, “A primary objective of the mechanical engineering program’s senior design course, also known as the capstone program, is to enrich the educational experience of senior-level students with a real-world engineering experience.  Mason’s six students on the Team level-6 experienced much more than that.”  Kathir continues, “In the program’s five-year history, they were the first team to collaborate with those outside of Mason and they did that despite restrictions due to Covid-19 throughout the year.  In a T-shaped graduate manner, not only they used their technical expertise, but they also excelled on other areas such as collaboration, communication, partnering with external stakeholders, managing risks, and planning for unknowns.”

Hall and Moran foresee that this project could be the beginning of a true legacy project, augmented by students in the future, adding modifications for communities with vision or mobility issues.  “I can see that this project could continue to build great things,” notes Moran.

Meet the Level 6* Team

Although each member of the team focused on specific and separate modifications for the vehicle, it was a group effort to bring the total technology to fruition.

Josh Ogden — devised the technology for the camera.

Paul Cipparone — formulated the haptic cushion.

Jeorge del Carpio Arispe — focused on the touch screen.

Oliver Lopez — worked on CAD modeling.

Raizel Clemente — handled all communications, purchases for items and materials.

Kyle Hall — organized the project and insured deadlines were met and wrote all the reports.

*The Level 6 name is a nod to the ratings of AVs – as a Tesla is considered Level 3, highly autonomous cars are Level 5 — this team’s development of technical modifications is Level 6.

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Putting the History of Higher Education Under a Microscope

While the Council for the Advancement of Higher Education Programs (CAHEP) considers the history of higher education a required knowledge area, and it is often a core course in higher education programs nationally, Mason’s Kelly Schrum, PhD, recognized that the class is rarely taught by historians and often lacks a focus on the critical thinking, research, and digital literacy skills essential for success in the rapidly changing higher education workplace.

When Schrum, a historian and associate professor of higher education, discussed this disconnect with colleague Chase Catalano, PhD, at Virginia Tech (VT), they saw that within this challenge there was an interesting opportunity:  Create a history of higher education course at Mason and VT that is founded on historical thinking and research skills. Students could work collaboratively on digital research projects that draw on university archives locally and nationally.  Moreover, they could build on this work to create an open educational resource (OER) on the history of higher education.

Schrum developed a plan, and then turned to 4-VA@Mason to seek a Collaborate Research Grant for her project entitled, “Reimagining the History of Higher Education in the Digital Age.”  Subsequently, Schrum and Catalano received 4-VA funding to help get the project off the ground and, joined by Sophia Abbot, a doctoral student at Mason, they got to work. 

Abbot, who has previously been involved with faculty development and has studied student-faculty partnerships in teaching, plays several integral roles in the project. The first is determining the current teaching landscape in higher education.  To that end, Abbot and Mason sophomore, Kelly Tcheou, sent out surveys to instructors involved in teaching the history of higher education around the country to determine the specific subject areas included in their courses.

Along with Schrum and Catalano, Abbot implemented a new primary source learning activity for their courses this past fall. While Schrum and Catalano supported students in the selection of their research topics and their analysis of primary historical sources, Abbot helped students translate their research to the digital space as they developed online learning activities for their peers. Abbot shares the example of one student’s research which looked at the history and the language of the Pell Grant.  The student gained a deeper understanding of how the language used in the original legislation resulted in who was able to gain access to the grants over the years; and who was not.  “Their research is doing exactly what we’d hoped… students are empowered to take historical thinking into their work,” says Abbot. “When students create historical narratives — learning the context and history of the sources — they can look back at sources and understand the impact of the history of higher education on colleges and universities today.”

Additionally, Abbot introduces students to the opportunity to share their work on the primary source website the team is building. Here, Abbot acts as a liaison between the Mason and VT students and faculty.  “Because I am not in an evaluation role, I am able to make sure that students understand that sharing – or not sharing — their work is completely optional and will not affect their grade.  I’m there to communicate the importance of consent,” she notes. 

Assisting Abbot with the website is Carolyn Mason who graduated from Mason in December with BA in anthropology and plans to begin a PhD program in anthropology in the fall. Mason identifies primary sources related to higher education including a university’s founding, student life, academics, and campus culture and uploads them to the website. She is also collecting a list of university archives that house historical documents related to their institution.

At the conclusion of the history courses, Abbot returns to interview students on both campuses to determine their thoughts about the class and their decision regarding sharing their work on the website.  She has interviewed 12 students and collected 19 student projects from both campuses.

While the project is still in its infancy, it has already generated a lot of attention. The prototype website presents more than 100 primary sources. Over 60 history of higher education instructors have responded to the invitation to share their teaching practices. And the team has piloted their primary source learning activity in two different higher education graduate courses (Fall 2020) and recruited a third course to pilot the activity (Spring 2021).

“We were delighted to have the ability to enrich the study of higher education, offer our students the opportunity to develop asynchronous online learning activities, and promote collaboration across institutions,” explains Schrum.  “Already, we have had great results.”

Abbot, Schrum, and Catalano presented initial findings at the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy in February.

“This project has been a wonderful exercise in collaboration and research,” concludes Schrum.  “In fact, it has caught the eye of our colleagues at several additional 4-VA schools who are interested in partnering with us on this in the future.  We are also looking at the development of a workshop on this for instructors in the history of higher education. There may be more to come!”

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Virginia Food Systems Leadership Institute: From Concept to Course

     4-VA@Mason takes great pride in being the catalyst for hundreds of impactful research projects and innovations in higher education.  This is achieved via micro grant seed funding for Collaborative Research Grants; supporting projects that encourage cooperation between partner schools within the state and capitalize on the strengths of each school.

     However, a new milestone was reached in this effort this spring — as one such grant team partnership morphed from a multi-year, thoughtful, wholistic, statewide Collaborative Research project to another of 4-VA’s foundational endeavors, Shared Courses.  The Shared Course concept has its roots in the 4-VA commitment to identify and deliver top tier courses between partner schools, thus saving the costs involved in bringing unique classes to fruition on each campus.

     The project crossing this boundary is the Virginia Food System Leadership Institute (VFSLI), which found its footings at a 4VA-funded symposium in 2015 at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation in Front Royal.  There, interested faculty were brought together from Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, James Madison University and George Mason University.  Also attending the symposium were campus dining services personnel and sustainability managers. They discussed avenues to harness the intellectual, human, and economic capital of colleges and universities to foster the emerging food economy in Virginia.

   “Immediately, we saw a lot of synergy.  We had a passionate group of folks involved in all areas of food — producers, delivery partners, and consumers.” says Kerri LaCharite, PhD, Assistant Professor in Mason’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies. “What’s more, we also recognized the need to support small-to medium-sized growers by helping them access institutional markets — a real boost for Virginia’s rural economy.”

     In April of 2016, again under the 4-VA banner, a second symposium convened more than 40 Virginia food system stakeholders including farmers and processors; distributors and Aramark and Sodexo representatives (food service vendors at Virginia colleges); and faculty from the four schools.  Their focus was to increase university sourcing of Virginia-grown food.

     In 2018, the leaders of this effort from the four 4-VA schools developed an intensive four-week class which was piloted at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation.  It was an instant success. 

     Mason Nutrition and Food Studies graduate student Kelly Kogan attended the course.  “This course was a fantastic chance to really immerse myself in the complex and changing chain of food delivery systems in Virginia,” Kogan said.  “I also loved the mix of students who attended.  We were graduates and undergraduates representing five schools.”

     This year, the latest breakthrough is the course: NUTR 626 Food Systems — a fully online, asynchronous, and synchronous, class offered through 4-VA Shared Courses program.  It will run Monday through Friday May 24 through June 17 with synchronous sessions 12-1 pm and 5-6:30 pm. Although Mason’s LaCharite and UVA’s Tanya Deckla Cobb will take the lead, the teaching will be divided between all the schools – including Tech’s Kim Niewolny and Michael Broderick from JMU. This year, this top team is joined by former Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Basil Gooden, currently a visiting scholar at VCU.

(Part of the VFSLI team on a recent call:  Clockwise from top right:  Kerri LaCharite, Basil Gooden, Michael Broderick and Tanya Deckla Cobb.)   

     “This is a one-of-a-kind class which could only have been developed through a true collaborative effort,” explains LaCharite.  “Each school contributed something vital to the project, and we are the better for it.  But, without the 4-VA funding, this would never have happened.  We’ve gone from a concept to a reality which will benefit students – and, subsequently, food system sustainability, farmers, schools, and businesses throughout Virginia.”

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Collaborative Research Grant Calls for Proposals Now Open

4-VA@Mason has opened calls for Collaborative Research Grant (CRG) proposals for the 2021-2022 academic year.  Proposals will be accepted from March 1 through April 15, 2021. Proposal information can be found here. The grants are designed to facilitate and support alliances which leverage the strengths of each partner university to improve efficiencies in research and higher education.

“The 4-VA Collaborative Research Grant program provides our Mason faculty an opportunity to bring to life a research endeavor that will benefit our students, higher education, citizens statewide, and audiences beyond,” explains 4-VA@Mason Campus Coordinator Janette Muir.  “This CRG program provides faculty with seed money to develop proposals and hypotheses with an eye toward improving research competitiveness in the state and winning subsequent major, federal grants for the projects.”

Since the premiere of the Collaborative Research Grant program at Mason in 2013, more than 65 4-VA CRG projects have been funded, covering a range of topics throughout schools from humanities to the sciences.  Previous grant subjects have included increasing food sustainability in the state; testing the antibacterial activity of computationally designed antimicrobial peptides; redesigning a core course on the history of higher education; and accelerating the discovery of novel polar thermoelectric materials.

Successful proposals will incorporate collaborations with faculty from at least one other 4-VA partner school; opportunities to engage undergraduate and graduate student researchers for real-world experience and growth; and plans for the dissemination of research findings statewide or nationally.

The Collaborative Research Grants are just one segment of a greater 4-VA mission to identify and boost efficiencies in educational design and research.  Now in its 10th year at Mason, the 4-VA program also supports Course Redesign, Shared Courses, and Degree Completion.

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4-VA@Mason Offers Online Academic Assessment Grants

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.


4-VA@Mason Awards 20-21 Collaborative Research Grants

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?

(with UVA)

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

(with UVA)

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?

(with JMU)

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

(with VT)

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

(with VT)

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

(with UVA)

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.


4-VA@Mason Grant Provides Rich Research Opportunity

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!”


A Circuitous Route in Materials Development for ECE 385

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.



Calls for Collaborative Research Grant Proposals Held Open

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.


4-VA Grant Supports State STEM Summit

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.”

Left to Right, Padhu Seshaiyer (Mason), Leland Melvin and Kelly Knight (Mason)

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.