Gov. McDonnell Visits Mason for 4-VA Technology Demonstration

Posted: November 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm, Last Updated: March 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm

By Daniel Walsch

One of Mason's five specially designed TelePresence rooms is in University Hall on the Fairfax Campus. Above, Gov. Bob McDonnell joined President Alan Merten and Laura Fornash, Virginia’s secretary of education, for a conference with the other 4-VA universities: James Madison University, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech. Photo by Evan Cantwell, Creative Services

The consortium of Virginia universities known as 4-VA met at Mason on Nov. 3 to demonstrate the technology that is assisting this statewide initiative.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Mason President Alan Merten were among the officials on hand to celebrate 4-VA, which was first inspired by the governor’s higher education and job commissions. In addition to Mason, the consortium includes James Madison University, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Using Cisco Systems Inc.’s TelePresence technology, the demonstration showed how the schools can conduct meetings among the universities, share classes that otherwise would not be available to students and collaborate on research initiatives.

TelePresence improves on existing video conferencing with real-time, high-quality video and audio streams in addition to precision camera placement. The technology mimics a face-to-face meeting because the participants make eye contact and can pick up on body language. Mason has three rooms on the Fairfax Campus equipped with the technology; the Arlington and Prince William Campuses each have one.

“This is a big day for all Virginians because 4-VA will dramatically improve access to all of higher education,” said McDonnell. “The use of technologies such as this TelePresence to help leverage resources will become more and more important to the delivery of higher education. It will also help hold down costs for tuition-paying students and their families.”

McDonnell and Merten interact with the other university representatives via the TelePresence technology. The 4-VA initiative envisions sharing faculty expertise and resources among the universities. Photo by Alexis Glenn, Creative Services

“The collaboration that defines 4-VA and the program we are creating will be making a huge difference in higher education,” said Merten. “Not only does it mean sharing our resources but also the expertise of many of our faculty. This partnership, which is only going to expand, will provide great benefits to the state and will even have national implications.”

Cisco’s involvement is enabling university presidents and other top administrators to meet frequently in a collaborative virtual environment to evaluate proposals and select those best suited to enable 4-VA to make progress on the governor’s and universities’ goals.

Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers, who also participated in the demonstration event, praised the governor and the four participating institutions.

“They have demonstrated tremendous progress in establishing the foundation to effectively increase access to higher education resources across the commonwealth through the power of collaboration,” he said.

A management board composed of the presidents of the four institutions, Virginia’s secretary of education, the executive director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and Cisco’s senior vice president will set 4-VA’s direction. Presently, 4-VA’s priorities include:

  • Establishing a degree completion program in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship aimed at community college graduates, particularly those from rural Virginia
  • Identifying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses that have high dropout rates and then recruiting faculty from the 4-VA universities for a summer course redesign project focusing on improving student success in those courses
  • Identifying topic areas where one university has specific research expertise needed by the other universities to increase research competitiveness
  • Sharing courses across the universities when one has the faculty resources to teach a course strategic to Virginia’s economic future but another institution does not
  • Establishing a team of math faculty members and others to begin designing a mathematics learning infrastructure that potentially will be available to all Virginia educational institutions

Virginia’s legislature is providing $3.4 million for the 4-VA initiatives. In addition, each university is contributing $50,000 of its own funds to establish the 4-VA office and hire staff. The institutions also covered the cost — about $500,000 — to retrofit pertinent facilities.

Other officials who participated in the 4-VA demonstration included Laura Fornash, Virginia’s secretary of education; and the presidents of Mason’s educational partners: Linwood Rose of James Madison University, Teresa Sullivan of the University of Virginia and Charles Steger of Virginia Tech.

Mason is the home of 4-VA’s staff. Mason Vice President for Information Technology and CIO Joy Hughes is 4-V’s executive director, Amy Brener is deputy director, and Liz Daniels is research assistant.


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