Mason to Lead Partnership on $28.5 Million Education Grant

Posted: August 16, 2010 at 1:04 am, Last Updated: August 16, 2010 at 9:00 am

By Jennifer Edgerly

Mason's Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology (CREST) holds summer science camps for elementary school children. Above, Prabal Saxena, a Mason graduate fellow and PhD student in physics and math, works with Katelynn Ferrell, a fourth-grader at Manassas Park Elementary School; and Xavier Williams, a fourth-grader at Providence Elementary School. Creative Services photo

George Mason University has been selected to receive a $28.5 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education and will lead the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA). The project is a partnership that includes 47 Virginia school districts, six universities, SRI International and the Virginia Department of Education. University partners include the College of William & Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and James Madison University.

In order to guarantee receiving the funding, the university must now secure a 20-percent, private-sector match by Sept. 8, 2010.

“I want to congratulate George Mason University on receiving this award, which will put Virginia at the forefront of the national movement to better prepare K-12 (kindergarten through grade 12) students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM),” says Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

“Targeting rural and underperforming schools, schools that are too often overlooked, the VISTA program will go into classrooms all across the commonwealth to implement innovative learning and teaching in science education. In our competitive global economy, it is absolutely critical that we educate Virginia’s students for the high-demand, high-paying jobs that center around the STEM subjects.”

Donna Sterling, professor of science education and director of CREST, will lead the VISTA project.

The VISTA project will be led by Donna R. Sterling, professor of science education and director of Mason’s Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology (CREST). The goal of VISTA is to improve science teaching and student learning throughout Virginia, especially in high-need (high-poverty, high-minority) schools.

The VISTA project expands on prior research and active-learning programs conducted within Mason’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) and CREST over the past 15 years. VISTA will build an infrastructure to provide sustained, intensive science teacher professional development to increase student performance.

“Science teaching in Virginia is hindered by two fundamental, unmet needs. Elementary school faculty often lack a solid grounding in the inquiry-based nature of science, while on the secondary level, teacher shortages have led to the hiring of uncertified teachers,” says Sterling.

“Our model to improve K-12 science teaching was previously incorporated into two programs that have produced statistically significant gains in teacher instruction and student achievement.”

The competition for i3 funds, which are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was open to school districts, nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education working in partnership with public schools. Of the nearly 1,700 applicants, 49 applicants were selected to receive a share of the $650 million in i3 grants.

“This landmark collaborative project has the potential to impact nearly every student in the commonwealth of Virginia,” says Mark Ginsberg, dean of CEHD. “By building an infrastructure to support science teaching and learning, we have the ability to increase interest in science early on and prepare students for a career in science or other STEM fields.”

“I am proud that Professor Sterling and her colleagues have been selected to spearhead this innovative STEM initiative,” says George Mason University President Alan G. Merten. “At a time when our K-12 schools are lagging behind our international counterparts, the need to support improved science teaching and learning has never been greater. Now is the time for us to invest in the future of Virginia and its students.”

Corporations, organizations, foundations and individuals interested in helping Mason to reach its goal of a 20-percent match should contact Carol Daugherty, director of corporate and foundation relations, at 703-993-9515 or

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