Find a Need and Fill It.
Under the 4-VA @ Mason banner, perhaps one of the most successful accomplishments has been identifying and supporting as well as developing and implementing programs which advance degree completion. Often, the targeted population encountering hurdles to achieve a four-year degree are students are from traditionally underserved populations — adult learners, veterans, first-generation college attendees, or transfer students from community college — thanks to 4-VA@Mason thousands of students have crossed that finish line.
4-VA@Mason and BAS
One area where 4-VA@Mason has made a profound impact is in degree completion, specifically in the development of the Bachelors of Applied Science (BAS) degree program. Launched ten years ago with just one student and two available concentrations, it is now flourishing as a popular and effective education option with almost 300 students enrolled.
The degree was designed to help shepherd students graduating with applied associate degrees at community colleges to concentrations that fulfill requirements for a four-year degree at Mason. Today the BAS program is open to several community colleges and has ballooned to nine concentrations across several colleges within the university.
Together with the ADVANCE program which 4-VA@Mason also helped to build, students moving from a two year degree to Mason’s four-year programs now have a robust selection of pathways to get to the finish line.
“Although we had high hopes for the BAS effort when we began – carefully aligning courses and curricula, appointing student advisors, and building concentration tracks, we never imagined such remarkable outcomes. The results have been very rewarding.” admits Janette Muir, Vice Provost Academic Affairs, and the Campus Director of 4-VA@Mason.
Muir also credits the BAS success to the specific concentrations selected for the program, “We had an opportunity to look strategically at those jobs that will be in demand in the future for Metropolitan Washington DC, as well as all of Virginia, and build our degrees around them, integrating corresponding skill sets into the curriculum. Thanks to our strong relationships with area business, industry, and government leaders, we have been able to create a pipeline of talent to fill those needs.”
The BAS program now offers these concentrations:
- Applied Conflict Analysis and Resolution
- Cyber Security
- Cloud Computing
- Data Analytics
- Health, Wellness and Social Services
- Human Development and Family Science
- Legal Studies
- Managerial Leadership
- Technology and Innovation
One person to witness this growth from the ground level is Krystal Dains, who, in 2014, started with the Mason BAS program as an advisor and today serves as the program’s Director. While Dains was working her way through her roles in the program, she watched the enrollment numbers rise. She notes particularly the jump when the Cyber Security concentration was introduced in the 2014-15 academic year. She also saw a boost during the pandemic. “Because of our extensive online offerings, we attracted a surge of students when in-person learning was discontinued in March 2020,” she says.
Dains explains another reason for their success, “We’re built on flexibility — even the approach to constructing the degree pathway is nimble. We get the correct people around the table. We decide the learning outcomes and which classes support them. We develop the curriculum and submit it to Undergraduate Council (UC). For BAS, once UC approves it, we are good to go. We are perfectly positioned to put a new program in place quickly so we can be on the cutting edge.”
As BAS grew, especially in Cyber Security, Dains needed to grow the faculty. And she needed just the right match.
BAS Expansion. The ‘Right Place at the Right Time.’
Mason alum and adjunct professor, Jen Deavers was recommended as a perfect fit for the program. Deavers holds an undergraduate degree in Decision Science Management Information Systems, and two master’s degrees also from Mason.
While life, work, and a young family kept Deavers away from teaching for a few years, she jumped back in 2019 when Muir suggested she teach the BAS Cyber Security class and, specifically, address the two-semester research capstone project. Muir wanted a hands-on approach for sections 492-493 allowing students to gain practical experience and build their resume.
Deavers got to work. “First off, we wanted the capstone project to be flexible, but to provide practical experience. It could be an internship; it could be self-study; it could be to learn a programming language,” she says. Also, Deavers wanted students ready for the work force, guiding them to create a resume. “We get them to The Writing Center and Career Services and start building a professional portfolio,” Deavers notes.
For Deavers, who describes herself as passionate about connecting people, ‘connecting’ is the cornerstone of the capstone project. She has a requirement that students attend networking events and ‘put themselves out there.’ However, she points out, “Networking can happen anytime, anywhere. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in person – it can be on a Slack channel, on Discord, and through Meet Up groups — most have a digital format.” Deavers does encourage her students to attend the two Mason Innovation Forums held each semester and target two or three professionals from industry to talk with about their career, job interests, and internship opportunities. “There are humans behind these computers,” Deavers explains. “We just need to bring our students together with people in the workforce.” (See “Connecting for a Dream Job.”)
After teaching the Cyber Security focused capstone class for eight semesters, it was time to grow the program again. “I started out teaching 10 students per section and we’re up to 30 students per section,” Deavers explains. Deavers enlisted one of her own former students, Hanna Westover, to take on teaching the second semester class. “We are going to tag team,” Deavers says. “Cybersecurity interviews are tough. Hanna is taking it one step further and will really ‘drill’ our students for interview prep.”
Deavers expects that the BAS Cyber Security concentration will continue to boom, “We’re in the right place at the right time.” Adding, “We’re also going to see people coming through for Cloud Computing – that’s another hot program right now.”
Knocking Down Barriers and Adding Masters Programs. Two More Steps Forward.
With BAS concentrations filling the need for students and Virginia businesses and government, Dains has an eye toward expanding the reach of student population. Her goal? To remove the barriers for students matriculating into the BAS degree. As the program often assists traditionally underserved populations including veterans, adult learners, and first-generation college attendees, Dains wants to give students greater access to a great education. Already enlarging the base, the BAS program now welcomes students from Laurel Ridge, Germanna, and Tidewater Community Colleges. Dains hopes to expand that pool to more schools in the future.
Also on Dains ‘to-do’ list is adding to the growing number of accelerated master’s degrees aligned to the program. Qualified students currently have access to an Applied Information Technology MS, Digital Forensics MS, and the Management MS programs if they are in the Applied Science, Cyber Security Concentration. Qualified students in the Data Analytics concentration have the option of obtaining an accelerated Applied Information Technology MS, or Data Analytics Engineering MS. Concludes Dains, “Our goal is to give our students the best options for success – in their education, their careers, and their lives.”
Connecting for a ‘Dream’ Job
Jen Deavers believes in connections and doesn’t give up a chance to bring her students together with anyone in the cyber industry. Whether formal events or chance meetings, she takes full advantage of building relationships.
She relates one experience when she had a potential student reach out and ask about what track to take in the BAS program. After some back and forth, she learned that the potential student was currently in an internship with Disney in Cyber Security. “I immediately asked, ‘Would you come in and talk to my class?’ What an opportunity to hear from someone in Disney cyber work!” she exclaims.
She concedes she often gets pushback from her students about the networking requirements in the capstone project. She understands that it’s uncomfortable and ‘students feel vulnerable putting themselves out there.’ However, Deavers does not send them out without a good deal of preparation. “I have them craft questions for the professionals they meet, and I go over the questions and their materials and approve them in advance,” she explains. “But I tell them: ‘Do not leave without getting a name and a number!’”
However, Deavers says the dividends are worth every bit of angst the students fear. “When I read my students’ reflection papers, I realize that it’s making a difference,” says Deavers. Students have been thanking her for pushing them to go to the Innovation Forum, which is traditionally held at the Army Navy Country Club near Mason’s Fairfax Campus. One student wrote about her experience, noting “I’ve never been to someplace so fancy! I was nervous just showing up. But when I sat down, I met a person from the industry. They said they were fine with me calling them later in the semester for an interview!”
Deavers recalls another former student, Mallorie Debarr, “She is exactly who I want to teach,” says Deavers. “She has enthusiasm and was willing to do the tasks assigned in 492-3.” DeBarr recently emailed Deavers with this exciting news:
I want to thank you for pushing me forward in my career; even though they were just assignments, they’ve been extraordinarily valuable in navigating the job-hunting process. This brings me to my fantastic news; I just landed my dream job! Well, the first of many steps in my career progression. I just accepted a position as an Information Assurance Analyst at a small but growing tech startup in Loudoun that starts on June 6th. Additionally, they want to put time into training me to be a Security Consultant and travel to meet clients. (AMAZING!)
Recent additional 4-VA support of degree completion efforts
Working together – through our partner schools, our state and local leaders, and area businesses — 4-VA brings life to educational resources for the greater good, wrapped in efficiency and effectiveness.