Latest News

New Program Fosters Research between Students, Smithsonian Biologists Monday, November 16,2015

New Program Fosters Research between Students, Smithsonian Biologists

Starting in January, George Mason University undergraduate students have a unique opportunity to spend a spring semester conducting research with Smithsonian biologists. This new program offers students a learning experience that may help them find their true calling, said Larry Rockwood, chair of George Mason’s Department of Biology. All the programs include OSCAR's Research & Scholarship intensive courses.

That’s certainly what happened for Will Pitt, deputy director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. An engineering major, he switched to biology to be part of a similar undergraduate research program at the University of Minnesota to research white-tailed deer and black bears.

“That experience was the start of my professional career,” he said. “Some of the relationships you establish last a lifetime. I still talk to my undergraduate research advisor and he’s now 85 years old and in a nursing home.”

Mason’s College of Science, specifically the Biology Department, has made undergraduate research a priority, Rockwood said. Having Mason students work with Smithsonian researchers was a natural fit, because of the existing collaboration at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation in Front Royal, Va.

“This exclusive partnership with Smithsonian Institution is part of Mason’s innovative approach for multidisciplinary and inquiry-based learning,” said S. David Wu, Mason provost and executive vice president. “The Smithsonian Mason Research Semester offers students an exceptional opportunity to work with scientists at the National Zoo or the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to gain hands-on experience in original research. Collaborative programs like this help to differentiate Mason and build its reputation in creating synergy and connection between research and teaching.”

Students can apply to study such diverse topics as cheetahs, fertility and carnivores, the genetics of endangered animals, and GPS tracking of endangered or rare animals. The application process is underway and students can apply now. About 20 slots are available.

“It’s not just playing—it’s real research,” Pitt said.

Students will earn six to nine biology credits for the semester and can stay at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal. The spring program is an offshoot of an undergraduate research fall program coordinated with or led by Mason faculty.

“If a student is pre-vet or other health field, this is an amazing opportunity,” Rockwood said. “They will learn how to create an experimental design and analyze data.”

Smithsonian researchers benefit too. In the short term, essential work gets done. And in the long term, they help mentor the next generation of researchers.

“For me, it opened opportunities for graduate school and other research opportunities,” Pitt said. “It was everything for my undergraduate education.”

Continue reading on Mason News webpage.

Salem Witch Trails take a modern spin Wednesday, November 11,2015

Salem Witch Trails take a modern spin

This fictionalized play, written by Arthur Miller about the Salem Witch Trials that took place in the Province of Massachusetts Bay between 1692 and 1693, was co-directed by theater professor Howard Vincent Kurtz and senior theater major Maggie Rodgers.  Kurtz and Rodgers have been working together to produce and direct this play at Mason for three years.

”The Crucible is traditionally done as a seventeenth century historical play,” Kurtz said.  “However, my objective as a costume designer was to portray a more contemporary view, setting the production in the mid-twentieth century.”

“Audience members can expect to see a story about a community that puts everything on the line in search for truth and justice,” Rodgers said.  “Arthur Miller’s play is raw, honest, and inspired by a dark time in American History.”

Through setting the play in mid-twentieth century times, Kurtz and Rodgers hoped to spark discussion on campus about how this story was presented in today’s society.  “I hope that it will make people think about how they, as an individual, act in the world and make them question what they can do to help out their community,” Rodgers said.

Kurtz wanted audience members to glean some valuable learning experiences from the play.  “I hope the audience will see themselves in the characters that are portrayed on stage,” Kurtz said.  “Also, that the choices we make can affect others and have a profound effect on the world.”

Both Kurtz and Rodgers hoped audience members would arrive at Harris Theatre the night of the play with open minds and a willingness to involve themselves in the story.  “I believe attendees should come into the theater with an open mind and heart in order to absorb Arthur Miller’s words,” Rodgers said.

Cast members attended numerous rehearsals in preparation for their October 22 opening night.  “Every actor has a responsibility to one another.  As directors, we guided the ensemble so that they could develop realistic and accessible characters on stage,” Kurtz said.

The rehearsal process was built upon collaboration and communication between the actors, directors and designers. “Like Howard said, it is an ensemble piece and this show wouldn’t be successful without the teamwork and dedication every night from all participants,” said Rodgers.  “We worked very hard each day to create an environment where people felt comfortable to explore and push artistic boundaries in order to tell Arthur Miller’s story.”

Continue reading on IV Estate page.


George Mason University Wins Award for Its ‘National Model’ of Student Research Thursday, October 29,2015

George Mason University Wins Award for Its ‘National Model’ of Student Research

“We encourage our students to pursue research because it is one of the most effective and transformative learning experiences they can have,” said Ángel Cabrera, Mason president. “This is true whether or not a student decides to pursue a research career, and that is the greatest value a research university can offer a student.”

Mason is the largest public research university in Virginia. At the core of Mason’s mission is its signature learning experience, which encourages students to incorporate research into their studies. From pioneering virologists to prize-winning economists, students work alongside researchers at the top of their game.

About 2,725 students in the past three years have completed an original research or creative project. Plus, more than 17,000 students have been introduced to undergraduate research and creative activities through courses and projects.

Mason has created a “national model for other institutions to emulate,” according to the nonprofit Council on Undergraduate Research, which has more than 700 institutions and 10,000 individual members.

“This annual award will recognize institutions that have devised exemplary programs providing high-quality research experiences to undergraduates,” said Beth Ambos, council executive officer. “The award will not only require campuses to have depth and breadth in their undergraduate research initiatives, but evidence of innovation of a sustained nature.”

At Mason, student research and creative work is integrated throughout the university and guided by the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR), home of the Students as Scholars initiative. Top Mason researchers and faculty mentor students, departmental grants are available to integrate scholarly inquiry and research into the curriculum, and undergraduates can apply for student travel support, said Bethany Usher, director of Mason’s Students as Scholars initiative. Moreover, OSCAR oversees a faculty mentoring award and a student award for excellence in undergraduate research and creative work.

Students at Mason are working as undergraduates to solve real-world problems. For example, bioengineering major Sameen Yusuf developed a low-cost oxygen analyzer to be used in hospitals in developing countries.

Finance major Juwariah Shareef is building the foundation for her business career by researching and analyzing slow economic growth of “export processing zones” in Pakistan. Her groundbreaking research can be used as a template for similar developing countries.

And bioengineering major Alex Nixon is working on a skin patch capable of detecting melanomas and on nanotechnology for biodefense use.

What sets Mason apart from other universities is how students, faculty and administration are united in their commitment to the Students as Scholars program, according to the council. Academic units at Mason have integrated research concepts throughout the curriculum so students at all levels learn how to engage in research in increasingly sophisticated and independent ways.

Mason then tracks student progress by using surveys for students and having professors evaluate the student work following a specific rubric. These data are used to refine the Students as Scholars programs so that the university best supports its students and faculty.

This robust research experience prepares students for further graduate study or jobs after graduation, the council said.

Continue reading on Mason News page.


Jungles of Peru Provided a Learning Experience for URSP Student Thursday, October 22,2015

Jungles of Peru Provided a Learning Experience for URSP Student

Did you know that Iquitos—population 422,000—is the world’s largest city not accessible by road? It’s in the heart of the Amazon rainforest at the confluence of the Nanay and Itaya rivers. Piranhas are part of the local diet.

And on an overnight trip to the jungle, in which her group stayed in a lodge with a thatched roof and a generator that provided electricity for only two hours a day, the uninvited guests were some pretty large spiders.

“I screamed so much I felt bad for everybody,” Snyder said.

Most memorable, though, for the George Mason University junior neuroscience major, were her two months of work in which she helped research better treatments for malaria.

Snyder, part of George Mason’s Honors College, worked with doctors on patient intake, interviews and diagnosis. Her follow-up research preliminarily showed “that individuals who live farther away from the city center or economic hubs are more likely to have malaria relapses.”

On assignment in the nearby Loreto district, Snyder did glucose tests and screened people for diabetes.

“It was amazing to be able to work in the field I’m most passionate about,” said Snyder, whose ambition is to be a military physician with emphasis on infectious diseases or family medicine because both “involve a lot more patient time, working with individuals.”

“I’ve always been drawn to service and helping other people and being the person who can serve others,” Snyder said. “[The internship] was an opportunity to do that.”

The thing is, military research labs don’t generally give such positions to civilians. But Snyder did her homework and forged an email relationship with Chris Daniel, the senior advisor for global health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

After they met in November 2014 at the Global Security Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Daniel put in a good word.

Continue reading on Mason News page

‘For Mason. For Us.’ Introduces Faculty, Staff and Students to Campaign Friday, September 18,2015

‘For Mason. For Us.’ Introduces Faculty, Staff and Students to Campaign

The goal of the campaign, called “Faster Farther: The Campaign for George Mason University,” is to reach the half-billion dollar mark by 2018. To do that, said campaign officials, the entire Mason community needs to be engaged in the effort.

“A campaign isn’t just about raising money,” said emcee Wendi Manuel-Scott, director of Mason’s African and African American Studies Program, and an associate professor in the Department History and Art History. “It’s about banding together, working collectively and thinking about what kind of university we want to be.”

Three examples of that creative thinking were on display at the campaign’s launch at Dewberry Hall.

As a sophomore at Mason, Francis Aguisanda was recognized by a professor as a promising researcher. He was guided out of the classroom and into a research lab where he flourished academically but was strained financially, until he received scholarship awards from Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research—also known as OSCAR.

“In practical terms, each award was enough to pay for groceries for the entire semester,” Aguisanda said. “I also used some of the OSCAR stipend to help pay for a new laptop, and travel stipends to present my findings at both local and national conferences. These were amazing opportunities to practice my ability to communicate my science, and they remain some of my favorite memories of my time at Mason.”

These days Aguisanda works at the National Institutes of Health, developing therapeutics for rare genetic disorders using stem cells as a cellular model.

Frances is one of over 2500 students whose lives have been transformed by undergraduate research at Mason. You can meet many of the students by reading our blog. To help support student projects and travel, donate directly by going to the Campaign for Mason link. When asked “Where do you want your gift to be applied, choose “Undergraduate Research Programs,” under University Programs.

Continue reading on Mason News webpage.

Mason Study to Explore Effects of Music on Memory Loss, Dementia Patients Friday, September 11,2015

Mason Study to Explore Effects of Music on Memory Loss, Dementia Patients

Part of the research involves giving iPods to 25 older adults with dementia at five adult day centers and examining the effects of personalized music intervention on mood and behavior, said Mason social work professor Catherine Tompkins, the associate dean of undergraduate studies in the College of Health and Human Services.

The five centers in the study are Fairfax County’s four adult day centers in Lewinsville, Lincolnia, Mount Vernon and Herndon, as well as Insight Memory Care Center, a private center in Fairfax.

Once the iPods are distributed, the students will visit the study participants at the centers twice a week for six weeks and video record their behavior as they listen.  The video will later be reviewed, so students can closely observe participants’ behavior, Tompkins said.

There is also a control group of 25 older adults who won’t be given music, but will still be under observation. To qualify for the study, each participate must have dementia and no previous involvement with the Music & Memory Program.

Participants will be able to keep the iPods at the end of the study.

Past research has revealed that the part of the brain that stores fine arts, specifically music, stays the longest in persons with dementia, Tompkins said.

Tompkins said research has indicated individualized music interventions have been shown to provide individuals with dementia with positive outcomes, including a change in the focus of attention, the opportunity to access remote memory, and the elicitation of positive memories.

Continue reading on the Mason News webpage.


Yara El Mowafy and Linh Huynh Highly Commended - The Undergraduate Awards 2015 Tuesday, September 8,2015

Yara El Mowafy and Linh Huynh Highly Commended - The Undergraduate Awards 2015

The successful students and categories from GMU are Yara El Mowafy from Gender Studies & Anthropology and Linh Huynh from Social Sciences.

Along with already such a huge achievement, these students are also still in the running to win their category outright on September 23rd, when 25 Irish and 25 International students will be announced as winners.

This is a huge achievement for both the university and the students! As Highly Commended, the students have won a certificate, will have their work published on the new online Undergraduate Library which will be launched early next year, and they are eligible to come attend the invite-only Global Summit in Dublin.


Students from Mason and Korea’s POSTECH Work Together on Problem-solving Monday, February 16,2015

Students from Mason and Korea’s POSTECH Work Together on Problem-solving

The students learned hands-on design methods that look at problems from multiple angles to design the most effective product. The Mason students are from such varied majors as math, design, biology, bioengineering and computer engineering. 

By collaborating with people outside of her math major in the College of Science, Chelsea Mohindroo says she gained new insight into how to look for answers. “The program exposed me to design thinking that I wouldn’t have learned in class,” says Mohindroo, who grew up in Springfield, Va.

In an approach called “SCAMPER” students take an idea, such as how to help older people with disabilities, and come up with a product. The acronym stands for Substitute something, Combine it with something else, Adapt something about it, Modify or Magnify it, Put it to some other use, Eliminate something, and Reverse or Rearrange it.

For example, a walking cane could have a foldout chair inside of it. But they didn’t stop there. They added a flashlight and other helpful additions. In another approach, the students imagined themselves as different members of a community and how they would see the product.

These approaches made for an effective combination that engineering major Sarah Choi says she plans to apply in her future classes at Mason. This was the first visit to Korea for Choi, a Korean-American. Next year, Korean students will travel to Mason. “The cross-cultural experience meant a lot to me,” says Choi, who grew up in Sterling, Va. “It was nice to go back to my cultural roots.”

Continue reading this article on Mason News webpage.

URSP Student and Mason Junior Finds His Field of Dreams in Sport History Thursday, January 15,2015

URSP Student and Mason Junior Finds His Field of Dreams in Sport History

Now, through a minor in sport and American culture, Kleine is creating an oral history of how race and society played a role in Washington, D.C., sports.

Kleine took courses on U.S. sport history and basketball history with Professor Chris Elzey in Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. He was so fascinated with the subjects that he asked Elzey how he could learn more. Elzey suggested Kleine apply to Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research (OSCAR) undergraduate program.

“It allows him to do the hands-on work of an oral historian,” Elzey says. “Assessing his project so far, I’m very pleased.”

Kleine and Elzey created a list of potential interview candidates. Not everyone called back. But their persistence paid off when Kleine met two former athletes who were willing to share their stories of perseverance.

Kleine, of Pennsylvania, flew to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., to meet Maury Willis—three-time World Series champion; seven-time Major League Baseball All-Star Game player; All-Star Game Most Valuable Player; National League Most Valuable Player; two-time Gold Glove Award winner; and the first modern-era player with two, 90-plus stolen base seasons. Wills also is one of 10 finalists on this year’s Golden Era ballot being considered for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“He was the real deal,” recalls Kleine, “I’d never met a more genuine, happy individual.”

Continue reading this article on Mason News webpage.

Mason Staff and URSP Recipient Watch & Report on Human Rights Trials in Peru Monday, January 5,2015

Mason Staff and URSP Recipient Watch & Report on Human Rights Trials in Peru

The tattered and stained clothes on the table belonged to a young girl; the soiled garments, broken hair accessories and still-tied shoes are all that is left of her. The items were found buried in her grave, a grave she shared with a second person, most likely a relative. The clothes are evidence of a hideous crime—perhaps a human rights violation by the ruling government—that took place in the 1980s in rural Peru. Now, decades later, the alleged killers are finally coming to trial in Lima.

Time has faded the public interest in the outcomes of the dozens of trials emerging from the internal armed conflict. But a George Mason University professor and her protégé, a Mason alumnus, fare constant presences in the courtrooms of Lima, making sure that justice is carried out correctly and transparently. The professor, Jo-Marie Burt, teaches political science at Mason’s School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs and is director of Mason’s Latin American Studies program. Burt also is a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, where she works on human rights and transitional justice issues.

The student is Karina Arango, a Fairfax native who graduated last December with degrees in government and international politics and global affairs. When she’s not applying for a master’s degree and a Fulbright scholarship, she can be found in a sparsely populated courtroom, ever vigilant for legal irregularities. But the courts move slowly. “It’s a bit frustrating because I feel for the victims,” Arango says by Skype between sessions. “I know the families, and for some of these cases, I’m the only one in the audience. But it’s worth it because it’s important for the victims to have some sort of retribution, socially and legally.”

Arango, whom Burt calls “my eyes and ears on the ground,” and Burt, when she is not teaching at Mason, record whether officials are being impartial. They report on violations and seek to increase awareness about the trials, particularly in light of little local press coverage, through a blog Burt started in 2010,

Burt was Arango’s mentor for a project funded by Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research (OSCAR) in 2013. With OSCAR funding, Arango made her first trip to Peru as a trials monitor for Burt’s project. Burt and partner organization the Due Process of Law Foundation were recently awarded a grant from the Department of State that will allow the trial monitoring activities to continue into 2016.

Continue reading on Mason News webpage.

Teaching through undergraduate research with Dr. Bethany Usher Friday, December 19,2014

Teaching through undergraduate research with Dr. Bethany Usher

Dr. Usher is Director of the Students as Scholars initiative through the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR) at Mason. She earned a BA in Anthropology and Biology from the University of Virginia, an MA in Bioarchaeology from Arizona State, and her PhD in Biological Anthropology from Penn State, and has previously been a professor at SUNY Potsdam (2000-2010).

Go here to hear the podcast.


December 09

School of Systems Biology Student Research Day

3:00 PM
Science and Technology Campus, Bull Run Hall, Atrium

December 10
December 14

URSP Fall 2015 Presentations

11:00 AM
JC Rooms A, B, C, D, E andG

January 11

SDG Workshop

8:00 AM
Innovation 323

See All Events »