Office of the Provost

Faculty Senate mini-grants report for 2015-2016


The vision statement for JMU is to be “the national model for the engaged university: engaged with ideas and the world.” To further the university vision, President Alger entrusted the Faculty Senate with funds for engagement projects. Each year, instructional faculty are offered the opportunity to apply for mini-grants of up to $5,000. Twelve recipients of 2015-2016 JMU Faculty Senate funds recently reported their contributions:

  • Michael Davis, School of Communications Studies, instructed SCOM 442. Advanced Topics in Advocacy Studies that allowed students to work with the National Park Service and the Shenandoah National Park to collect oral histories and compile archival research. The collection of oral histories set the stage for a much broader future project, likely with the financial support of the National Park Service.
  • Demystifying the ExpertAnca Constantin and Klebert Feitosa, Department of Physics & Astronomy, organized two Demystifying the Expert shows that humorously revealed the mysteries of scientific research happening in college classrooms. The audience for each event represented members of varying age, economical, and social range, from both inside and outside JMU. All audio files, including the podcasts, segment videos, blog posts, experts’ bios, photo albums, testimonials, press releases, and links to expert’s research are located on the Demystifying the Expert website that was also designed and built with the mini-grant funds.
  • Debbie Sturm, Department of Graduate Psychology, traveled to Malta with JMU students Elizabeth Brannon and Hannah Pellegrino to meet with non-governmental organizations and government agencies currently serving refugees in order to learn about the services available to assist with the trauma, loss, educational and psychological issues.

Brannon’s study, From Malta to the United States: Addressing Refugee Needs, explores how refugees’ needs vary, how organizations meet these needs, and how both the needs and organizations’ purpose change based on the point at which they are in the resettlement process.

Pellegrino’s study, Telling the Story: Exploring the Experiences of Individuals Impacted by the Global Refugee Crisis, brings awareness to the refugee crisis through individual stories of empathy, purpose in life, and service utilizing qualitative interviews of the volunteers and advocates who dedicate their time to serve this population.

  • Karin Tollefson-Hall, School of Art, Design, and Art History, used the Faculty Senate mini-grant funds to support low-income family participation in the JMU Summer Art Program. As a result, 20 students attended the program on scholarship. In addition to making art in Duke Hall, scholarships students experienced JMU’s planetariumarboretum, the Forbes Center and computer labs, and the Virginia Quilt Museum and exotic pet encounters from a local business. Tollefson-Hall stated “I was thanked repeatedly by parents and guardians, as well as questioned about the possibility of more art camps. The children were excited and grateful to come, one girl telling me ‘this is the best thing I have ever done!’”
  • Katrina Gobetz, David McLeod, William Flint, Oliver Hyman, Heather Griscom and Idelle Cooper, Department of Biology, used mini-grant funds towards student-driven research in urban ecology and wildlife monitoring. The Alexiou Wildlife Conservation Area is a property near Hillandale Park that is being left to naturalize following construction disturbance.Rory DePaolis, Communication Sciences and Disorders, studied the effect of socioeconomic status on infant language development in the Shenandoah Valley and distributed questionnaires at local doctor’s offices to determine if a pediatrician-based intervention changes the way mothers view their role in infant language development. DePaolis’ study has been accepted for presentation at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association meeting in Philadelphia in November 2016.

Griscom supervised an inventory of bird species at the site as students made early-morning trips to observe and identify species, noting local residents or species migrating through the area.

Similarly, undergraduates working with Gobetz conducted an inventory of small mammals at the site, designed experiments to test reasons for the abundance of shrews and studied shrew behaviors. With cutting-edge cameras, students also found signs of black bears and will confirm them with video in Fall 2016.

McLeod’s students and the Trelawny Learning Community will share findings of inventory data with a public presentation at the JMU arboretum and hopefully a photographic display on campus. Inventory data, which are shared among students, represent the first ecosystem “snapshot” of the still-urban site, and serve as a baseline for new projects. 

  • Kathleen Overfield-Zook, School of Music, hired School of Media Arts and Design (SMAD) student Jenn Asbell to design a logo for the Friendly City Chamber Players (FCCP) concert at Pale Fire Brewery that took place on May 17, 2016 in Harrisonburg. Each member in the ensemble of professional musicians was paid for their time and talents. With over 120 people in attendance, the FCCP presented a concert of varied repertoire, starting with a stately Bach Fugue and ending with a tango by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzola. According to Overfield-Zook, the first FCCP community concert was, without a doubt, a resounding success and the members of the FCCP look forward to more concerts in the Harrisonburg community for years to come.
  • Elena Savina, Department of Graduate Psychology, led the implementation of the prosocial and global education curriculum Journey Around the World in Harrisonburg’s Spotswood Elementary School. In collaboration with Spotswood Elementary School teacher Mrs. Suzanne Gilchrist-Thompson, Savina developed several classroom activities aimed at the translation of children’s socio-emotional knowledge and skills into prosocial behavior. The curriculum included 30 lessons, which were delivered two to three times a week.

Harrisonburg City Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Scott Kizner, and Spotswood Elementary School’s assistant principal, Mr. Sal Romero, observed the curriculum implementation and gave very positive feedback. Dr. David Cottrell, a Music Industry Coordinator at JMU and Mr. Joshua See, a graphic designer for JMU’s Creative Services, helped design educational materials (pictures, worksheets, and audiotapes) to facilitate children’s learning of global and prosocial competencies.

Children engaged in the global education curriculum and made the following reflections on what they learned: Poor people can be happy; everybody deserves to have a house; people are different and it is okay; kindness is important; treat others with respect; ask questions before judging others; and respect nature.

Much of the material used to create the exhibit belonged to local African American residents. By creating a permanent exhibit that is housed in the community center that they, their children, and their grandchildren use on a daily basis, we have given our collaborators a permanent benefit of our partnership. Combined with the printed booklet, website, and smaller versions of the exhibit requested by Harrisonburg High School and all four of the Rockingham County Public High Schools, the permanent exhibit continues to provide students and the community with a public record of their growing partnership, and will have a huge impact on the viability of future engaged learning and community engagement projects that involve JMU and the local African American community.

  • John Scherpereel, Department of Political Science, supported the development of a graduate student internship with a public partner in the Republic of Kosovo. While the mini-grant was initially designed to support a single internship, preliminary meetings with potential partners were so positive and cost projections so manageable that, with a bit of extra assistance from The Graduate School, Scherpereel and colleagues designed and implemented two internships; one summer 2016 internship at Kosovo’s Ministry of European Integration (MEI) and a second at the Kosovo Security Council (KSC). Both internships were successful and promoted civic engagement and engaged learning.

 JMU graduate student Shannon Rano’s project at the MEI focused on the integration of "third-country nationals" (e.g., foreigners who aren't EU citizens) in Kosovo. In addition to analyzing Kosovo’s strategic documents and legislation in this area, Ms. Rano provided policy-makers in Pristina with a comprehensive analysis of policy successes and failures in Kosovo’s neighbors in the Western Balkans.

Karissa Suarez Del Real’s graduate student project at the KSC focused on one of the most pressing issues in contemporary Kosovar (and global) politics—the issue of “foreign fighters.” Ms. Suarez Del Real monitored the implementation of Kosovo’s recently adopted deradicalization strategy and provided local partners with information on the successes and failures of other states who are trying to determine the optimum strategies of dealing with citizens who have fought in Syria/Iraq before returning home.

Both interns found eager partners in Kosovo. Large numbers of staff members at their host organizations attended their final presentations and appreciated their contributions. The students were also able to present their projects to a “double live JMU audience” in June 2016 – there was a public live audience in Florence and a “virtual audience” of faculty members and administrators in Harrisonburg who were able to ask questions and think collectively about the future of JMU-Kosovo cooperation.

Scherpereel hopes that the university will continue to support connections between the Florence-based M.A. program in political science and Kosovar partners. In the summer of 2016, the program signed three separate Memorandums of Understanding with Kosovar institutions—the MEI, the KSC, and the University of Pristina. These MoUs provide a solid foundation for future mutually beneficial cooperation.

  • Mira Williams, College of Education, continued family literacy research and service work within in the Harrisonburg community. In 2015-2016, Williams worked with a group of students from various programs in JMU’s College of Education on a service project with Rockingham County’s preschool program. The project allowed JMU students to use their knowledge of teaching reading to students while developing literacy activities.

In addition, Williams’ group helped parents understand how to enhance language and literacy skills at home and provided literacy materials and books to students, English Language Learners, and families living in the Mercy House.  

Faculty Senate mini-grants hunger banquetStudents then split into one of ten pre-assigned facilitated small group sessions, with participants from all income levels. Facilitators used pre-developed questions grounded in ethical reasoning consistent with Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action key question constructs. Some interesting comments that evolved from these small group sessions included:Participants of the Hunger Banquet were randomly assigned to one of three income groups: high income (10% of participants), middle income (60% of participants) and low income (30% of participants). The first half of the event was the empathy building portion.  This allowed for individual participants to observe their surroundings, receive and eat their food, read about hunger facts, and talk among their income group.

Students in the higher income group felt embarrassed as they had plenty to eat. Some students admitting to not eating all of their food. They felt bad that others had less to eat. 

Some students in the middle income group shared that they felt like getting up and giving the low income group some of their food, but decided not to since they did not know if they were allowed to. 

Overall, students had a positive experience at the hunger banquet, expressed concern about hunger in the US and felt the hunger banquet raised awareness of the widespread hunger issue in America. Students also reported that the hunger banquet helped them to increase their awareness of their professional responsibility around hunger and that they will find a way to become involved in ways to solve hunger. 

Thank you and congratulations to all mini-grant recipients. For more information regarding the Faculty Senate mini-grants available for engagement projects, see the application website

Published: Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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