Curriculum Impact Grants

Mason Impacts Students. Students Impact the World

Curriculum Impact Grants look for teams of faculty, staff, and administrators to design innovative multidisciplinary curriculum at either the undergraduate or graduate level.  Our goal is to help you create scaffolded, intentional programs that incorporate experiential learning and build on the strengths across Mason.

Devandas James practices with Professor Samuel Bonds. Photo by Evan Cantwell/George Mason University

Devandas James practices with Professor Samuel Bonds. Photo by Evan Cantwell/George Mason University

Last Year's Grantees

The Faculty and Curricular Activities committee and a team of peer reviewers evaluated 20 highly competitive submissions and selected 8 curricular projects to fund. These projects represent an impressive array of collaborations across colleges and schools aiming to create high-impact learning experiences for students, by deepening their engagement and preparing them for substantive impact on the world.

2020-2021 Grantees

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, Peter Blair (COS, Schar)

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 United Nations named “reconnecting science to policy” among the top sustainability challenges of the century, and improving this interface is one of the UN Environment Programme’s operating principles to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Similarly, the National Academies’ report on the grand challenges for engineering notes that overcoming political obstacles to progress is paramount.

Our proposal 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, whether they are interested in continuing in research or pursuing a career in government. The proposed minor aligns with recommendations to increase pathways for 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.

Building a Highly Qualified, Creative, and Adaptable Stem Workforce through Collaborative Multi-Disciplinary Research in Data Science Graduate Programs

Harry Foxwell, Ioulia Rytikova, James Baldo, Mihai Boicu (VSE)

The rising demand for skilled professionals capable of facing the challenges posed by the rapidly changing landscape of STEM jobs, accelerated pace of innovation, and unknown impact of disruptive technology calls for a new type of workforce. 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.

We propose to design, develop, implement and preliminary evaluate the effectiveness of a novel approach to provide research knowledge, skills and competencies to graduate students in two programs: Master in Applied Information Technology and Master in Data Analytics Engineering, through a collaborative multi-disciplinary research environment utilizing experiential and active learning methods, while providing a gradual, systematic, and consistent research experience over the program of study. It consists of three highly adaptable learning modules that will incrementally transform graduate students from scholar to proficient and to 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.

Physical Activity in Public Health

Ali Weinstein, Charles Robison, Laura Poms (CEHD, CHHS)

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. The public’s well-being and physical activity go hand in hand. In line with this and supporting the World Health Organization’s Sustainable Development Goal #3 Good Health and Well Being, our aim is to create an undergraduate academic pathway for students to study the intersection of physical activity and public health, as the University is absent of an academic curriculum that addresses the theory, discipline and practice of kinesiology at the public health level.

With this proposal, we seek to establish a cross-disciplinary collaboration that will provide students with the opportunity to study Physical Activity in Public Health (PAPH). This is a well-recognized and important area of study. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Physical Activity Society collaboratively offer a certification in this area: Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist. 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.

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, Julie M. Womble Trkula (CHHS, CVPA, BUS)

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 entitled, The Activist-Artist: Art as an Engine of Social Justice. This is a year-long project-based learning opportunity for students from across George Mason University (GMU). While working through this 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. 

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 (CHHS, CHSS)

The current proposal aims to address health disparities and social inequities experienced by ethnic and linguistic minority communities in the U.S. by building an interprofessional micro-credential program that effectively prepares George Mason students to serve the healthcare and social service needs of Spanish-speaking immigrant communities, who constitute 16% (or more) of the total U.S. population (Ennis et al., 2012). This innovative, 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 central theme of these interactions is designed to address social inequity and pursue social justice through promoting equitable language access. It 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 3-4 competency-based modules and 1 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.

STEM in Society Minor

Brian Platt, Cortney Hughes Rinker, Kamaljeet Sanghera, Larrie Ferreiro, Laura Poms, Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, Vita Chalk (CHHS, CHSS, COS, VSE)

This Curriculum Impact Grant will support the development of the “STEM in Society” minor at George Mason. The “STEM in Society” minor will help students in diverse majors across Mason, both technical and non-technical, 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. Amazon’s move to Northern Virginia is only the latest example of what economists call “business clustering” or “technopoles,” the idea that industries locate together to benefit from economies of scale in resources and personnel. However, Amazon and other tech firms and industries, such as health care, need more than just cyberwarriors and coders.

The humanities and social sciences are highly represented in tech firm leadership, as STEM becomes more integrated into people’s everyday lives; Microsoft and Intel famously hire social scientists, and you find anthropologists working in places like LinkedIn. Above all, these firms are looking for people who can think strategically and critically about STEM (plus medicine) and its role in societies and cultures. They also need individuals who can frame their ideas in a narrative structure. The skills and competencies that students will gain from this minor expand beyond the tech and health care industries and will be useful to students looking to work in fields like international development and public policy or in non-profits or think tanks. 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.

Climate Change Minor

Cristiana Stan, James Kinter, Juliete Shedd, Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, Sara Cobb (Carter, COS)

The goal of the 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 together courses in Climate Dynamics from the department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences (AOES) and courses in Conflict Resolution from the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution (Carter School), 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 policy makers in constructive dialogue.

This interdisciplinary minor will break down the barriers between science and social change advocacy 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. Students will have the opportunity to engage in case studies and a summer experience. Students will develop competencies to navigate the complex settings where climate action is needed, in coalitions, in participatory planning and policy settings where “critical intelligence” that enables people to work together is developed as the foundation for climate action. The Climate Action minor will respond to current workforce needs in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation and the world by educating students about climate change and enabling them to develop and execute plans for addressing it. 

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, Steven Anthony Scott (CHHS, CHSS, INTO, Mason Libraries)

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. Just this year, COVID-19 infected millions of people globally, which has led to quarantines, school closures, travel restrictions, and other preventative measures that is also causing significant economic damage to the global economy. In 2014, there was the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa and unique strategies were needed that respected cultural and social customs while also preventing its spread inside and outside of the region. Humanitarian crises are occurring in Yemen, Syria, and Myanmar. The opioid crisis is a grave and largely still overlooked concern in the United States. And, the global population is becoming older; the number of people over the age of 60 is expected to at least double by 2050 according to the United Nations.

This objective of this Curriculum Impact Grant proposal is to engage in cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary dialogues about these global health problems at George Mason by designing a course module that integrates students from INTO Mason, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (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.

In addition, these disciplines have also pointed to non-medical solutions that can aid in reducing health problems. Our project builds on Goal #3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “Good Health and Well-Being,” as our courses will focus on one of the main global health concerns put forth by the UN, such as epidemics and pandemics, health risks and inequalities, substance abuse, and reproductive health. This CIG 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.