By Michele McDonald
The Council on Undergraduate Research today awarded George Mason University its 2015 Campus-wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishment. The national award recognizes George Mason’s efforts to expose a greater number of students to research opportunities and provide access to leading scholars outside the classroom.
“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.