Industry Challenges

Engage with Mason's Most Motivated Students

The Honors College’s top priority is positioning our students for success. Connect with outstanding and dedicated undergraduates, and help shape tomorrow’s leaders. When you partner with us, students engage in research and provide fresh insights into challenges faced by you or your clients. The Honors College has partnered with six organizations in the region over the past half-dozen years. When addressing a challenge, our students apply training to listen actively to their teammates’ and clients’ concerns, to think critically and creatively, and to consider solutions from multiple perspectives that span all academic disciplines. We are looking for opportunities for our students to work in teams to address strategic challenges faced by industry partners, and welcome your short and long-term engagement.

Steve Pearlstein and Danny Diaz speak with students


HNRS 361 Industry Challenges is an academic course focusing on collaboration between George Mason University’s Honors College and our partners in the business community. In this course, multidisciplinary student teams work to investigate and develop responses to challenges currently facing industry sponsors. These teams are supported by the Honors College faculty, and they are mentored by staff from the industry partners sponsoring these groups. Each project team in HNRS 361 will include three to five current Honors College students, each at least in their second year at Mason. To foster a multidisciplinary approach, team members will come from different fields of study and bring with them distinct knowledge, competencies, and experiences. Sponsors often provide two mentors from their staff. Industry partners have included: Northrop Grumman Corp, MITRE, Peraton, Transurban Group, and Virginia Small Business Development Centers.

What Students Learn

We recognize that employers note a need for new employees who have highly developed capacities for collaboration, communication, and analytical thinking. Many degree programs hone these skills, and HNRS 361 provides opportunities to figure out how to use those skills in professional settings.

In the course, students will:

  • Collaborate with student colleagues from multiple fields.
  • Apply the skills and knowledge they’ve gained in other settings to develop a solution to a challenge or opportunity.
  • Learn how to communicate the meaning
  • Develop strategies and skills necessary for effective project management, client interaction, and communication with broad audiences.

Students will learn to use a variety of problem-solving strategies, including the design thinking practices used by many consulting firms, taught in MBA curricula, and employed in many corporate training programs.

Learning Outcomes of the Course

  • Using human-centered design (HCD) methods to develop a nuanced understanding of industry challenge.
  • Practicing leadership skills in the rotating role of team project manager.
  • Developing project management skills including how to break a large challenge down into tasks and distribute responsibility among team members.

How Partners Benefit

Partners gain access to our talented multidisciplinary student population, who can deliver useful insights and ideas responsive to a range of different strategic needs. This course can provide professional development and mentoring opportunities for emerging leaders within your organization.

Through sponsorship, industry and community partners will gain:

  • Multidisciplinary and evidence-based insights into pressing challenges that currently face their organizations. 
  • Opportunities to deeply engage and evaluate a diverse cohort of highly qualified, highly motivated undergraduates.
  • Opportunities to develop and sustain relationships with George Mason University and its faculty.

We know that organizations like yours rely on the diverse skill sets and strengths our students bring to the classroom. 35% of our graduates identify as first generation college students, and 51% of Mason students are from historically underrepresented groups. Mason Honors College students are engaged citizens, resilient leaders, and ready to serve as change agents in their communities and organizations like yours.

Community and industry partners can initiate a potential collaboration by contacting Dr. Melanie Fedri, Honors College Experiential Learning Coordinator at

Before meeting, we ask that partners develop a vision for an appropriate project. Good projects will help the partner generate ideas of insight regarding a strategic issue while creating opportunities for students to professional develop. Good collaborations are generally characterized by specific, achievable objectives and clear communication about the indicators of success that partners will use when evaluating the project.

Generally speaking, Industry Challenges projects have:

  • Focused on long-term projects or challenges rather than everyday operational tasks.
  • Involved a research or creative component.
  • Focused on internal challenges, such as: how to create a mobile-first work environment, how to best implement Agile across an enterprise habituated to the waterfall approach, how to implement a voice-based user interface for employees, etc.
  • Produced a product or solution that’s valuable both to the student team and the corporate partner.
  • Focused on clients of our industry partners, e.g., analyzing the communication strategies employed by political parties to engage with voters, placing emphasis on the data used to get in contact with constituents.