State Department grants help Mason further its mission as a university for the world

George Mason University understands the importance of working together with local communities to devise permanent sustainability solutions, and nowhere is that more apparent than with two U.S State Department-funded projects currently underway in Peru and around the region.

“Building Bridges and Capacity: An Innovative Model for US-Peruvian Educational Exchange” is a result of a $25,000 grant awarded to Mason’s Michael Gilmore and Andrew Wingfield for a project that seeks to develop an innovative and sustainable partnership between Mason and the Universidad Nacional de la Amazonía Peruana (UNAP) that promotes study-abroad and training opportunities for students in the fields of environmental science, conservation biology and sustainability studies.

“Business for Peace and a Sustainable World: Beekeeping, Entrepreneurship and Community Empowerment” is the result of another $25,000 grant that went to the Honey Bee Initiative project by Lisa Gring-Pemble and Germán Perilla and is a perfect example of Mason serving local communities while working to better the environment.

Here’s a closer look at both projects:


A bridge from Peru to Mason

Michael Gilmore has 20 years of experience working in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo provided.

Gilmore and Wingfield, both of whom are associate professors in the School of Integrative Studies within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, hope to formalize and strengthen long-standing collaborations between researchers and students at both Mason and UNAP as well as with experts at nongovernmental organizations and civil society in both Peru and the United States.

Gilmore has 20 years of experience working in the Peruvian Amazon while doing community-based conservation and sustainability work with indigenous Amazonian communities. Most of that has come with the Maijuna, which—with just 500 people— is one of Peru’s smallest and most endangered indigenous groups.

With the grant, both he and Wingfield hope to further develop the curriculum for a field course that they teach together in Peru while incorporating the Maijuna communities and instructing them in the teaching of that material. The two Mason professors additionally hope to foster a cultural exchange by providing opportunities for Peruvian students to join the field course they teach. Plans are also under way to explore opportunities for Peruvian students to come to the United States to study at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, Gilmore said.

“It’s all about building significant connections between Mason and UNAP and building capacity for conservation and sustainable development in the Peruvian Amazon,” he said. “Not only for Peruvian students, but also in the Maijuna indigenous group.”


Honey Bee Initiative keeps buzzing

Co-directors Lisa Gring-Pemble and Germán Perilla have helped the Honey Bee Initiative gain an international presence. Photo provided.

For Gring-Pemble, the Honey Bee Initiative, a joint program of the School of Business and the College of Science, touches on many goals from George Mason University’s strategic plan. The project is multidisciplinary, employs innovative learning and promotes entrepreneurship.

Through the leadership of codirector Perilla, MAIS ’12, the initiative has also developed an international presence in Colombia, Peru and El Salvador. In Colombia, it has placed 180 beehives in three communities through its social entrepreneurial outreach.

Officially, the program will partner with the Universidad Industrial de Santander in Colombia to apply an experiential business-oriented approach to explore social entrepreneurship and community-driven development.

In the program’s practical application, students from Gring-Pemble’s Social Impact and Entrepreneurship class (MGMT 454) will travel to Colombia with students from Perilla’s Beekeeping and Sustainability class (EVPP 423) to get a granular view of local businesses that not only make a profit but also help people and the environment.

With this grant and a formal relationship with a university, the initiative hopes to work with local governments and banks to double its number of beehives in Colombia to 360 in six communities.

There also are plans for students from the Universidad Industrial de Santander to travel to Mason.

“It highlights, or maybe affirms, the importance of working together with a community to drive sustainable solutions,” Gring-Pemble said. “And when the State Department puts their seal of approval on it, that’s wonderful.”

“You want to see the strategic plan in action?” she said. “Here’s the program.”