2020 Curriculum Impact Grant recipients announced

George Mason University’s Faculty and Curricular Activities Committee and a team of peer reviewers selected eight projects to receive 2020 Provost’s Curriculum Impact Grants from a pool of 18 highly competitive proposals.

These projects represent an impressive array of collaborations across the schools and colleges aiming to create high-impact learning experiences for students, deepening their engagement and development, and preparing them for substantive impact on the world.

The Activist-Artist: Art as an Engine of Social Justice

Matthew Dievendorf, Michael Nickens, Wendi N. Manuel-Scott, Jeremy M. Freer, Joan E. Fernandez, Joshua Cruse, and Julie M. Womble Trkula

The Green Machine, College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA), and School of Business will work together to create a new Mason Impact course module titled “The Activist-Artist: Art as an Engine of Social Justice.” While working through this year-long, project-based course module, students will be asked to investigate an issue of significance to society, such as systemic inequalities, the consequences of racial or gender biases, or environmental degradation. Each year a meaningful research question will be devised with student input that will contribute to a related field of study. In addition to rigorous research into the question at hand, students will construct their own understanding of how knowledge is created and how they can use art to communicate that knowledge to others. Academic study will inform experiential learning as students collectively design, manage, and produce a work of art that will confront the power structure they intend to influence or dismantle. 

Building a Highly Qualified, Creative, and Adaptable STEM Workforce through Collaborative Multidisciplinary Research in Data Science Graduate Programs

Harry Foxwell, Ioulia Rytikova, James Baldo, and Mihai Boicu

Industry, government, and other employment sectors expect today’s graduates to acquire deep content knowledge by the time of their employment, and to develop strong transferable research skills including data collection, analysis and critical thinking, collaboration, oral and written presentation, innovation and creativity. The Volgenau School of Engineering team will design, develop, implement and preliminarily evaluate the effectiveness of a novel approach to provide research knowledge, skills and competencies to graduate students in applied information technology and in data analytics engineering degree programs. Three highly adaptable learning modules will provide a collaborative multidisciplinary research environment using experiential and active learning methods, while providing a gradual, systematic and consistent research experience over the program of study that will incrementally transform graduate students into advanced scholars. These modules prepare students to effectively participate in team-based research initiatives, create original scholarly or creative projects, and successfully communicate their ideas to the general audience.

Climate Change Minor

Cristiana Stan, James Kinter, Juliette Shedd, Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, and Sara Cobb

The goal of the Climate Change Minor is to educate students about issues relating to climate change and its impacts, as well as how to address conflicts that arise from those issues. This minor will draw on a course in climate dynamics from the College of Science and courses in conflict resolution from the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, as well as elective courses relating to four core competencies from other colleges. Students anchored in climate science need to be able to understand the politicized context in which they are conducting research and interfacing with the policy community. To do this, they need to be able to do a conflict assessment and facilitate difficult conversations. Students anchored in conflict resolution need to be able to understand basic climate dynamics so that they can engage scientists and policymakers in constructive dialogue. This interdisciplinary minor will break down the barriers between science and social change advocacy by creating an opportunity for students to integrate knowledge and skills needed for effective climate advocacy. Students will gain an understanding of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13: Climate Action in relation to other SDGs, including SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, and SDG 17: Partnerships.

Enhancing Cross-Cultural Engagement and Collaboration at Mason through Explorations of Global Health Challenges

Andrew Lee, Cortney Hughes Rinker, Laura Poms, Megumi Inoue, Michael Smith, and Steven Anthony Scott

The world is facing a number of health challenges, including outbreaks of diseases that are vaccine-preventable, increasing rates of obesity, drug addiction, lack of access to mental health care, impacts of environmental pollution and climate change on health, humanitarian crises, drug-resistant pathogens, and aging populations. This objective of this proposal is to engage in cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary dialogues at Mason about these global health problems by designing a course module that integrates students from INTO Mason, CHSS, and the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS). The courses will equip students with the skills and cultural competencies needed to research and work on national and global health issues. Public health, anthropology, and history—in addition to other fields in the social sciences and humanities—examine health challenges and help to bring the different types of suffering that people experience to light. The University Libraries is also involved in this project, which builds on Goal #3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Good Health and Well-Being. This project includes two-scaffolded, co-located courses. The first will provide the foundation for a particular health challenge by introducing students to the literature and relevant theories. The second will focus on collaborative original research related to the particular challenge we cover that year conducted by teams of students, in which INTO Mason students work alongside “traditionally” enrolled Mason undergraduates.

From Exploring Pathways to Developing Opportunities for Community Engagement and Social Justice in an Interprofessional Micro-credential Program

Caroline Sutter, Carrie Bonilla, Ellen Serafini, Esperanza Román-Mendoza, Molly Davis

To address health disparities and social inequities experienced by ethnic and linguistic minority communities in the United States, CHHS and CHSS are building an interprofessional micro-credential program that effectively prepares Mason students to serve the health care and social service needs of Spanish-speaking immigrant communities. This multidisciplinary program is designed to supplement Mason Impact experiences by promoting knowledge, skills and competence in civic engagement and providing students with opportunities to engage and interact with multiple community stakeholders. The program will be designed and delivered in a hybrid (online/face-to-face) format with affordability and flexibility as core considerations. The program will integrate principles of interprofessional education and practice, following the pedagogical sequence of Exposure >> Immersion >> Competence and will consist of three or four competency-based modules and one immersion or experiential learning module. These modules will not only facilitate students’ specialized language skills, cultural knowledge and intercultural communication skills, but also develop their critical awareness of issues related to language and power and ethical standards for interpretation and translation.

Physical Activity in Public Health

Ali Weinstein, Charles Robison, and Laura Poms

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more that 40% of Americans are obese, which increases the odds of developing a variety of preventable chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes. Further, almost 25% of Americans do not engage in any physical activity that would decrease obesity rates and consequently reduce the risk of these conditions that often result in premature death. Supporting Goal #3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Good Health and Well-Being, CHHS and the College of Education and Human Development aim to create a cross-disciplinary undergraduate academic pathway for students to study the intersection of physical activity and public health. The proposed undergraduate initiative will serve to fill this curricular gap that exists at Mason and also potentially provide students with a credential that will enhance their career development.

Preparing Rising Scientists to Navigate the Science Policy Interface: Developing a Cross-disciplinary Minor in Science and Technology Policy

Jennifer Salerno, Jessica Rosenberg, Karen Akerlof, Lee Solomon, and Peter Blair

U.S. government policies affect all parts of society, including the scientific research enterprise. Reciprocally, science can be used to inform policy in myriad ways at different levels of government. Scientists’ lack of familiarity with policy, and policymakers’ lack of familiarity with science, contributes to the longstanding gap between the production of scientific research and its perceived utility by decision-makers. The proposal by COS and the Schar School of Policy and Government meets the challenge of connecting science to policy by developing an undergraduate minor in science policy that provides foundational classroom and experiential learning opportunities for students. The proposed minor aligns with recommendations to increase pathways for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) undergraduates into government. Mason’s proximity to Washington, D.C., makes it optimally positioned to serve as a regional leader in undergraduate science-policy education. No comparable opportunities in the D.C. metropolitan area exist, increasing the university’s attractiveness to prospective students.

STEM in Society Minor

Brian Platt, Cortney Hughes Rinker, Kamaljeet Sanghera, Larrie Ferreiro, Laura Poms, Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, and Vita Chalk

The STEM in Society minor will help students in diverse majors across Mason, both technical and nontechnical, develop strategic and critical thinking capabilities to better understand how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as medicine, impact the human experience—past, present, and future. Completing the minor will give students a broad perspective of the STEM fields, to include how advances are developed, how they fit into the wider context of society and culture, and how historical contexts have in turn shaped advances in these fields. Through coursework in this 15-credit minor, which will span across CHSS, COS, VSE and CHHS, students will gain the knowledge to solve real-world social, medical, technological and environmental problems. A capstone course will be offered as part of the minor, in which students will conduct collaborative research projects related to STEM in Society and present their findings.

This seed grant program supports the generation of innovative curricular ideas and pilot programs that enhance Mason Impact and other cross-unit, multidisciplinary undergraduate and graduate curriculum development activities.

Applications for 2021 Curriculum Impact Grants are due April 12, 2021. Information can be found on the Mason Impact website. For additional details, email MasonUE@gmu.edu.