Students as Scholars: A Model of Excellence for Fostering a Culture of Student Scholarship at George Mason University

Students as Scholars at GMU logo

In 2011, Mason launched its QEP initiative with the mission to transform the university culture. This culture would be transformed through communities of faculty, students, and administrators who are committed to improving student success through increased participation in and celebration of undergraduate research and creative activities. Now in its sixth year, Students as Scholars has transformed the way that Mason thinks about undergraduate education. Through courses and experiential learning opportunities, 10,000 students each year learn about the processes of discovery, including how to develop scholarly questions, use appropriate research methods, engage in ethical practice, and situate scholarly work in a broader context. More than 1,000 students annually receive intensive faculty mentoring to conduct original scholarly or creative projects. Over the past five years, Students as Scholars has funded travel grants for over 350 students to present results of their projects at national and international conferences, and nearly 2,000 students have presented or performed at one of Mason’s on-campus research symposia, conferences, or the annual Celebration of Student Scholarship. Students as Scholars has not only accomplished the goals of the QEP, it has become a model of excellence for undergraduate education.

Students as Scholars has become a model of excellence in many respects. Our most exciting moment happened in 2015, when Mason was recognized as a national exemplar by receiving the Campus-wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments by The Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR). CUR commended Mason for our “achievements as a leader in undergraduate research,” for providing accessible and visible undergraduate research experiences that make “a significant institutional impact,” and for an “exceptional” assessment program. Students as Scholars has been used as a model for other undergraduate research programs and in the scholarly community. Our faculty and program staff have been active members of a community of scholars, having presented at professional conferences and published extensively on the results of their work with undergraduate scholars. In 2015, our director and lead assessment scholar presented, by invitation, to the National Academy of Sciences committee on “Strengthening Research Experiences for Undergraduate STEM Students.” We have provided expert consultation to other universities building undergraduate research programs across the SACSCOC region (e.g., Florida Atlantic University, Rice University) and across the country. We have shared our programs through presentations at annual meetings of SACSCOC, CUR, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

Students as Scholars has also become a model of excellence for the university. The initiative’s early success was recognized when it was integrated into Mason’s 2014-2024 strategic plan. Student engagement in undergraduate research and creative activities is now tracked through institutional and college performance metrics, thus recognizing its value and contributions to student success. Recently, Students as Scholars has been used as a model for the Mason Impact Initiative, a plan to increase student engagement in high impact educational experiences and ultimately, improve learning.

For more information about the Students as Scholars QEP, visit

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