A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Making a Difference in the Region and Beyond

By Mason Spirit contributor on August 18, 2020

Bridget Jennison and Dr. Rebecca Sutter administer COVID-19 tests outside the Manassas Park MAP Clinic. Photo by Delia Engstrom/The Prince William Times

The university plays a vital role in the region, and during the pandemic this was never clearer. From providing health care to those in underserved communities and incentivizing innovation, to 3D printing around the clock to create personal protective equipment (PPE) for those on the front lines, the Mason community has been engaged and working to make a difference.


MAP Clinics Expand Telehealth Capabilities­

During the pandemic, some Northern Virginians could still rely on the Mason and Partners (MAP) Clinics, a network of 10 no-cost bridge health care clinics supported by Mason’s College of Health and Human Services. Thanks to the rapid deployment of expanded telehealth capabilities, practitioners at the MAP Clinics were able to screen for COVID-19 while helping their patients battle chronic conditions, treat substance-use disorders, and address behavioral health issues such as anxiety and stress.

The nurse-managed clinics deployed HIPAA-compliant telehealth units in Prince William County, where seven of the 10 MAP Clinics are located and significant unmet demand exists among very vulnerable populations.

All 10 MAP clinics transitioned their patients to telehealth visits, and the clinic has coordinated care for xxx patients in April. Each telehealth unit consists of a tablet preloaded with HIPAA-compliant apps, consent forms, and teaching packets to help the end users at each site effectively screen for COVID-19 symptoms.

“The MAP Clinic telehealth initiative is the best example of teamwork and partnership I’ve ever seen,” says clinic co-director Rebecca Sutter, MS ’01, DNP ’12. “Our students and faculty are working with community partners to serve our most vulnerable patients even when we cannot physically be with them.”

The expanded telehealth model and revised protocols allow MAP Clinic staff to use their limited PPE to treat the highest-risk patients. The MAP Clinics continue to serve their existing patients, walk-ins, and those referred by the Prince William Health Department in person two days a week at the Manassas Park clinic. In addition to fighting COVID-19 head-on, the MAP Clinics also provide ongoing care, including suboxone treatment and chronic disease panels for diabetes, depression, anxiety, and hypertension.

The MAP Clinics also provide students pursuing degrees in health informatics, nursing, and social work with experience in serving rural populations and in deploying a fully operational telehealth unit.

The MAP Clinic telehealth initiative is made possible by a $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Telehealth grant and a $25,000 gift from AT&T.

The college also received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement the Rural Opioid Telehealth Project, which will serve an estimated 177,000 rural, low-income residents of Virginia and West Virginia. The project will train medical professionals on how to appropriately prescribe opioids, screen for and identify the risk of opioid use disorder, and deliver treatment.

—Michelle Thompson


It’s (Virtual) Showtime at the College of Visual and Performing Arts 

When events on campus were shut down, the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) went online with a program called Mason Arts at Home, a combination virtual performance space and town hall in which Mason artists, students, and alumni streamed their work.

Professional artists who were scheduled to appear at Mason’s Center for the Arts or Hylton Performing Arts Center also streamed performances and held question-and-answer sessions. The program not only provided a way for the art coming out of CVPA to get exposure, but it also provided a diversion for Mason students, faculty, staff, and arts patrons cooped up at home.

“We’re hoping to keep our community connected,” said Rick Davis, CVPA dean, at the start of the initiative. “We know people are hungry for artistic experiences during this time of isolation, and we know that arts nourish the soul and provide ways for people to think about their lives and reflect and celebrate and contemplate all these things we do in the presence of art.”

The program went live on April 2 to coincide with the university’s Patriots Helping Patriots Giving Day campaign. “We see it as a way we’re giving back to the community,” says Adrienne Godwin, CVPA’s director of programming.

Getting programming out is the bottom line for Mason Arts at Home. The program started with Davis’s interview with Grammy Award-winning composer and conductor Maria Schneider, who was scheduled to be a guest artist in CVPA’s residency program and conduct the Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra at the Center for the Arts.

Other performances included the Washington, D.C.-area Americana band Bumper Jacksons, Virginia Opera’s La Bohème, and videotaped performances of Mason musical groups, among others.

The college also started the Alumni Artist Support Initiative, which provided microgrants to CVPA alumni to help them create digital content that could be used with Mason Arts at Home, and commissioned five new works that alumni can present during CVPA’s 2020-21 season.

“This way we get funding out to our alums when they need it, because they need it now,” Godwin says.

The first microgrant recipients were Mason alumna Rebecca Wahls, BA Theater ’15, and Rebecca Ballinger, who received support for their eight-episode web series, Rebecca and Becca in Space.

“We like to say that the arts create community,” says Davis. “This isolating moment challenges and inspires us to find new ways to make that promise true. And the mission has never been so vital.”

—Damian Cristodero


Efforts to Incentivize Coronavirus Response

Mason economist Tyler Cowen, BS Economic ’83, helped put together the Emergent Ventures Prizes in the hopes of incentivizing a stronger response to the coronavirus by distributing more than $1 million in prize money for research leading to immediate help in fighting the pandemic.

Citing the urgency of the situation, Cowen says the case for prizes over grants is stronger when you don’t know who is likely to make the breakthrough and you value the final output more than the process.

“This is focused on what can help right now,” says Cowen, who is the faculty director of the Mercatus Center. “It may be able to help down the road, too, but the goal is to help now.”

Several anonymous donors gifted the initial prize money. Since the March announcement, other donors have flooded the Emergent Ventures program with an additional $16 million in the hopes of immediately slowing the global pandemic.

Australian software billionaire Scott Farquhar and his wife, Kim Jackson, donated $1 million. Other donors include John and Patrick Collison of Stripe; former YCombinator head Paul Graham; Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke; LinkedIn cofounder and venture capitalist Reid Hoffman; Thistledown Foundation founder and chair Fiona McKean; Israeli-Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner and his wife, Julia; SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk; and investor and entrepreneur Chris Sacca and his wife, Crystal.

The combined $5 million from Lütke and McKean has been exclusively designated for the coronavirus response in Canada, although Emergent Ventures will be making the recommendations for the allocation of those funds through the Thistledown Foundation, Cowen says.

Prize fields include best investigative journalism on coronavirus, best blog or social media tracking/analysis of the virus, best coronavirus policy writing, best effort to find a good treatment rapidly, best innovation in social distancing, and most important innovation or improvement.

Cowen will rely on 16 individuals from different universities to help select the award winners and believes that other major donations may be forthcoming.

The Mercatus Center-based Emergent Ventures announced its first four winners in late March: Helen Chu and her team at the University of Washington, who won the social leadership prize; Avi Schiffman, who won the data gathering and presentation prize; the Imperial College researchers led by epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who won the prize for good policy thinking; and Curative Inc., the Silicon Valley-based company that won the prize for rapid response.

—John Hollis


Creating Facial Protection for the Medical Community

A group of Mason students had planned to create 3D-printed personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care professionals and their patients. When the news came that Mason campuses were closing, they knew they had to move fast.

“We moved our equipment [from the MIX] off campus,” says bachelor of individualized study major Amanda Jarvis, MIX innovations program manager, who coordinated the team’s effort.

Senior Denys Kuratchenko retrieved his personal 3D printer from the space and received permission from Jarvis to take another three from the MIX. Soon he was running a 24/7 “print farm” from his apartment in Triangle, Virginia.

It takes about four hours to print a frame for a face shield. After the frames are printed, Kuratchenko sends them to Eric Bubar, a physics professor at Marymount University, who matches up the 3D-printed parts and makes the deliveries to health care providers.

The Mason students’ efforts are part of a larger movement in the Northern Virginia maker community to address the PPE shortage that included Northern Virginia Community College, Marymount University, Arlington Public Schools, and e-NABLE DC.

The makers in Mason’s MIX community are also sewing masks to fulfill requests, including some for a local cancer ward. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to sew a fabric mask, and Jarvis experimented in her home studio to figure out how to streamline the process.

Staying home has been a challenge, the team agrees, but the project has given them purpose.

“To feel like I can contribute and help out, and also seeing the rest of the maker community responding this way, gives me a lot of hope for the future,” says Jarvis.

—Mariam Aburdeineh, BA ’13


Conducting Global Webinars on How to Teach English Online

In an effort to assist teachers on a global level, Joan K. Shin and Jered Borup, associate professors in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development, created and are already conducting a series of free webinars aimed at helping English teachers around the world move to online education. The webinars are sponsored by National Geographic Learning, which reached out to Shin to help lead the series.

The first three-part webinar series, “Online Teaching for English Teachers,” was offered in March to help teachers in China. Borup and Shin have started conducting more webinars for teachers in other countries. In the latest series, about 5,200 teachers from 40 countries registered for the initial classes, with more than 2,400 participating live. The series is focused on “breaking through the screen” so that students feel enthusiastic and part of a supportive learning community even though they are physically separated, according to Shin.

“When teachers shift from classroom instruction to online instruction, they just can’t do the same things they did in a classroom and meet the learning needs of students,” says Shin. “We came up with 13 practical tips that we thought would be helpful for teachers no matter where they are in their online teaching experience.”

—Anna Stolley Persky


Providing Coronavirus-Related Information for Government Agencies and Contractors

Mason’s Center for Government Contracting has been publishing coronavirus-related reports for government agencies and companies that contract with the government. The reports provide detailed information on the Defense Production Act and help contractors navigate the issues and opportunities related to the challenges facing the country.

The center also provides information on contract opportunities, including help with diagnostic and vaccine prototypes, says executive director Jerry McGinn.

For more information, visit business.gmu.edu/govcon.

—Anna Stolley Persky


Forensic Science, Police Team Up to Help Medical Responders

Mason’s Forensic Science Program and the Department of Police and Public Safety teamed up to help medical personnel during the fight against COVID-19. Using 3D technology, they began making plastic extended straps that allow doctors, nurses, and other personnel to more comfortably wear protective N95 masks for long periods while treating patients.

Mason students serving as police cadets are also volunteering to help with production following the conclusion of their shifts. Numerous Mason police officers and a department dispatcher have been trained in running the printing systems. Through their dedication and with help from Karen Livingston, associate director of entrepreneurship programs at the MIX, printing processes at several locations on campus have been running around the clock.

The Washington, D.C., Medical Examiner’s Office received the first 50 straps. As word about the project has spread, requests have been coming in, with Inova Health System requesting 10,000 plastic straps.

—John Hollis


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