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Student Creativity is Fueled by Research

At the Summer Celebration of Student Scholarship, held August 3 in the MIX on the Fairfax Campus, student researchers had the opportunity to share months of dedicated work with their peers. The event brings together students across the university to a place where visitors can see pathogen research next to an exploration in novel writing across from an analysis of STEM dialogue on twitter.

Hosted by the Office of Student Scholarship Creative Activities and Research (OSCAR), the showcase occurs every semester and offers students who received OSCAR grants to present their work. This semester was the first time OSCAR opened the doors for students with outside research projects, such as the Mason Summer Entrepreneurship Accelerator (MSEA), to join the fray.

Despite coming from different academic backgrounds, many students shared the same lessons.

“With this research, it’s taught me to really take time and think through it,” said Senya Donkor ’18, BA integrative studies with a concentration in advertising, who planned a literacy incentive program in Ghana as part of MSEA. “Ask questions before you just jump into it.”

While every project comes with its own challenges, each demands that students can act on their feet. John Recktenwald, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, researched metamaterials, but broke their 3D printer after running it for 10 hours straight. So he learned how to take it apart, fix the issue, and put it back together. Junior film major, Blair Collingwood, learned the importance of detailed checklists after misplacing microphones while traveling through Southeast Asia filming a documentary. And Donkor and her team’s initial literacy plan in Ghana was too broad, so they reconvened, readjusted, and developed a new plan to help ensure the program can flourish instead of flounder.

“You’re learning as you’re filming, and that’s how you put it together and make something to share with other people,” said Collingwood.

This poster board presentation was just another step in the process though. Many of the students are already planning what happens next.

“Make a version 2 of each of the [metamaterial] architectures, run those, and then of course I have to finish the testing on these architectures,” said Recktenwald.

He hopes that this research can help change how we handle vehicle armor with a material that can immediately bounce back to form after crashing.

Senior and percussion performance student Morgan Sutherland spent her summer focused on how women contributed to the development of percussion chamber music since the 1930s. But now she works to help build the canon of female composers, commissioning two pieces that will debut in the fall.

Collingwood worked on a team of four professors and three other students to film the development of traditional music in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. But the ultimate goal of this documentary series, titled Vibrations, is to capture music from all around the world.

OSCAR exists to help support these projects, from their inception through each step along the way.

There are two grant programs for students in the summer. The Undergraduate Research Scholars Program is a one-on-one mentoring program that students apply for. Summer impact grants are awarded to a team of multi-disciplinary faculty members who recruit students to work with them on a project.

“People tend to think of research as looking through a microscope, counting things, sending out surveys,” said Dr. Karen Lee, assistant director of OSCAR, “but spending two months immersed in archives and following a thread through? That is a scholarly project. So is painting or writing poetry. We had a student this summer we funded who is writing a novel. These are all the kinds of activities we want to support.”