Focusing on 4-VA Progress at Mason 
Greetings!  Welcome to our second issue of Aperture.  Our goal is to provide you with important information regarding how 4-VA at Mason is making a difference for Virginia's students, faculty, and citizens.  This state-funded program is guided by several central principles, among them: to create greater access to higher education, to provide avenues for collaboration among Virginia's universities, and to identify opportunities to pass along cost savings to students.  Essentially, 4-VA supplies the seed money to bring "good to great."   We think you'll be impressed with the results. Look for "Aperture" in your inbox four times each year and get a snapshot of how we're innovating education in the Commonwealth...In the meantime, we welcome your thoughts and comments! 

Janette Kenner Muir, PhD,
4-VA Campus Coordinator,
Associate Provost, Academic Initiatives and Services


Proposals Now Being Accepted for Collaborative Research Grants

Calling all big thinkers!  Faculty members across the George Mason University campus and at the other 4-VA partner schools in Virginia can now bring their brightest ideas to light thanks to 4-VA Collaborative Research Grants (CRG).   This program, currently accepting calls for proposals, provides faculty -- and their colleagues at other 4-VA schools, as well as undergraduate and graduate students -- rewarding research opportunities.  Our goal is to provide a springboard to develop proposals and hypotheses in order to create innovative and exciting projects that make a real difference for the Commonwealth -- and beyond. 

Since its premiere in 2013, more than 56 CRG projects have been funded through 4-VA at Mason -- sharing ideas, increasing cost efficiencies and bringing public attention and excitement to the research arena.  Previous grants have run the gamut from increasing food sustainability in the State to creating research intensive bioinformatics course work through the investigation of phage ecology; from the study of peer victimization in preschool to an analysis of World War I music. Mason’s CRG program is making a difference.

The grants are designed to provide initial funding to launch pilot research projects with an eye toward improving research competitiveness in the state and winning subsequent major, federal grants for the projects.

A shining example of the possibilities opened by a 4-VA CRG is illustrated through the work of Mason professor of physics and astronomy Shobita Satyapal. Satyapal and her colleagues at UVA and James Madison used a CRG to test their theory that a significant population of super massive black holes might be hidden in optical wavelengths. Following on a happenstance find of a distant colliding galaxy hosting a binary active galactic nucleus, Satyapal's team analyzed a wide set of data that confirmed their supposition. They then went on to identify significant additional sightings.

“This 4-VA funding gave us the seed money which allowed us to do the exploring we needed at the outset of this project,” explains Satyapal.  “What began as a lucky accident has morphed in to a statewide study which has received national and international attention and garnered additional research dollars – for that we are very grateful!”

Faculty interested in applying for a 4-VA at Mason CRG, visit our website.

Shared Courses:
Providing Opportunities and Savings for the Commonwealth

Not surprising for a program with its roots planted firmly in technology, the immersive experience of telepresence rooms was one of the first educational systems employed by the 4-VA program partner schools.  Thanks to the high definition videoconference capability with large screens and the ability to share documents, utilizing this technology provides unparalleled ability to deliver quality distance learning.  

This past semester, Mason faculty hosted classes in both Korean and Persian providing students at Virginia Tech and James Madison access to these courses.  Additionally, Mason students benefited from the opportunity to take a deep dive into the legacy of France’s colonies through HIST 535 and 636 hosted by Old Dominion University.

“The shared courses are truly illustrative of the 4-VA premise -- work collaboratively to look for greater access to higher education while at the same time realizing cost savings for our students and the Commonwealth,” explains Janette Muir, Mason Campus Coordinator for 4-VA.  “Time and time again, we hear from our students here at Mason as well as our partner schools that they truly value the opportunity to access a class not previously available on their campus.”

Each semester, the 4-VA schools meet to discuss what classes each school will offer and the specific requirements necessary. Then, the courses are plugged into each school catalog.  

Ester Hallerman, a VT faculty member who shared her Hebrew course with Mason students last spring, found the telepresence room connection uncomplicated, easily shifting back and forth between Blacksburg and Fairfax. During the semester, however, Hallerman did make a surprise visit to the Fairfax class during Tech’s spring break.  The students were clearly delighted to see Hallerman in ‘real life’ instead of on the screen.  Their reaction?  “It was like having a celebrity here!” they all agreed.   

Hallerman is very positive about  the 4-VA course sharing program noting, "Thanks to the 4-VA shared courses, we do not have to limit our Hebrew language classes to the students at Tech -- this is an effortless and effective way to broaden a knowledge base."  

NOVA and Mason Summit Supports Business Collaboration
Taking another important step forward, the innovative partnership program between Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and George Mason University (Mason) -- known as ADVANCE -- recently hosted a Summit which brought together regional and national representatives from both the Technology and Health sectors to work with faculty to develop collaborations in support of current students and future needs of the business community.  This summit was the first in a series of meetings supported through an Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Collaborative Opportunity Grant received by Mason.  Mason 4-VA supports the ADVANCE initiative through personnel support and course development -- aligning well with state 4-VA goals focused on access and completion.
Although the goal of the Summit was multipurpose, it focused heavily on determining the future employee skill sets desired with an eye toward building educational curricula for the Mason/NOVA ADVANCE students to meet those needs.  Read more here.
On the Burner...
What's next for 4-VA at Mason? 
  • We're wrapping up some innovative research here; watch our next issue for the results of: iBus: Smart Dispatch and Signal Control via IoT,  High-throughput Bee Pathogen Survey and more!
  • Plus, read about how we're helping international learners on campus.
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