Dean’s blog: cultivating spring STEM community connections
Living near Virginia's largest public R-1 university can be a tremendous benefit beyond just experiencing the countless sporting and cultural arts events Mason offers. And there are many! For starters, just consider how our faculty, staff, students, and their families support local businesses and the economy. Yet beyond those connections, we also demonstrate an ongoing commitment to impactful STEM outreach as an important element of the college’s mission.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been fortunate to have many opportunities to share and strengthen science connections with members of our community. And we are collaborating with many local elected officials to explore ideas.
For example, City of Fairfax Mayor and Mason alum, Catherine Read recently met with me on Mason’s Fairfax campus to get an overview of our strategic direction, and brainstorm ways to collaborate with her constituents to collectively support our shared community. She also met with Mason AOES professor Jim Kinter, who co-directs the VA Climate Center, to learn about how we are helping communities build resilience to Virginia's changing climate. (Jim also discussed this in a broadcast with PBS/WETA that aired last week – his section starts at about the 8-minute mark).
Mayor Read also attended the college’s Women in STEM mentoring event. Did you know 62% of our undergraduate and 51% of our graduate Mason science students are women? The mayor also recently lent support to Mason alumna Eileen Kragie’s request as the City of Fairfax offered a proclamation acknowledging International Dark Sky Week April 15 – 22, 2023.
And Mayor Read connected with our mathematics faculty at their weekly coffee and cookies event to discuss the many ways we enrich the towns and communities around our campuses. In April alone, our Mathematical Experimental Geometry Lab (MEGL) faculty and students will have visited elementary schools in Beech Tree, Mount Eagle, Hunters Woods, Laurel Ridge, and Dranesville, and also the Bull Run Regional Library to offer math programming activities to explore shapes, count on monsters, even demonstrating hyperbolic crochet.
Mason encourages learning at all levels. Last week, we hosted more than 300 students from Loudoun County Public Schools who connected with Mason scientists to share their research as part of their dual enrollment course capstone. And last month, ABC national news and the Washington Post shared the story of Congressman Don Beyer returning to university studies to sharpen his AI knowledge (he’s currently a student in one of our math classes).
In fact, Mason offers academic programs regardless of one’s stage of learning. The three local campuses of Mason’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) recently honored teachers, program planners, and special guest Delegate of Virginia Ken Plum at the Annual Celebration of Lifelong Learning where 29 Mason students received Friends of OLLI Mason Scholarships.
We’ve also hosted visitors at Mason’s Potomac Science Center (PSC) in Woodbridge, VA. Earlier this month, Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger visited the PSC, (now part of the congresswoman’s district) and met with Mason President Gregory Washington, and Mason scientists, including faculty and students from the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She learned about Potomac River restoration; sustainability practices; K-12 programs; tidal Potomac water quality; aquatic vegetation and aquatic resource management; fisheries ecology; and non-native species along with the center’s efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
And I’m especially excited to partner with Mason's College of Engineering and Computing, Supervisor Rodney L. Lusk, and The Workforce Innovations Skills Hub to present Spring Into STEM at the Hybla Valley Community Center in Alexandria, VA this Saturday, April 29. The event will provide more than 40 free STEM activities, and food and refreshments for students in grades K-12 along with community resources for the entire family.
The “Town and Gown” relations are strong between Mason’s College of Science and our surrounding communities. And we are open to exploring new partnerships to share our STEM programs. Have an idea to share STEM in our communities? Reach out to share your suggestion or to learn more.