NEH Award Expands 4-VA Piloted Project

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

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

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

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

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

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to primary and secondary sources, the website contains an invaluable database of institutional archives with digitized historical content, including yearbooks.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

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

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


4-VA@Mason Collaborative Research Grant Applications Now Accepted


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Effective Communication During Disaster Response: Managing the Minutia

Wenying Ji

While Wenying Ji, Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering at George Mason University, has previously collaborated with Xinghua Gao (Virginia Tech) and Jundong Li (University of Virginia), he saw a new opportunity to take their research deeper through a 4-VA Collaborative Research Grant.  Through a 4-VA grant, Ji hoped, he and his fellow researchers could delve into an analysis of stakeholder communications during disaster response, an important addition to his ongoing research integrating advanced data analytics and complex system modeling to improve the performance of infrastructure systems.

Through the 4-VA program, Ji could receive funding from 4-VA@Mason, while his collaborators at Virginia Tech and UVA could also receive modest financial support from their universities through 4-VA.  Ji’s hopes came true as the 4-VA@Mason Advisory Board saw the potential in the research; thus, all collaborators obtained support from 4-VA.  Ji’s research aimed to model, analyze, and identify effective communication and collaboration patterns that stakeholders utilize in response to disasters.

As Ji explains it, during disaster response, the communication process among agencies is complex due to the involvement of a great number of agencies at different hierarchical levels and sectors–the federal, state, and local level agencies; non-governmental agencies; and private contractors. Ji’s goal was to extract effective communication and collaboration patterns through an analysis of historical disaster response documents and evaluate various possible communication and collaboration patterns that may affect stakeholder response.

Xinghua Gao

Their work began with Gao at Virginia Tech who was able to collect a range of valuable data sources (e.g., situational reports and government-issued guidelines) that document stakeholder interaction processes. The team considered situational reports from natural disasters, including Hurricane Irma in Florida and Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and studied the reports documenting a 10-day period.

Jundong Li

That information was sent to Li, who is an expert in graph modeling. From there, the data went to Ji and graduate student Yitong Li. Li performed much of the analysis and gained valuable, practical experience from the research.

The result of their research has produced a quantitative model which evaluates the impact of information flow on the effectiveness of disaster response. Based on the model, a metric was then designed to evaluate the probability of community satisfaction. The designed model and the metric provide governmental stakeholders interpretable insights for evaluating the impact of information flow on their disaster response effectiveness, so that proactive actions can be targeted for enhanced disaster response. The team’s approach promotes inter-organizational collaboration in emergency management by helping stakeholders easily identify effective communication and collaboration patterns.

Yitong Li

Following their successful research, the group produced a journal paper entitled “Robustness of Stakeholder Response Networks for Infrastructure System Protection” for the American Society of Civil Engineers Journal of Management in Engineering, a conference paper and a presentation entitled “Understanding the Dynamics of Information Flow During Disaster Response Using Absorbing Markov Chains” were produced for the Winter Simulation Conference.

Next steps for the team? They plan to submit the proposal to the Humans, Disasters, and the Built Environment (HDBE) program, which is an NSF funded grant.  “Thanks to this grant, we hope to take our project to the next level,” says Ji.


4-VA Researchers Support Young Virginians’ Successful Start to Preschool

Experts have long recognized the complex interrelationship of a preschoolers’ attachment to their caregivers and successful adjustment to school.  Without a positive introduction and adaptation to the school setting, preschoolers may fall victim to bullying. Those behaviors can have a significant effect on these young students for years into the future.

For more than a dozen years, preschool peer victimization has been the research focus of Mason’s Dr. Pamela Garner, a Professor of Childhood Studies in the School of Integrative Studies.  Garner recognizes there is much to be understood about creating constructive introductions in the school setting. However, she is also keenly aware of a key flaw in the data used in the benchmark research – it is predominantly limited to students who are economically advantaged.

Garner saw an opportunity to expand knowledge about economic disadvantages by demographics in an existing exhaustive data set of more than 100 Head Start students which included personal interviews, teacher observations, and professional observations of behaviors.  Garner argued that this data could allow a deeper look into prosocial behavior, social problem-solving and friendship-building skills and other forms of peer-related social competence broken out by income level.

Many hurdles existed to analyze the data including access to advanced statistical models and the resources necessary to code and score the data.  Along with those challenges, however, she also saw an opportunity to look closer at the data by collaborating with researchers from other 4-VA institutions. One such researcher, Dr. Julie Dunsmore, a member of the faculty at Virginia Tech, provided a perfect partner for a collaborative research grant.

Several months later, with that grant in hand, Garner identified an undergrad student, Tamera Toney, who was interested in the project and would be able to handle some of the data entry and management responsibilities.  Toney worked on the project during her senior year at Mason.  Garner saw that the 4-VA funding could provide a personal and professional pathway for Toney to enhance her studies. Toney recently graduated and will return in the fall to begin her master’s work in Psychology.

Meanwhile, Garner reached out to Dunsmore.  “I was very familiar with her work, and she was familiar with mine.  We had published something together many years ago, but I’ve been wanting to work with Julie again – she has vast statistical expertise and has done some very sophisticated modeling of data.” The 4-VA grant was just the ticket to enter into this collaboration.

“This 4-VA grant allowed us to take a comprehensive look at the data and ask more complex questions about associations in parenting, peer victimization and school adjustment among low income preschoolers,” says Garner.

“The long-term outcome of this research includes a richer understanding of ways to improve or assess students’ social-behavioral competencies and teacher practices that support them,” explains Garner.  “Over time, we hope this understanding will improve student academic achievement and successful progression through school.”

Garner already sees this grant as a steppingstone to move in two important developments: publication in a major early childhood education journal (one paper has already been submitted and is under review) and, get further external funding to expand data collection and analysis.

The consequences of their work could be dramatic, as positive peer interactions and relationships at this early stage can impact a wide range of consequences much later in life – everything from forming positive health habits to attaining higher education to interactions with the criminal justice system.

Garner, Dunsmore and their teams of students at Mason and Tech agree:  the research was a heavy lift, but they are proud to be part of this important work.  Concludes Garner, “This was great work, and it was great to be able to work with Julie again. I’m confident this will lead to more collaboration – and a growing friendship – between us!”

Janette Muir, Campus Coordinator of 4-VA@Mason, explained, “4-VA was pleased to support this social science research that impacts how we can lift up the youngest citizens in the Commonwealth.  This is a great example of the important impact we can make.”






Three different universities. Three distinctive, informed approaches. One cohesive, robust, and resource-filled final product.

George Mason University, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia are each recognized and valued for their unique strengths and assets. Consequently, it’s not surprising to conclude that when these three institutions collaborate on a project, the results are impressive.  Such was the case with a recent 4-VA grant to these top-tier universities for a project entitled “ReSounding the Archives” (RtA).

ReSounding the Archives Lead PI Kelly Schrum

This effort was designed to take full advantage of a distinctive set of circumstances and situations, which combined history, music, and digital humanities with the ability to access music prior to 1924 without copyright restrictions. It all began with Mason’s lead PI Kelly Schrum, Associate Professor in the Higher Education Program at George Mason University and former Director of Educational Projects at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM), who identified the genesis of the project during the 100th anniversary of WWI to bring the newly digitized music of that time period to life. “In this project, each institution was able to contribute an integral element: UVA had access to WWI sheet music in their archives and created a research class around the project; Mason had the performers, digital history education specialists, and website developers; and VT contributed sheet music, research, and performers,” says Schrum.

Schrum recalls the early days of the project, “We drew on our connections with Tech and UVA and everyone we discussed the idea with began to get really excited about bringing historical sheet music to life. It started to develop organically based on each institution’s resources and strengths, but we knew we were onto something good when the energy of the project travelled to all potential contributors, from musicians and archivists to librarians and students.”

Jessica Dauterive, a Mason PhD student in History who worked as a Digital History Fellow at RRCHNM, was intimately involved with the project from beginning to end.  Dauterive recounted one of her first interactions with RtA when she emailed Mark Brodsky, Public Services and Reference Archivist at the VT library in response to a post on his blog about WWI sheet music. “I cold emailed him, he didn’t know me at all.”  Dauterive explained the project to him.  “He was all in, immediately!” says Dauterive.

Growing Collaboration

From there, the collaborators went into overdrive: using the telepresence room technology on each campus, students, staff and faculty were able to work together virtually. The groups met three times via the telepresence rooms, beginning with students (ranging from history majors to medical students) who were researching historical sheet from WWI in a class taught by UVA’s Assistant Professor of Music Elizabeth Ozment.  Then, the student performers began to work on their interpretations of each piece of music.  “It really grew from there.  The students were excited to work together.  They were engaged in learning history though music and music through history,” says Schrum.  “Students continued to discuss their pieces in small groups through phone calls and emails.”

Both Schrum and Dauterive concede that even though the energy and enthusiasm were high, the devil is in the collaboration details.  “Getting everything synched between campuses can be a challenge, and even coordinating within our own large institution takes work,” notes Schrum.

The Mason RtA Team

But as the weeks went on, progress was made.  Students researched in the archives and worked to contextualize their pieces as the performers rehearsed and studied the music within its historical context.  And similar to good musical composition, RtA worked to a crescendo.  For the RtA team, that was a spring evening in Charlottesville when the team of researchers, performers (musicians and singers), videographers and archivists, librarians, faculty and more joined together in UVA’s Colonnade Club Garden Room to fully embrace 17 pieces of WWI music.  From “K-K-K Katy” to “Over There” to “Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” the Colonnade Room sprang to life — circa 1918.

The evening was a success, with contributors and collaborators enjoying the fruits of their labor.

  • Elizabeth Ozment, whose class of music researchers at UVA provided the first notes for the project, had this to say, “ReSounding the Archives has built bridges between our institutions.  It has brought us together in ways I could never have imagined!  This has been incredible for me to see and hear all this wonderful music.”
  • Linda Monson, Director of the School of Music at Mason said, “It’s been a delight to be able to bring this music to life.  We played a role in 13 of the songs, but this is just the beginning… We are looking forward to continuing to work with UVA and Tech as we move forward on this project.  A huge thank you to all who have been part of this.”
  • Winston Barham, Music Collections Librarian at UVA, summed it up this way, “This has been one of my greatest delights – to work on a project holistically, from music development to website development.”
  • Trudy Becker, Senior Instructor in History at Tech noted, “We all got to do something really exceptional together and we got to immerse ourselves in our special collections library and integrate it into a history lesson.”

And the Beat Goes On

But the project doesn’t end with the researcher’s research and the performer’s performance.  Following the musical presentation, the RtA team began composing the second movement.  Schrum’s vision was to format the collection in such a way that it would provide a lasting, sustainable digital resource for K- 12 teachers throughout the state to promote teaching history through music. Thus, began the development and production of

The website now contains each piece of sheet music featured in the program and includes various entry points for educators, students, and researchers to engage with the sources in a variety of ways: listen to live and studio recordings of each song; view the digitized sheet music; read student essays contextualizing the pieces; and read the transcribed lyrics.  Each piece of music is available with full metadata, and all recordings are also available for download, offered under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 4.0), making them available for use in classrooms, digital projects, or even for re-mixing.

Schrum summed up the project’s contributions, “Sheet music is visually interesting, but it really falls short if it’s not heard.  Millions of pages of sheet music have been digitized, but if you are not a musician, it’s just dots on a page.”

Already the website is attracting hundreds of visitors monthly, with more than one thousand visiting following a posting about the website by the National WWI Museum and Memorial Facebook page.   But both Schrum and Dauterive see much greater things for the website in the future, with Dauterive continuing to make connections and putting guidelines together to allow faculty and teachers to make greater use of the resources. “The website is endlessly extendable,” points out Schrum. They both see an opportunity to expand the project to include Civil War music and political songs.

Extending the Chorus

Dauterive’s presentation to NCPH

The website also provides the opportunity to bring the resources outside of the Commonwealth to a larger audience. For example, the Deschutes Historical Museum in Bend, Oregon has incorporated RtA resources into a WWI exhibit to accompany sheet music they had on display.  Dauterive also made a presentation about the project and the website recently in Hartford, Conn. at the annual meeting of the National Council on Public History which had record attendance of almost 1,000 attendees. Dauterive was able to introduce the project to museum and historic site representatives, national park employees, teachers, and historians and discuss how to share history in an engaging way using music.

Schrum (seated) and Dauterive confer on the RtA website

Although all the representatives in the collaboration look forward to continued efforts to bring music and history to life, Dauterive is appreciative of the role she’s already played on the project, “I was lucky to be at Mason at this time and have the funding available to play a part in this – I learned how to be a manage a project with so many moving parts and share and expand my knowledge of music history.  It was a great opportunity for me personally and professionally.”

Schrum sees the project as an example for the larger 4-VA community, noting “Everyone has 20,000 projects in their head.  This 4-VA grant gave us the opportunity to bring this important work to life.  We had these great ideas, but the grant provided us the opportunity to collaborate and make it happen.  This project is a model of what can be done across institutions and disciplines.”


Defining Impact: 4-VA Grant for ENGH 302

One of the mainstays of the 4-VA at Mason program is to identify and grow academic ventures that truly make a difference in higher education – creating cost savings, providing greater access to the educational process, and developing new or more effective pedagogies.

That said, it’s hard to find a more impactful grant than the one supporting ENGH 302:  Advanced Composition.  This grant was provided to help build an OER collection for this celebrated Mason Core class which has an enrollment of almost 7000 students annually, delivered by a rotating group of approximately 65 faculty.

The challenges were plenty facing Catherine E. Saunders — who teaches the 302 course and has served as coordinator over two stages of the 4-VA@Mason grant project — and thirteen English 302 colleagues who served on the project team. As instructors of an advanced composition course offered at only a few American universities, faculty teaching English 302 did not have access to “off the shelf” textbooks appropriate the specific goals of the course.  Instead, most instructors created and/or adapted materials to suit their students’ needs, within an informal culture of sharing, collaboration of various versions of assignments and activities developed within the English 302 instructor community.  Moreover, with a growing number of instructors being hired to serve the expanding ranks of English 302 students, there was danger of losing consistency across sections. Saunders sought to formalize the existing culture of collaboration and ensure that resources developed by experienced instructors are easily available to new instructors.

Saunders and a group of colleagues first applied for and received a 4-VA@Mason grant a year prior.  That grant provided support for the creation of a core collection of OER items – assignments, activities, and other curricular materials created and peer-reviewed by experienced English 302 instructors – that were then made available to new and experienced English 302 instructors via a Blackboard organization.

The Blackboard-based collection was popular with English 302 instructors.  However, follow-up surveys of users revealed room for improvement in design of the collection, as well as a desire for additional resources and a preference for a public-facing collection.  A different platform was needed to make OER developed by the English 302 team more readily available not only to GMU faculty, but also to the wider composition community.  Hence, the team applied for a second 4-VA@Mason grant to finish the work.

Team member Psyche Z. Ready, assisted by Joyce P. Johnston, took the lead in adapting Mason Journals’ iteration of the Open Journal System (OJS) to meet the needs of English 302 OER collection authors, reviewers, and users.  Each item in the new, public-facing collection includes an abstract, instructor’s notes, and creative-commons licensed curricular materials – assignments, activities, and/or background readings – created, adapted, or curated for use in English 302.  The OJS platform eases the review process, and also allows user-friendly features such as keyword searching.

The response from the instructors and students alike has been rewarding for Saunders and her team of developers.  “The students do express appreciation that course materials are free to them and that they are specifically adapted to the goals of the course,” Saunders says.  “They also like that the materials break down larger concepts and assignments into manageable chunks, and that they employ active learning strategies and real-world materials.”

Saunders and Ready have recently brought their project to a larger audience, presenting their work at the Northeast Modern Language Association conference, with plans for other conference presentations in progress.

In addition to Saunders, Ready, and Johnston, the ENGH 302 team included the following faculty members:  Lourdes Fernandez, Virginia Hoy, Sara King, Stephanie Liberatore, Jessica Matthews, Benjamin D. Orlando, Mark Rudnicki and Margaret Scolaro.  Saunders also credits the “invaluable assistance” of Fenwick Library staff, John Warren, Aaron McCollough and especially Andrew Kierig.

To see their site, click here.




Steering World History from Flat to Multi-Dimensional

Teaching a class titled “Introduction to World History” was daunting 25 years ago — developing and navigating a wide-ranging curriculum.  Today, teaching that same class presents all new challenges as the myriad “sources” found by students on the Internet can often send them off course.  That same Internet rabbit hole faced 4-VA OER Course Redesign grantee Dr. Sheri Ann Huerta: Identify appropriate events to form the hefty narrative of the curriculum, research openly-available and credible materials, locate engaging, interactive resources to support each lesson, and organize the results in a user-friendly digital architecture. Untold hours are needed to accurately research the options.

Yet, Huerta saw an opportunity to do something even bigger with her project, noting, “I wanted to create analytical modules that facilitated learning by developing incremental training in the key critical thinking skills, utilized by historians, which also serve to develop savvy consumers of information in our digital age.”

Huerta began her efforts by scanning a wide variety of sources for consideration of inclusion in the course materials — everything from existing textbooks and primary source books to “Films on Demand” and the Adam Matthews databases. She also visited databases of art museums, signed up for appropriate history and teaching pedagogy listservs, and consulted with subject matter experts at Mason — Dr. Jane Hooper and Dr. George Oberle.

“The redesign focuses attention on students developing a personal ‘historical voice’ of world history informed by primary sources rather than relying on the limited story told in textbooks or lecture-test style delivery,” notes Huerta. “By shifting the focus from memorization to interpretation, the course connects well with the goal of applying critical thinking skills. By evaluating sources of information for accuracy and reliability and working more in small groups, students develop a heightened awareness of multiple perspectives and diversity of thought in the classroom—skills that help create informed global citizens.”  Huerta collaborated with GMU’s History Librarian Dr. George Oberle to structure the course to “gradually identify and develop key career-ready skills: evaluation of sources; teamwork and collaboration; written/oral/digital communication of ideas; professional communication; and developing persuasive, evidence-based arguments.”

Not surprisingly, the students greatly appreciated that the redesigned course makes use of eco-friendly digital materials accompanied with a significant drop in the cost of course materials—from $137.50 to $7.00. More importantly, students showed an appreciation for the inclusion of accounts from voices often neglected in broad historical narratives – including women, persons of color, and non-European/non-US American cultural groups.

“This project was multi-faceted and difficult, however with the help of my colleagues and the 4-VA@Mason grant, it was very worthwhile for the course and our students,” concluded Huerta.