May 12, 2017

Summer Impact Grants

Looking for current information about Summer Team Impact Grants? Visit the Undergraduate Education website!

Summer 2018 Summer Impact Grants

Adapting global economic and social empowerment programs to improve well-being of Latina/o Immigrants

This summer impact, multi-disciplinary research project focuses on adapting global solutions to improving economic empowerment and reducing violence against women for use with low-income, Spanish-speaking, Latino/a immigrant communities residing in Northern Virginia. Prevalence of intimate partner violence among this population is high. Economic vulnerability and endorsement of traditional gender norms are two important contributing factors to the experience of this violence. Interventions addressing these two factors simultaneously have been successful in reducing intimate partner violence in other countries. This project will use formative research (in the form of focus group discussions and pilot surveys) to inform the adaptation of this intervention model. Student mentees will gain experience in quantitative and qualitative data collection methods, the institutional review board process, community-engaged research, and intervention design. Student mentees will also co-author manuscripts, produce issue briefs, and deliver research presentation. This project will promote a new collaboration between faculty in Global and Community Health, the School of Nursing, and the School of Business and will bring together expertise in social epidemiology, intervention research, public health, community nursing, and social entrepreneurship. Preliminary data will be used to apply for external grant funding.

Changing the Hole Mind: Living & Working in Solitary Confinement During Reform

Solitary confinement is the logical equivalent to a prison within a prison or what some call double incarceration. It is one of the most used and poorly understood punishment sanctions employed by prisons. Solitary confinement typically means inmates are restricted to one or two person cells for 23 hours a day. Knowing the challenges faced by inmates and staff in solitary confinement units, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) is restructuring some solitary units, opening new ones, transitioning many inmates to general population and using restricted housing less often. Building on prior research by this research team, which identifies the overall experiences of inmates living, and officers working in solitary confinement, the proposed in-depth, ethnographic study within solitary confinement units continues critically examining the narrative accounts and behavioral processes involved with decision-making within restricted environments undergoing intense policy/practice change. This project examines the contextual and interactional barriers to solitary confinement changes that hinder reform efforts and outcomes while increasing risk, misconducts and grievances within and impeding replication of solitary reform in other U.S. prisons. Participating student researchers will contribute to the larger Rudes’ study and will design a sub-study of staff and/or inmates within solitary confinement units.

CONNECT: Community-Supported Development of Nutrition Education Tools

The goal of this summer impact project is to support GMU undergraduate students to develop and implement a series of nutrition education tools that will support behavior change in a diverse group of elementary-school-age children within the Fairfax area. Although the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies currently offers a course on “Strategies of Nutrition Education” (NUTR 420), the course has not provided students the opportunities for guided practice and building skill due to the time constraints within the regular academic semester. The project seeks to immerse students in the development of nutrition education tools by blending provision of knowledge, guided practice, and skill-building in a real-world setting. To bridge the gap between theory and practice, we have partnered with Mott Community Center, which is managed by Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services, to develop and provide enriching nutrition education learning experiences to elementary-school-aged children enrolled in the center’s summer programs. This partnership offers GMU students an opportunity to develop and evaluate nutrition education tools for an existing population, builds nutrition-related knowledge and skills of elementary-school-age children, and has the potential to extend beyond summer 2018.  Expected products include nutrition education tools, tool performance reports, and poster presentations.

Developing an Active Integrated Teaching Model Utilizing Mass Data to Find Clinically-Relevant Biomarkers in Human Disease

Medical technology and our understanding of disease has evolved exponentially over the course of the last century.  We now understand that small differences in the individual human genome can account for vastly different patient outcomes during therapy.  The study and treatment of disease has, therefore, become a multidisciplinary field with the need for experts in computer science, biology, medicine, and mathematics.  The goal of this project is to take a large genomic dataset derived from patients with progressive lung disease and identify clinically relevant biomarkers.  Additionally, we intend to develop an undergraduate course that utilizes this and other data sets to introduce and educate students in the application of big data to the diagnosis and treatment of human disease.  To accomplish this, we are looking for students with interest in medicine, molecular biology, bioinformatics, and computer science and education.  Each project will be tailored to the principal interest of the student and closely monitored by the participating faculty.  The result of this project will be presented and submitted for publication including student authors.

Ecological Effects of Farmland Restoration in Virginia’s Northern Piedmont

Students who participate in this project will study the ecological effects of land restoration. Land restoration is a complex and variable concept, and for this project, we will focus specifically on the ecological effects of converting farmland into native grassland ecosystems. Such restored ecosystems are considered valuable since they support high biodiversity and contribute to ecosystem services such pollination and water quality improvement. Changes in the appearance of the restored landscape are obvious, but it is, for example, unclear how many years a restored landscape requires to achieve optimal improvements in biodiversity and ecosystem complexity. It is also unclear to which extent different restoration techniques (especially burning techniques) make a difference in achieving those goals. Students will explore these issues by studying the community complexity and ecosystem functioning of the plant, insect, and bird communities of multiple restored native grassland ecosystems in Virginia’s Northern Piedmont. Students will test specifically for differences between recently restored grasslands and earlier restored grasslands, and between grasslands that were and were not burned as part of the restoration efforts.

Food web structure and the flow and fate of pharmaceutical chemicals and personal care products in a Potomac River tributary

The 2018 project will assess the ecosystem health of the tidal freshwater Potomac River through community composition, food web dynamics, and the distribution of pharmaceutical and personal-care products (PPCPs) through the food web. Ten undergraduates will work in two teams. The ecology team (four students) will uncover if fish predation on invertebrate communities is correlated with submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and/or prey availability. Students will compare fish gut contents to natural invertebrate prey populations in SAV and non-SAV areas to determine if fish species are selective or opportunistic predators. Trophic structure will be investigated by analyzing the isotope signature (δ13C and δ15N) of fish tissue and their gut contents. The chemistry team (six students) will ask how PPCPs translocate through water and sediments to plants, zooplankton, invertebrates, and fishes, along with PPCP dose dependence upon trophic structure. PCPP concentrations will be assessed via liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and compared and evaluated functionally, statistically, and modeled mathematically via partitioning and food chain thermodynamic and kinetic translocation mechanisms. All students will be involved in field and laboratory work and create independent testable hypotheses within the project goals. Students will document progress with blog posts and photographic images of their work.

LIMPiAR: Latina Immigrant Multidisciplinary Project in Advancing Research for Undergraduate Students

The aim of this summer project is to provide students with the opportunity to gain interdisciplinary research skills by addressing critical public health issues in the Northern Virginia Latina immigrant community. The overarching problem that students will address is to understand the interplay between social stressors, community and family factors, and job-related factors. These factors have been identified as critical determinants of poor health and may contribute to health disparities. Immigration-related stressors (e.g. discrimination, attenuated social support, residential segregation) can negatively impact health, but interactions with job and family-related factors are unknown. Students will work in teams and individually to develop quantitative and qualitative research methods to determine how stressors such as social and family factors may impact health. Students accepted for this project will attend regular seminars, engage with community stakeholders, develop their own research question, refine skills in research methods and data management, and will present the findings of their work.

Turning ambiguous traffic scenarios into autonomous vehicle’s intelligence

This interdisciplinary project focuses on understanding and categorizing driver behaviors by the analysis of recordings from naturalistic driving studies. Naturalistic driving studies, via instrumented sensors and monitors in private vehicles, collect a large volume of data, including streams of diagnostic data from the vehicle engine and video recordings of the front traffic scenes. Video data contains rich information about the traffic situations that drivers encounter and have to interact with. Some situations may be difficult and complex due to the ambiguity when socially interacting with multiple vehicles. Once the video data can be processed and categorized, this dataset will contain traffic scenarios that are challenging, unsafe, and ambiguous and can be used for training purposes and become part of the artificial intelligence in autonomous vehicles.

By collaborating across Psychology, Computer Science, and Collision Safety and Analysis, our students will learn that real-world problems are complex and require creative and multi-disciplinary solutions. They will learn complementary skills and knowledge from each discipline through discussion and collaboration using a team approach. We expect a significant increase in domain knowledge and openness to other disciplines at the end of the Summer Impact Project.


Vibrations is a documentary series that profiles contemporary singer-songwriters and practitioners of traditional musical forms while revealing regional music cultures around the world. Inspirational in nature, Vibrations emphasizes the healing power of music and its ability to create positive individual and social change.  In featuring musicians and their stories, we share how music is a valuable, shared asset within communities, and how it functions as a preserver and innovator of culture. Through our 30-minute episodic format, Vibrations intends for distribution in commercial broadcast, webcast, and educational markets. With faculty mentors specializing in ethnomusicology, film producing, documentary directing and film editing, students will engage in research, writing, and video preproduction, production, and postproduction for documentary episodes and published articles about the musical cultures of Vietnam and Cambodia, with two weeks of fieldwork and video production in each respective country.

View past funded summer projects here.