A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

14 Reasons to Go to Class

By Mason Spirit contributor on March 18, 2020

At George Mason University, innovative approaches to teaching and learning are a point of pride. We even have a name for it: Mason Impact.

Mason Impact offers all students opportunities designed to help them develop problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication skills while tackling significant global questions and other challenges. This learning can happen in the classroom and through research, creative activities, civic engagement, entrepreneurship, or study-abroad experiences.

With so many innovative courses offered at Mason, it was hard to narrow down the list. But read on for a peek into some of the most exciting courses across our campuses.

1. Hands-on CSI

Students in the Forensic Science Program in the College of Science have many opportunities to get their hands dirty—sometimes literally. Located in a quiet residential neighborhood adjacent to campus, the Mason Crime Scene House has eight rooms that have each been carefully set up to recreate the details of very real crime scenes that Forensic Science Program director Mary Ellen O’Toole and her experienced team of crime scene investigators have worked in the past.

In FRSC 516 Forensic Drone Photography, students learn how to fly drones equipped with sophisticated cameras and use a state-of-the-art FARO 3D crime scanner to analyze a simulated head-on car accident. They work alongside Mason Police, as well as the police departments from Fairfax City and Fairfax County, during the field experience.

2. Enterprising Externships

In the College of Health and Human Services, graduate students majoring in health administration and health informatics participate in semester-long capstone projects where they are paired with organizations and complete a project on behalf of the company. The program is a win-win for the employers and the students—and students graduate with practical experience in their chosen fields. Students have worked on projects dealing with opioid abuse and suicide attempts in rural America for Inspire Corp. and financing social determinants of health for Mason’s Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics. Students present a poster session at the end of the semester to showcase their knowledge and experience.

3. Ready for Your Close Up?

Each year, Mason film and video studies students collaborate with a guest director to produce and crew a short film on location for the Mason Film Lab. Students gain real crew experience, building their producing skills, crew credits, and technical expertise. Students in FAVS 311 Producing I spend class time over the semester in pre-production for the location shoot, then collaborate on set with students in Cinematography (FAVS 331) and Sound Editing and Recording (FAVS 333) to crew the film.

Each film is written and directed by a celebrated guest director, with Mason film and video studies professors producing and supervising. Recent directors included Colette Burson (showrunner for the Golden Globe-nominated HBO series Hung) and Nefertite Nguvu (director of the award-winning feature film In the Morning). The students gain valuable insight into future careers after graduation, and many have used Mason Film Lab credits on their resumes to land positions on major film sets.

4. Tell It to the Judge

The location of the Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington gives students exceptional opportunities to gain substantial practical experience—and to earn credit while doing it. Through the school’s many legal clinics, students provide free legal assistance to clients under the supervision of Scalia Law faculty, alumni, and other experts. Clinics offer the opportunity to work on cases before the U.S. Supreme Court or provide legal help to active-duty service members, veterans, and their families. Read more about the legal clinics.

5. If You Could Turn Back Time

The faculty in Mason’s Department of History and Art History believe the best way for a student to learn HIST 300 Historical Methods is by actually working as a historian and poring through archives to discover new stories to tell. In the Dead in Virginia section of this class, taught by Mason history professor Mills Kelly, students select a local family cemetery to research in detail. They use what they’ve found to build a digital exhibit on the cemetery and create a writing project on a historical topic or event that happened during the lives of the people buried there. So, for instance, students might find the grave of a recently freed slave and then write about the experience of freedom following the Civil War. In history professor Cynthia Kierner’s Washington’s World section of the course, students travel to Mount Vernon to conduct research at the Fred W. Smith Library for the Study of George Washington.  Their scholarly work is published online in the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington.

6. The Power of Play

In an escape room—a story-themed room where teams use clues and tools to free themselves before a deadline—effective decision making, clear communication, creative thinking, and collaboration are essential. These same skills are also critical—and highly sought after—in the workplace, so it made sense when School of Business instructor Jackie Brown, MA English ’12, and Cameron Harris, BA Integrative Studies ’06, along with some of their Mason colleagues, developed a course where creating an escape room was the final project.

Multiple classroom activities and assignments, as well as in-class and out-of-class instruction and participation, went into developing the clues and challenges for the escape rooms. Two classes participated in the pilot offering and attempted to solve each other’s escape rooms. The multidisciplinary class is being offered again this spring.

7. This Is Only a Test

The mission of the Center for Security Policy Studies at the Schar School of Policy and Government is to facilitate students’ exploration of security studies, regardless of their degree program. Each semester the center hosts a crisis simulation, which lets students take the underpinning security studies and public policy concepts from their classes and research and apply them to detailed topical scenarios.

During the full-day exercises, participants play the role of individual countries, or use team organizations to simulate military, executive, and diplomatic bureaucracies. The center draws on expert practitioners and professional simulation designers from government and the military to construct and conduct realistic, beneficial, and stressful exercises. Recent simulations have thrust students into roles as negotiators in a heated nuclear weapon dispute with North Korea, as senior officials in an unfolding crisis between China and Japan in the East China Sea, and as leaders of nations responding to an escalating situation in the Baltic States.

8. Internship Semesters

The Peacebuilding Fellows Program at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution is an academic program for selected students interested in gaining hands-on experience and understanding communities that are struggling to live peacefully together. Fellows attend classes on the Arlington Campus two days a week and participate in an internship. The Arlington location provides the benefit of easy access to internships with U.S. government agencies and international organizations, meetings with policy makers, and visits to peace-focused institutions and organizations. In recent semesters, fellows have interned at the Institute of World Politics and Fairfax County Office for Alternative Dispute Resolution.

The Global Fellows is a similar program, also on the Arlington Campus, for students interested in government, international politics, and global affairs. In addition to their classes and internship, students participate in lunch seminars with current and former government leaders, nonprofit organizers, and elected officials. Global Fellows have interned at Human Rights Watch, Fair Trade America, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, among others.

9. The World Is Your Classroom

Explore the Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize, study Afro-Caribbean music and dance with professional and community artists in Cuba, or look at cross-cultural research in the United Kingdom through the lens of the Harry Potter films. Mason’s Global Education Office provides international learning opportunities in more than 60 countries, ranging from one week to a full academic year. Read about what students did over Winter Break.

10. Out of This World

A senior design team of 14 students from three Volgenau School of Engineering departments worked together on experiments that are being integrated into one small satellite about the size of two smartphones. The satellite, called a ThinSat, is scheduled to take the experiments into Earth’s lower orbit this spring on a rocket whose main mission is to deliver cargo to NASA’s International Space Station.

Students in the Department of Systems Engineering and Operations Research provided the parameters for the designs and helped test the projects after they were created. Seniors in the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering created the hardware and software for the experiments, which include a thermal battery shield and a method to scan a range of ultra-high radio frequencies used by ham radio to see which are suitable for inexpensive, low-bandwidth satellite communications in the Washington, D.C., area.

11. Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation

Bring your boots, pack some clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, and come ready to work hard and spend long days in the field. No outdoor experience required! The Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation offers a semester-long residential program at the 3,200-acre Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, where students learn from world-class Smithsonian researchers. Students spend 16 weeks living near red pandas and maned wolves and studying wildlife ecology and endangered species conservation.

12. Let’s Get Clinical

Mason researchers Ali Weinstein of the Department of Global and Community Health and Lynn Gerber of the Department of Health Administration and Policy teach Foundations of Clinical Research, a two-course sequence to prepare Honors College students for clinical research. In the first semester, students learn about research processes, from experiment design to interpretation of data, focusing on conducting health research on people in a clinical setting.

In the second semester, students are assigned to a research site where they complete a research project under the mentorship of clinical professionals. Students spend roughly eight hours a week interning and meet in class biweekly to discuss their research experiences. Internship sites include Inova Health System, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, National Institutes of Health, and other prestigious facilities.

13. Learn from the Masters

Mason dancers have the opportunity to learn from the hottest choreographers in the field through a long-standing guest artist residency program. Renowned choreographers come to campus each year, cast dancers, and conduct rehearsals for a performance of one of their works. Guest choreographers have included Mark Morris (who has an honorary degree from Mason), Twyla Tharp, and Doug Varone.

Mason hosts a number of visiting writers in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction each semester who workshop student work and give a reading. The Fall for the Book festival also gives students the opportunity to interact with famous writers such as Stephen King and Elizabeth Strout. Recently Mason creative writing students had the opportunity to sit down with The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood when she was on campus.

14. For the Win

Mason’s School of Kinesiology graduate students, who are certified athletic trainers, provide medical care to about 5,000 students engaged in afterschool sports in 16 Prince William County middle schools through the ACHIEVES Project. The graduate students gain valuable clinical experience, and the middle school students receive great care. In addition, the project has helped create the largest repository of information in existence on sports-related injuries for middle school-aged children. Students and faculty use this information for research that not only helps to improve care for children in PWCS but also health and safety for children nationwide.

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