Meet Our Heroes

George Mason University


Empowering students to discover their potential and passion.

George Mason University serves more than 25,000 students across its campus in Fairfax, Virginia; offering 78 different undergraduate degree programs.

But at GMU, an education is not just a series of classes related to a major. It’s an opportunity for in-depth learning, hand-on training, and continual innovation, experimentation, and discovery.

Much of this is the work of the faculty in The Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and  Research (OSCAR), a department focused on enabling high-impact practices and experiential learning. 

“We’re funding students doing their own research and creative activities, and faculty who are changing their curriculum to engage students more in their education,” explains Jesse Guessford, Associate Director for Undergraduate Education

Programs that provide for “Mason Impact”

One of the main focuses is the Mason Impact program--an initiative that helps students design, complete, and share the results of a project in their chosen field.

A large part of this is through the undergraduate research scholars grants, which are offered each fall, spring, and summer. Students submit a research or creative activity project of their own design; the projects are then reviewed by a panel of faculty members. Awarded projects can receive up to $4500 for expenses and supplies, and faculty mentors on projects also receive $500 for their participation and guidance.  

OSCAR also runs the Undergraduate Student Travel Fund, which provides up to $800 in travel funding, conference fees, hotel costs, and other expenses for students who are sharing the work they did at GMU at conferences, research presentations, film festivals, and other venues.

Innovating a program about innovation

OSCAR and the Mason Impact programs have been a part of the GMU student experience for years, but in 2018 got an upgrade with the adoption of a new system to manage them: Zengine.

“Previously we were using an internal system that was built in-house,” says Guessford. “It was not flexible. The programs were growing, and while the current system was failing us, building a new system for each program was too daunting. And the idea of maintenance--maintaining something like that--was something we couldn’t keep up with for sure.”

Instead, Guessford and his colleagues decided adopting a new, cloud-based grants management system would allow them to have the features they needed plus the peace of mind that the system would be monitored, improved upon, and always working.

Making an impact with Zengine

Guessford and team quickly connected with the WizeHive team and found a true solution in the Zengine platform.

“Zengine is the complete package,” says Guessford. “It has both a really good front-end for students and faculty to submit, but we reviewers also have an interface that is really nice, and we could actually do things after the award and manage the program. No other software we looked at had that complete full-lifecycle package.

"What’s really nice about Zengine is that we can get emails sent automatically through it, we can do things quickly and efficiently, and we can maintain the program through its full lifecycle. It was important for us to not have to use multiple systems, and with Zengine it’s really seamless.”

Zengine was able to streamline the OSCAR team’s processes so much, in fact, that turnaround time on two of the grants was cut in half.

Improvements for all involved

With the impetus for the investment in a new grants management system being program management, Guessford was pleased with how quickly he and the team saw improvements and efficiencies come to life.

“Speed is definitely the biggest change we’ve seen,” he says. “We are able to focus less on data management because we know the data is there and can use it quickly. Zengine really allows a team to look at the data and harness it. And the other big thing is we are now being able to maintain the data long term. With our old systems we had to ask for exports; now we can control all the data as needed, and do all the reporting we need to do.”

But for all the improvements Zengine has brought to the internal team, Guessford is also thrilled with how the new system has impacted the student applicant experience.

“Because of the seamless interface, applications aren’t a hurdle for students now,” he says. “We wanted to make sure all students are able to apply and have access, and software shouldn’t be a hurdle. With our older system, it was. Zengine has opened up that access. We’ve had zero questions about navigation, and we used to get a lot each cycle.”

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