Increasing Enrollment + Reduced Teaching Space + New Course Structure: A 4-VA Study Reaps Rewards

The story of increasing enrollment resulting in new instructors, reductions in teaching space, and revisions in course structure: OR How a critical analysis of a Mason Core course created and confirmed a positive change for students

Several dilemmas were facing Mason’s COMM 100 and 101 courses:

  • enrollment topping a record 4,000+ students
  • an ever-changing and often novice set of 50-60 of instructors and the corresponding need to ensure teaching consistency and quality
  • reduced classroom availability
  • three different delivery methods, with no real data on what version was most successful

The question became how to wrestle these problems while maintaining and/or improving failure rates.  While the process was pivotal, successful outcomes were vital.

Such was the concern for Dr. Melissa Broeckelman-Post, the Basic Communication Course Director, an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and a Senior Scholar in the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at Mason.  She is responsible for planning, supervising, assessing, and improving the communication courses that meet the general education requirement at Mason.

Broeckelman-Post recognized she needed to put some serious analytical insight into best practices for this course — from materials and methodologies to delivery methods and student results.  But how to pull off this important, yet complex, analysis while juggling an already full schedule?

The answer was found in a grant from 4-VA at Mason. 

The Team:  (left to right) Katherine Hyatt Hawkins, Andie Malterud, Anthony Arciero, Melissa Broeckelman-Post, and Briana Stewart.

Armed with the financial support to hire a cadre of Ph.D. students to produce the “in the weeds” analysis, in one short year, Broeckelman-Post had both the necessary numbers and the path to developing and delivering a course that met the needs of the students and produced a blueprint for a pedagogical “win.”  The research focused on pre- and post- course student surveys which considered communication apprehension, interpersonal communication competence, communication competence and engagement.  Additionally, the analysis considered grades, attendance records, and a detailed review of more than 300 explanatory speeches, a required 5- to 7-minute presentation by all students.  Four expert coders evaluated the presentations for five different elements – introduction, body, conclusion, overall impression and delivery. 

Then, this analysis was applied to the two different delivery versions of the course: Face-to-Face and a fully online course, plus a pilot of a new version of the course which is based on a lecture/lab/speech lab format.

The results pointed to the newer version of the class. 

In this version, Broeckelman-Post delivers an online media-rich introduction, with includes content overviews, readings, TED talks, model speeches, video analysis and pre-class activities.  This not only assured a complete and thorough content delivery, it also saved precious classroom space.  Last spring, this version was pilot tested in six sections of the course, and after seeing the results of this study, has been implemented for 100 sections this academic year.

The introduction is then followed by small group interactive face-to-face lab with discussions, interviews and group work presentations.

The bonus comes in the final element of the course that was added for the fall semester – individualized coaching sessions in the new Communication Center for all students enrolled in the course.  In the Communication Center, which is funded by the cost savings from moving the first hour of the course online, students meet with student Communication Coaches to get feedback on outlines, video record and practice presentations, practice interviews, work on developing group presentations, and more.  Most of the Coaches are members of Mason’s nationally-renowned forensics and debate teams, graduate students who also teach the course, and students who have demonstrated outstanding communication and feedback skills, who are able to share their advanced training with students that are just getting started.

The Communication Center is a ‘one stop shop’ for valuable one-on-one coaching sessions for students as they prepare presentations.  Currently, the Center is open every day between 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM and books more than 300 appointments a week.  It is anticipated that number will balloon as more students recognize the benefit of the help.

“The bottom line of this effort is that we’ve produced a course pathway that provides the best possible outcomes for our undergraduate students, while supporting our instructors with a rich resource of teaching tools and techniques,” explains Broeckelman-Post.  “What’s more, we’ve streamlined the course and saved some money, which we then were able to use to create our first-of-its-kind on-campus Communication Center.  We are very proud that we were able to deliver this terrific outcome for all Mason students — thanks to our 4-VA grant!”

Communication Research and the Communication Center: It takes a team

Broeckelman-Post credits much of the success of this research project to the graduate student research team, which includes an ace crew of PhD candidates and a student earning her Masters.  Katherine Hyatt Hawkins, Andie Malterud, and Anthony Arciero worked on the 4-VA grant, and Hyatt Hawkins and Briana Stewert are working on a subsequent research grant that is evaluating the added impact of the Communication Center.

Katherine Hyatt Hawkins is a third year PhD candidate in Communication who will graduate in May 2019.  She studies health and instructional communication, and is currently managing the Communication, Health, and Relational Media (CHARM) Lab for the Communication department with Dr. Sojung Kim.  Hyatt Hawkins served as the Basic Course Assistant and has helped to build the Communication Center.  Hyatt Hawkins’ resume also includes internships at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Andie Malterud is a second year PhD student in Communication and is the Communication Center Coordinator.  She also studies health and instructional communication and has served as the Basic Course Assistant. Malterud comes to Mason following her undergraduate and Masters work in South Dakota.

Anthony Arciero is now in his fourth year of a PhD program, with a specialization in Educational Psychology, and a secondary emphasis in Research Methodology. Arciero also works in the College of Education and Human Development in the Accreditation and External Reporting Office as a Graduate Research Assistant.  He is a 22-year veteran of the Air Force, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Briana Stewart is a first year MA student in Communication and is the Assistant Communication Center Coordinator this year.  She previously worked in the writing centers at Oakton High School and Christopher Newport University.  Stewart and Malterud are currently working on a follow-up project funded by a Curriculum Impact Grant and Faculty Research Development Award to help evaluate the impact of the Communication Center.


Moving Virginia Healthcare Forward Through Effective Communication

Just as the nation as a whole is grappling with issues from A to Z in healthcare, concerned scholars studying the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine in Virginia were interested in what role they could play in moving and improving their field within the Commonwealth.  While faculty members and students around the state have previously communicated on a range of topics via emails or brief phone calls, they saw the need to work collaboratively to create a space for research and study.

“What we knew was that our discipline continues to grow in Virginia, with programs at Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, and James Madison as well has here at Mason. But we didn’t want to grow these programs in silos,” explains Heidi Lawrence, assistant professor in writing and rhetoric at Mason.  “What we also knew was that by working together, it would be better for our collective student and faculty bodies as well as to help advance critical medical communications and messaging issues at the state level.”

When Lawrence saw the opportunity to use a 4-VA grant to achieve that goal, she jumped at the chance to take the important first step in generating collegiality in the field among the Virginia partner schools.

The grant provided the funding for a first-of-its-kind statewide symposium “The Virginia Colloquium on the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine” (VCRHM).

Their goal was three pronged:  to provide students and faculty with mentoring and academic opportunities; to look closely at what role the group could collectively play in improving healthcare of populations across the state utilizing their humanistic approach; and to explore possibilities for pursuing funded research in the future.

The Colloquium was hosted at Mason in June 2018 and featured a keynote address by internationally-renowned health and medical communication expert Dr. Kirk St. Amant of Louisiana Tech University, presentations from four graduate students, a lightning round collaboration session and concluded with a panel presentation on pursuing further research.  Attendees included representatives from Mason, Madison, Tech, the University of Mary Washington, and the University Detroit Mercy.

Evaluations from the workshop illustrate the success of the event:

“It was a treat meeting other students and faculty in Virginia (and elsewhere) doing RHM work.  I especially like the opportunity for faculty to mentor students and, in turn, learn from them.”

“The networking was most valuable.  The unique perspectives that people brought were also equally valuable.”

Lawrence explains that the Colloquium participants are now moving forward as a team.  In April, the second annual meeting of the VCRHM will be convened at Madison.  During this workshop-based meeting, team members will use their expertise to tackle a difficult and weighty issue in Virginia – managing communications and messaging as applied to the opioid crisis.  They are now analyzing methods of rhetoric to develop a humanities-based approach to the problem, including collecting qualitative data on communities in crisis and working through mechanisms to communicate findings to community partners (e.g. hospitals, first responders, public health officials), and other stakeholders.

“If not for the 4-VA grant, we would never have been able to begin this important work,” says Lawrence.  “We owe our foundation and progress to 4-VA — 100 percent!”


4-VA Grant Supports Growing Multilingual Student Population at Mason

While at some institutions a student population of 45 to 50 percent identifying that English is not their primary language at home might be viewed as a challenge — at George Mason University that multilingual and multicultural diversity is celebrated as a resource.

Although national data on this subject at the university level is not easily gathered, it’s a good guess that Mason’s level of multilingual diversity may in fact teeter on being historic.  The degree of diversity, however, is not surprising for a campus that is located near an international city like Washington, DC and one that has valued and encouraged diversity.

With no existing road maps for multilingual student success, Mason INTO has joined with the Stearns Center to develop a ground-breaking effort to harness this resource and create a path for faculty and students to support them on their academic journey.

Helping build that path is a grant from 4-VA which funds two fellows who are already knee deep in data analysis and resource development – the foundation of the effort.

“At Mason, we pride ourselves on our diversity, but we can’t just point to our population numbers and say ‘look at us’ — we want and need to do more.  Our focus is to develop Mason’s agility and ability to work across cultures and languages,” explains INTO’s Interim Academic Director Karyn Kessler.  “We have a treasure trove at our fingertips which we can use to prepare Mason grads to have a global mindset and to work on global problems.”

Sara Mathis was brought on to analyze and report on quantitative and qualitative data regarding multilingual/international students, and their educational needs, as well as to design and implement follow-up studies to determine further needs for students and faculty. Mathis points out, “Although we already have clear data about international students, who form 8-11% of Mason’s student body, it’s important that we expand our base to include all our multilingual students. For instance, when we look at the results of surveys of the 100 level students, we conclude that 30-35% of our students speak a language other than English at home.  However, when we survey our 300 level students, which includes transfer students from NOVA, that figure grows to as high as 45-50%.”

Esther Namubiru has been selected to develop online resources and face-to-face guidance for faculty as they work with both international and locally-based Mason students who would benefit from English language support.  “We are looking at developing a variety of resources for our faculty in this area,” notes Namubiru.  “It might be a workshop or a series of workshops, course redesign support, online resources, or presentations – we will be flexible in our delivery methods based on the needs of the faculty.”

Thanks to 4-VA support, Mason is now set to move forward to take a leadership role in this arena.

Shelley Reid, Director for Teaching Excellence at the Stearns Center and Kessler’s partner in the program, notes “Our Mason student population is a microcosm of the population of Metropolitan Washington, DC, which, in turn, is a reflection of our growing global community.  We have an exciting resource at our hands, and we want to make the most of it.”



4-VA Funding Advances the ASSIP Success Story

As a former high school science teacher at Chantilly and Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County, Andrea Cobb, (PhD in biochemistry) saw the difference with her own eyes.  After sending her students off to a summer research experience through Mason’s Aspiring Scientist’s Summer Internship Program (ASSIP), they would return in the fall as changed students.  “They came back to school looking and sounding like inspired scientists, with a resume full of authentic research under their belts.  I could see the difference in their eyes and read it in their papers,” says Cobb.

Fast Forward: Today Cobb is the Director at ASSIP and has hands-on evidence of that evolution, from student learner to avid researcher, reflected in the more than 100 students that passed through the doors last summer – both high schoolers from across the region and undergraduates from across the nation.

Launched in 2007 by Dr. Lance Liotta, Dr. Emanuel Petricoin III, Dr. Virginia Espina, and Amy Adams, ASSIP gives high school and undergraduate students with an interest in STEM access to real-world, research.  ASSIP attracts students from a wide range of schools — from Virginia (including UVA and William and Mary), to California, (including Stanford and Berkeley), as well as students from smaller schools like Troy University and Carleton College. Mentors from Mason’s College of Science donate their time each summer to deliver this rich experience.

ASSIP’s reputation is almost without parallel. “Aside from a similar program being run, and richly funded, by NIH; ASSIP is in a league of our own,” says Cobb.

The program boasts a long string of success stories, including 2018 ASSIP alums Ankit Gupta and David Rudo who won Virginia Congressional Representative Gerry Connelly’s APP Challenge (a national competition aimed at encouraging U.S. high school students to learn how to code by creating their own applications) with their leading-edge technology known as “Stroke Save.”

As Cobb reports, ASSIP and the team behind it, had much work to do.  Their intention was to go full steam ahead and grow the program exponentially.  “We see this program as a game changer for our students. And to be truly successful, we need to broaden our reach,” explains Cobb.

For 2019, their goals were aggressive: Grow from 100 students and 25 mentors in 2018, to 200 students with additional mentors this year.

But the challenge for Cobb was clear:  funding.  They would need to supplement their budget with the dollars necessary to overcome a number of critical roadblocks preventing them from scaling up including conducting background checks, hiring a work flow manager, developing a training program for grad student mentors and a myriad of other essential elements.

That’s where 4-VA came in.  “This program aligns nicely with our 4-VA goals,” says Mason’s Campus Coordinator and Associate Provost Janette Muir.  “We identify and support those jewels of ideas that create opportunities for higher education.  We see the possibilities and provide greater access.”

Now, thanks to that grant from 4-VA, Cobb put the ASSIP growth plans into motion. The 2019 summer program includes students from 54 universities and 171 high schools worldwide.   Cobb notes that there are 135 participants researching with 38 mentors.  Of the 135 students, 41 are college students from at least 16 different universities in 7 states (Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC, Florida, Kentucky and New York).  Virginia universities represented include William and Mary, George Mason, University of Virginia, the University of Mary Washington, James Madison University, Virginia Tech and Northern Virginia Community Colleges.  The high school students hail from 28 different high schools within 5 states (Oregon, California, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia).

In addition to the 135 students mentored for the entire summer, ASSIP has expanded access to real world research through several shorter duration courses.  This summer, 107 students attended research-related short courses including Introduction to Bioinformatics, Hands-On Introduction to Data Sciences and Life Sciences Proposal Preparation Boot Camp.

Dr. Michael Summers addresses the ASSIP students.

With that, they have welcomed 242 students for research this summer, well exceeding their 2019 goal of 200 students.  That welcome officially kicked off June 17 with the ASSIP orientation.  The students filled the Verizon auditorium at the Sci-Tech campus, brimming with ideas, energy and enthusiasm.  After settling in to their seats in the auditorium, the orientation started strong with a presentation by Mason’s own Dr. Michael E. Summers, a planetary scientist who specializes in the study of structure and evolution of planetary atmospheres.  Summers reviewed for the students his role and experiences on the mission teams of several NASA space probes considering science planning and interpretation of spacecraft observations. He is currently a co-investigator on the NASA New Horizons mission to the Pluto-Charon double planet, where he serves as the deputy lead of the Atmospheres Theme Team.

Following Summers’ presentation, students were divided into groups so that they could learn more about important safety procedures in advance of their summer research.

Svetlana Senina, Biosafety Officer
John Crocker, Chemical Safety Manager








The afternoon was filled with copious note taking, thoughtful discussion, and group decision-making.  For 17-year-old Divjot Bedi, a rising senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, it was a day to whet his appetite for a deep dive into another summer of research.  This will be Bedi’s second stint at ASSIP and he can’t wait to get started.  “Last year, I gained a lot of strengths going through this program, but, importantly, I also learned a lot about my weaknesses, it showed me where I needed to focus to make the most of my time here,” said Bedi.  “This program fosters creativity, imagination, and collaboration — it’s truly exciting.”  Bedi emphasizes the importance and value of working with a mentor.  “I was able to do research with Dr. Caroline Hoemann last year, who is in the Bioengineering Department.  We analyzed white blood cell movement and how that might be applied to cancer research and therapy.” Bedi is clearly passionate about his work through ASSIP, but credits the program for giving him hands-on access to important research that brings his passion to life.

Even with the heavy lift of the subject matter during the orientation, it was clear that the aspiring scientists concluded the day more enthused then when they walked in that morning.

Concludes Cobb, “This funding couldn’t have come at a better time.  Imagine the possibilities; imagine the real-world difference this will make. We are so appreciative of the 4-VA support.”


NOVA and Mason Summit Encourages Business and Educational Collaboration

Taking another important step forward, the innovative partnership program between Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and George Mason University (Mason) — known as ADVANCE — recently hosted a Summit which brought together regional and national leaders from both the Technology and Health sectors to work with faculty to develop collaborations in support of current students and future needs of the business community.  This summit was the first in a series of meetings supported through an APLU Collaborative Opportunity Grant.  Mason 4-VA supports the ADVANCE initiative through personnel support and course development — aligning well with state 4-VA goals focused on access and completion.

Although the goal of the Summit was multipurpose, it focused heavily on determining the future employee skill sets desired in the two sectors with an eye toward building educational curricula for the Mason/NOVA ADVANCE students to meet those needs.  “We recognize the importance of building relationships with the business community so that we can work together to build the employee workforce necessary to be successful,” explained Janette Muir, Associate Provost for Academic Initiatives and Services at Mason, one of the hosts of the event.

A wide range of more than 40 diverse companies were represented at the event – including MITRE, Deloitte, SAIC, Amazon, INOVA, OrthoVirginia, and Sunrise Senior Living.  Leaders from these companies along with faculty from Mason and NOVA spent the afternoon in a working round-table setting, outlining the specific needs of future work forces.  “We want our students to walk into the doors these companies and others being the best prepared and effective employee. To do so, we need to identify the current knowledge gaps and determine what we can do to bridge those gaps,” continued Muir. 

The Summit produced an array of concrete steps to begin to integrate not only the hard, technical skills needed by the business community but also a detailed list of “soft” skills important in any office environment, including communication tools and techniques, office protocol, business development and team building.  

Thanks to the Summit, faculty members from both NOVA and Mason will return to their departments armed with an updated set of educational goals and guidelines to integrate into their curricula. 

Karen Underwood, the Academic Manager of Computational and Data Sciences at Mason left the Summit with an even more concrete result, a list of business community members who have agreed to visit the campus to provide seminars to students on a variety of topics.  Underwood sees real value in developing these relationships, “Learning about real world work scenarios and meeting potential future employers as an undergraduate will be a wonderful networking opportunity for our students.  This feels like the start of something very worthwhile for all.”


NVCC and Mason Strengthen Program to Assist Transfer Students

Almost 150 educators from more than 20 different departments at both Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) and George Mason University volunteered to spend their day off recently aligning courses and designing curricula to help provide a streamlined transition for NVCC students interested in transferring to Mason for a four-year degree. 

The conference was part of an ongoing partnership between the schools known as ADVANCE, which currently includes 19 programs of study, with an aggressive goal of 50 programs of study by the Fall of 2019.

In the “sleeves rolled up” session, faculty worked together discussing the details of their respective courses and creating educational goals and progressions that will mirror the partner school.  Conference hosts were Janette Kenner Muir, Associate Provost, Academic Initiatives & Services at Mason and Sheri Robertson Associate Vice President Academic Affairs at NVCC.  Muir told attendees that the difficulties inherent in the effort are clearly understood and recognized, “We know that there is no easy or quick fix to align these courses – the devil is in the details.  However, the results will be worth it for our students here in Northern Virginia.”

NVCC President Dr. Scott Ralls opened the conference by noting several obstacles facing students in the current transfer process, including a lack of clarity regarding prerequisite courses, confusion due to separate guidance services, and often-tedious paperwork; all resulting in a loss of an average of 15 credits per student.  “This meeting is important and historic.  Rarely do groups of faculty get together to take on this difficult process – in this room we have educators that care about their students.  We’re part of something bigger than ourselves and our institutions,” explained Ralls.

Also in attendance at the conference were representatives from the Aspen Institute interested in college access and transferability.  Although the Institute is studying programs in Texas, Minnesota and Virginia, they plan to utilize the ADVANCE program as a model for their work.

Following a panel discussion addressing changes being instituted in the advising process, providing access to Mason student life, and streamlining enrollment and registration services, participants broke into groups based on their areas of study and got to work.  Professors attending the conference came from a variety of departments including Health, Information Technology, Math, English, Education, Visual Design and the Sciences. At the conclusion, each group created a “pathway” worksheet, outlining each of their courses and the necessary steps to merge or mirror them.

David Wu, Provost and Executive Vice President at Mason, thanked the attendees noting, “It’s really quite remarkable to see everyone coming together on their day off to take on this task. This concept is the talk of the town here in Northern Virginia, as well as in the state legislature and throughout the Commonwealth. It is an ambitious concept, but it’s not going to happen without your help. We are so appreciative of your efforts here today.”




4-VA at Mason Grants Highlighted at ITL Conference

The recent 10th Annual Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference at George Mason University featured a wide array of presentations, as faculty shared successful teaching tools and techniques with attendees.  The sharing continued into the poster session — where two Mason professors presented the results of their successful projects developed though 4-VA at Mason grants.

Associate Professor Kelly Schrum highlighted the fruitful results of her team’s 4-VA Collaborative Research Grant “ReSounding the Archives: Bringing music into learning,” and Associate Professor Catherine Saunders developed a poster detailing the redesign of English 302, thanks to a 4-VA Open Educational Resources grant.

“ReSounding the Archives” was the result of a collaboration of archivists, librarians, faculty, and students from Mason, and two other 4-VA institutions — University of Virginia and Virginia Tech — to delightfully bring the music of World War I to life and open the door to the power of the message behind America’s most popular songs of the time. Through research and recordings of WWI era sheet music, including cover art, musical notations and lyrics, the group dissected the scores, performed 18 different popular songs, and produced a website to share the entertaining results with the world. Visit

English 302 at George Mason University is a required, discipline-focused composition course that teaches undergraduates about the rhetorical conventions of research and writing in their academic disciplines — rare among American universities. As part of the Mason Core, it is also a required course.

This unique distinction of English 302, however, means that it is nearly impossible to find a suitable and/or affordable textbook. When Dr. Saunders learned about the 4-VA grant for course redesign using Open Educational Resources, she and her team of nine experienced 302 instructors applied for and received a 4-VA grant.  Saunders’ poster detailed the approach and results of the year-long effort.

“We’re delighted that Kelly and Cathy were able to illustrate how the 4-VA grants have made a difference for our students and our faculty here at Mason,” noted Janette Kenner Muir, 4-VA Campus Coordinator and Associate Provost for Academic Initiatives and Services, “4-VA gives us the opportunity to identify a valuable project and bring it to life.  We were pleased to be the launching pad for these and all of our 4-VA projects.”


New Course Promotes a More Sustainable Virginia Food System

Thanks to a seed planted by a 4-VA grant, a unique hands-on course in food sustainability — coordinated by the Director of Environmental and Sustainability Studies at George Mason University, Andrew Wingfield — was piloted this summer at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation in Front Royal, Va. Collaborating with Wingfield in the creation of the course were Dr. Kerri LaCharite, Assistant Professor in Mason’s department of Nutrition and Food Studies; faculty and staff from other 4-VA member institutions James Madison, University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech; and Dr. Catherine Christen of the Smithsonian Institution’s Conservation Commons.

University faculty, along with professionals from food systems stakeholder organizations including dining service companies Aramark and Sodexo, farmers, food aggregators and distributors, and food system labor leaders, led the classroom work.  The course also integrated field trips to farms, a produce auction, professional kitchens, and other food systems sites. One such field trip included a day at the innovative Polyface Farm, heavily featured in Michael Pollan’s noted book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and in the celebrated documentary Food, Inc. with discussions led by owner and renowned farmer Joel Salatin.

“We were delighted to be able to bring together a wide range of food professionals from diverse backgrounds to provide our students a complete picture of the challenges and opportunities for building a more sustainable Virginia food system,” explained Wingfield.  “It was a one-of-a-kind experience for all of us.”

Mason Nutrition and Food Studies graduate student Kelly Kogan was one such student who enjoyed the experience.  “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 — four in Virginia and one in New Jersey.  Most wonderfully, everyone was so passionate about the topic.  I felt an immediate spirit of camaraderie from the very first day.”

The intensive four-week class culminated in collaborative action research projects with a focus on increasing Virginia university sourcing of local and sustainably-produced foods. “We designed the course not only to teach about food sustainability, but to involve students directly in creating strategies to get more Virginia-grown food into the dining halls at our public universities,” concluded Wingfield.

*** All photo credits:  Kelly Kogan


Cyber Training and Education Conference Addresses Critical Shortage of Trained Professionals

Leaders from the business, academic, veterans, and local, state and federal government communities convened recently at the Cyber Training and Education Conference, held on the George Mason University Science and Technology campus in Manassas, Virginia. The conference’s purpose was to tackle a critical issue facing the region — 43,200 vacant jobs in cyber technology waiting for workers.

Recognizing the exploding cyber technology marketplace and seeing the need and opportunity to meet that challenge — via both traditional and alternative education and training methodologies – for area students as well as the burgeoning veteran’s population, conference organizers called together a wide range of stakeholders to outline a battle plan to meet that need.

Liza Wilson Durant, Associate Dean Strategic Initiatives and Community Engagement in the George Mason Volgenau School of Engineering, opened the conference by welcoming the attendees and reinforcing the critical need for properly trained employees of the future,  “At Mason, we’re engaged in a sprint to develop new, and expand existing STEM programs to support the industry demand, but we simply cannot graduate students fast enough.”

Noting the importance of working together, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors member and Chair of the Community, Military and Federal Facility Partnership of Northern Virginia Penny Gross called for a team approach to workforce development in her remarks to conference goers.

Keynote speaker Scott Ralls, President of Northern Virginia Community College, told the audience that Northern Virginia is “ground zero for cybersecurity job openings… but we have to move much faster to fill them, with scale and speed.”

Hundreds of attendees filled the auditorium at the Mason Sci-Tech campus to learn more about the future of cyber technology. The conference offered two tracks – one for teachers interested in developing and delivering curriculum for K-12 students as well as for administrators at area institutions of higher education; the second for veterans interested in applying their skills learned in the armed services to the cyber technology field. Various panels throughout the conference discussed the ways and means to achieve the best outcome to pave pathways to cyber employment.

Peggy Tadej, Director of Military Affairs for the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, one of the sponsors of the event, noted “We need more partnering like this conference; we need everyone to join in and be part of the solution.”

Other sponsors included Prince William County, Northern Virginia Technology Council, Cisco, Booz Allen Hamilton, Northern Virginia Community College, Mason’s Game and Technology Academy, Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering and Mason’s Serious Game Institute.

Olivia M. Blackmon, Director of Corporate Outreach and Special Projects at George Mason University Virginia Serious Game Institute, explained, “Our goal with this conference was to kick-start the effort to work collaboratively throughout the state — streamlining the process for our students and our veterans to fill in the pipeline to meet the needs of our region’s employers.  We’ve gotten off to a great start, but watch this space – there’s much more to come!”