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Developing a Blood Test to Support Treatment of Surgically Induced Type I Diabetes

Starting Small.  Finishing Big.

Happenstance brought Dr. Robin Couch’s Lab and research into the 4-VA network.  Although he was aware of 4-VA@Mason’s Collaborative Research Grants, Couch hadn’t thought much about the program until he received a request from Dr. Mazhar Kanak of VCU.  Kanak approached the Couch Lab and the Mason Metabolomics Facility, asking if it was possible to identify biomarkers in blood serum which will determine a patient’s suitability for an islet cell auto transplantation, a procedure applicable to patients that suffer from chronic pancreatitis, requiring the removal of the pancreas. Couch concluded that the 4-VA program could offer an opportunity to answer VCU’s call.  Thus, he applied for, and subsequently received, a 4-VA@Mason grant.

Today, with his 4-VA project complete and yielding very promising results, Couch has emerged as an unabashedly enthusiastic cheerleader for the possibilities of collaborative research across the Commonwealth.  “Here in Virginia, we’re doing some very cutting-edge research, between UVA, Virginia Tech, JMU, VCU and all the other schools,” says Couch, “the state has really invested a lot of money at these institutions; but we’re all doing something a little bit different.  Therefore, it’s imperative that we support collaborations between the institutions to maximize our dollars so we’re not duplicating efforts.”

Couch, an Associate Professor in Mason’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Department reflects on why he believed it was possible to develop a test to meet VCU’s needs.  Couch details the comprehensive testing done in the Mason Metabolomics Facility, noting, “Unlike most bloodwork — where you just are looking at a targeted analysis of say a single glucose test – in our lab, we can look at thousands of different features and do a comparison.”

Specifically, Kanak — whose position titles include Assistant Professor; VCU School of Medicine, Department of Surgery, Division of Transplant Surgery; and Director of the Pancreatic Islet Cell Transplant Lab – wanted some insight into predicting which patients would be good candidates for an islet cell auto transplantation. 

When the pancreas is removed, so is the body’s ability to produce insulin.  Through islet cell transplantation however, the body can generate insulin and avoid surgically induced Type I diabetes. Yet this procedure is only effective in 25-50 percent of patients who have a pancreatotomy. Kanak postured, could a blood test serve as a predictor of successful surgery? Couch thought it was possible. 

Challenges Ahead.

Islet cell auto transplantation is conducted during the surgery to remove the pancreas.  The patient’s specific pancreatic cells that normally produce insulin (Islet cells) are extracted, cleansed, and returned into the patient.  The islets then embed themselves onto the liver and resume their function releasing insulin.  Because the islets are the patient’s own, there is no auto rejection. 

Kanak carefully collected bloodwork from nine different pancreatotomy patients at various time points — before the patient underwent surgery, at several stages during the surgery, and then after the surgery – and sent them to Couch for analysis.

Then the pandemic hit.  The analysis Couch envisioned possible looked possibly impossible.  Labs were shut down.  Students were sent home. Faculty couldn’t conduct research.  The blood samples sat frozen in the lab.  For months and months. 

Then, when labs began to open back up, there were explicit restrictions on who could be in the lab and how many people could be in the lab.  Several students originally designated to work on the project moved on to other life choices with the long break.  Fortunately, Couch had a more than suitable fallback plan.  He was able to rely on Mason Metabolomics Facility Lab Co-Director Dr. Allyson Dailey, who stepped in to handle the research.  “I was able to run all the samples and then assisted with data analysis,” says Dailey.

Dr. Allyson Dailey in the lab

Sample processing is quicker than data analysis, notes Couch. So, when the lab got back to work following the shutdown, considerable time was spent doing an exhaustive analysis of what features in the bloodwork most correlated with surgical outcomes.  Dailey concluded that of the 2,500 features found, there were only six metabolites identified as predictors of outcome.  A big breakthrough for the team.

“Now we don’t need to look at 2,500 metabolites, we only need to look at six — and we can ignore all of the other ones,” Couch points out.  “Going forward, we can focus our study and our attention only on those six and it makes it much easier to process the data. Now, it won’t be so time consuming.”

With the important groundwork done, Couch believes they can take this research to the next level.  “This is a great pilot scale investigation,” says Couch.  Next stop?  Getting a grant application into the National Institutes of Health, to seek funding for a clinical study with hundreds of participants — ensuring the biomarkers are validated.

Importantly, Couch thinks there actually could be much more to the research.  He wonders, if it is possible to identify the successful candidates for islet cell auto transplantation; is there a future where this procedure could be valuable for all Type I diabetes patients?  “Is it feasible to engineer out the problems and then make it successful for everybody?” Couch asks. “Hopefully,” he answers.

Couch and Dailey reflect on the research and its outcome.  Concludes Couch, “None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for the 4-VA funds.  We would have never had access to those samples, and we would never have done the research if it wasn’t for this program that fosters that collaborative environment.  We’ll get further faster with this type of collaboration. It’s one thing to fund individual islands (schools) with equipment and personnel, but to make a bridge between the islands, it really makes a big difference.”

Right: Drs. Allyson Dailey and Robin Couch


Providing Balance, Injecting Energy, Creating Student Savings – Redesigning:  HIST 121

After spending almost one full year redesigning HIST 121:  Formation of the American Republic, Dr. Cynthia Kierner rolled out the new course and awaited student response:  Judging from the feedback, the new HIST 121 is a great success.

Here’s a sampling of students’ comments:

  • The Civil War letters assignment “crafted my skills as a writer & document analysis . . . It should be like this for all classes!”
  • “It was a great experience. I was able to get the info I needed on Monday and work collaboratively on Wednesday.”
  • “Really appreciated the opportunities for discussion in lectures. It helps cement the material.”
  • Modules were “a good way to shift focus from memorizing information to interpreting information.”
  • The Civil War letters assignment “allowed me to really dive into primary sources to learn about history.”

Beginning the redesign, Kierner recognized her challenge.  The course, a sweeping overview beginning with the Native Americans and moving through Reconstruction, covers a lot of ground.  Moreover, the introductory class is primarily taken by non-history majors who do not necessarily harbor a passion for the subject.

“I sought to use the 4-VA@Mason grant to redesign HIST121 to emphasize skills and active learning while simultaneously lowering student costs,” explains Kierner. “Specifically, I planned to replace expensive textbooks and document readers with free online sources–including the acclaimed opensource U.S. history text, AMERICAN YAWP–and also to create a series of new module assignments that give students the guidance they need to use online databases encouraging the development of research questions, to find and interpret primary sources (words and images), and ultimately produce their own small-scale research projects. In other words, to let them act like real historians.”

Although quite familiar with many sources available to create the modules, as a researcher in the field who has taught this course often, Kierner conducted some further investigation to identify new informational sources, including digitized Civil War letters.  Kierner credits Mason’s History Librarian, Dr. George Oberle, for his assistance in finding information and making it accessible.

Concludes Kierner, “This was a desirable opportunity to retool a lecture class to emphasize active learning. It re-invigorated my teaching in lecture-style classes, while providing students with a better experience at a more affordable cost – reducing books and materials costs from $100-$150 for to $0!”

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Collaborative Research Grants: 4-VA@Mason Calls for Proposals

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 4-VA system in Virginia which includes William and Mary, James Madison, Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia. 

The 4-VA 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. These grants 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, citizens statewide, and the wider world beyond,” explains 4-VA@Mason Campus Coordinator Janette Muir.  “Since 2013, 4-VA@Mason has funded more than 65 CRG projects, covering a wide range of topics — from food sustainability throughout the commonwealth, to testing the antibacterial activity of computationally designed antimicrobial peptides; from redesigning a core course on the history of higher education to accelerating the discovery of novel polar thermoelectric materials.  We always have our eye out for bright ideas that can make a big difference.”

Successful proposals will incorporate collaborations with faculty from at least one other 4-VA partner school; provide opportunities to engage undergraduate and graduate student researchers in real-world experience and growth; and include 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.  The 4-VA program also supports Course Redesign, Shared Courses, and Degree Completion.

The portal to accept proposals is open February 2 through March 31, 2022, with funding available July 1 through the 2022-2023 academic year. Interested faculty can view the application, review associated policies and procedures, as well as read previous successful proposals by visiting the 4-VA@Mason CRG Grants page.

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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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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 Makes a Return Trip to Astronomy: ASTR 113

After tackling the development of an OER textbook for ASTR 113 which resulted in enlightening, digitized materials for the course and saving students up to $200 on a textbook, Dr. Mario Gliozzi applied for and received a second 4-VA@Mason grant to take on the challenge of producing an online homework system to complement and support the redesigned educational resources.

Gliozzi recognized that students were not attending to their homework assignments, which are integral in testing understanding of topics on a regular basis. Therefore, Gliozzi and colleague Dr. Rebecca Ericson were interested in developing a homework system closely related to the new OER material including weekly quizzes with multiple choice, multiple answer, ordering, matching, and jumbled sentences, with feedback and clarification accessible after the quiz deadline.  Additionally, Gliozzi wanted to utilize the many illustrations/graphs available online, which helped prompt questions on fundamental concepts and allowed the students to learn the importance of understanding and interpreting graphs and diagrams.

After employing the new homework program for a semester, Gliozzi tweaked some of the elements and employed them fully the next year (ASTR 113 is only taught in the spring semester). He noticed that once the importance of the weekly homework assignment was properly emphasized at the beginning of the semester, and the students realized the close link between the homework questions and the questions in the proctored tests, the homework quizzes were recognized as one of the most effective tools for preparation and success in the class.

After fine tuning the homework and quizzes, they were made available to all Mason astronomy instructors by uploading them on their permanent ASTR 113 Blackboard repository. Thus, the new materials were a positive change for the students, but also for fellow faculty.

Gliozzi notes, “This 4-VA@Mason grant gave me the chance to develop a tool that proved useful (and free of charge) to complete the student preparation out of class which gave them the best tools possible to be successful in ASTR 113.”


Teaching Korean, With a Twist

As a long-time instructor in the Korean language Dae Yong Kim has faced his share of teaching challenges – early in his career at the Defense Language Institute English Language Center in Monterrey, Calif. and later, at a New York City high school.  So, when he arrived on the Mason campus two years ago, he quickly settled into a more predictable routine.  That, he thought, would change when he was asked to teach Korean not only to his students on the Mason campus, but also to students on the campus at James Madison University, a 4-VA partner school 116 miles to the southwest, via the 4-VA Telepresence Room.

Shared courses, like the one that Kim would go on to teach, are one of the pillars of the 4-VA partner institutions.  “The ability to offer shared courses like Korean is an important goal for reducing faculty costs and expanding course opportunities for our students,” explains Mason’s 4-VA Campus Coordinator Janette Muir.

After getting a feel for the room and the dynamics, Kim realized he had to make some modifications in his teaching style and in the class materials. “I spent a lot of time thinking up how to change the classroom to make it interesting and challenging,” explains Kim.

“I quickly recognized I had to make some changes in everything from the font size on my PowerPoint slides to how I engage my students, especially the ones at JMU,” said Kim.  So Kim got to work, enlarging the font and minimizing the content on the slides.

His next step was to change his style, “You can’t do lecture style teaching in the Telepresence Room, I have to engage the class.  I decided that I had to focus on the JMU students, because I’ve already got the attention of my students here. But they can’t spend one hour and 15 minutes staring at the monitor.  Now, I do more group activities like have the students interview their peers and then we all analyze the interview as a class.”

Kim’s next hurdle was to figure out how to handle quizzes — the backbone of a language class, to ensure that students are retaining their vocabulary. But conducting such quizzes, fairly, 100+ miles away would be difficult.  To overcome this, Kim gives each of the students at JMU different vocab tests and each choose their correct answers amongst responses provided.  Once a student selects the right answer, they record it in a notebook.  When they complete their notebook response sheet, the student takes a picture of page and emails it to Kim.  Kim monitors his phone throughout the allotted quiz time to ensure that he has received each student’s quiz.

After concluding his first year in the Telepresence Room, teaching a class in the 2018 Fall Semester and the 2019 Spring Semester, Kim is impressed with the results.

“I honestly thought students would drop the class after one or two sessions, I thought they’d find it too difficult to follow,” says Kim.  But the students proved him wrong.  They all stayed engaged and worked hard throughout the course.  What’s more, Kim reports, “As an experienced Korean teacher, I know what their proficiency level should be at the end of the semester and what they need to do to achieve that level.  I was surprised to see that there was not a drop off in proficiency at all!”



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.