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Dean's Blog: Setting science trajectories

Year after year, our College of Science conceptualizes and implements very meaningful outreach programs that spark scientific interest and creativity, while simultaneously broadening one’s STEM awareness and research foundation. And two of them are happening now. 

The College’s FOCUS program, (Females of Color Underrepresented in STEM) is a week-long camp held on the campus of George Mason University each summer. Originally offered for rising sixth through eighth grade girls, the popular program has expanded to include an academy for high schoolers as well. 

FOCUS participants engage with collegiate counselors and Mason faculty in different interactive and hands-on STEM workshops to introduce them to such topics as coding, forensic science, and geoinformation systems. On the last day, program participants present what they learned in these workshops in a conference-style setting. 

Each day is a different STEM ‘focus.’ This year’s activities cover topics like skeletal muscle contraction, the science of concussions, and geospatial mapping technologies. Participants will also learn to code and build their own website or app, learn about experimental geometry, and even generate electricity with bacteria. In addition to the hands on activities, participants will meet role models, and discuss science careers and college preparation tips, learning from science students and STEM faculty to illustrate the possible STEM success pathways available to them at Mason and beyond.

In addition to the week-long FOCUS programs, our college also organizes and offers ASSIP, Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program.  Mason ASSIP is one of the country’s premiere immersive and transformative STEM research experiences for hundreds of high schoolers and undergraduate students involving more than 100 Mason STEM research faculty and staff mentors across three of our campuses. Selected participants work one-on-one with Mason researchers representing science as well as other STEM disciplines at Mason.

As part of the 8-week full-time internship, participants gain hands-on experience using cutting-edge, sophisticated equipment and technologies while developing and exercising their scientific writing and communication skills. The ASSIP cohort also explores career choices through discussion forums and meetings with role models while learning how to apply creative approaches to their science, crucial to performing innovative research. Leaders of the program describe student projects as innovative approaches to problems and challenges not yet attempted or solved.

ASSIP participants explore scientific research areas across many Mason Science areas of study including biology, chemistry and biochemistry, astronomy and physics, environmental science and policy, atmospheric oceanic and earth science, neuroscience, mathematics, forensic science and geography and geoinformation systems.

Current and prior project focus on scientific topics for now and our future including disease diagnostics, proteomics and molecular medicine, sustainable botany, geographic information and spatial sciences, climate change, mathematical modeling, game design and serious games, computer simulations and modeling, data science for social good, women’s health issues, human-computer interactions, tissue repair and regeneration, urban hydrology and coastal flooding, robotics, solar space weather and exoplanet discovery, cyber security, epidemiology, tissue repair, evolutionary molecular ecology, bird populations and way, way more if you can believe it.

In past, many ASSIP students’ research efforts have been published in scientific journals. Some ASSIP participants have also presented their work at scientific conferences, even developed patents and won scholarships and awards for their scientific efforts.

These programs are game changers for those who participate. Mason’s ASSIP and FOCUS introduce opportunities in some cases for folks who may not have known they existed, further embodying our college’s commitment to AJEDI (access, justice, equity, diversity and inclusion). We work with many partners to offer financial support, in person participation and in-kind donations, including Battelle and the Side-Out Foundation. We couldn’t do it to the level and impact we do without these collaborations and partnerships.

And they couldn’t be offered without the tireless work of our faculty organizers (Kelly Knight and Andrea Cobb lead each respective program) working among many of our Mason science faculty who devote countless hours, days, weeks and more to sparking scientific awareness and creativity to develop future scientists. 

Some say educators take a break over the summer. But not so, as significant work goes into planning and executing these programs, and especially those serving as engaged science mentors. I appreciate their commitment and significant efforts to inspire the next generation.