These George Mason University winter graduates not only pushed the envelope in their fields of study, but pushed themselves out of their comfort zones.
With expanded knowledge and gained experience, they have forged a path by not only thinking but doing.
Thalia Dimopoulos said she wants to do research for the rest of her life.
That wasn’t always the case. Originally she wanted to be a hospital geriatrician. But after a research opportunity through Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR), in which Dimopoulos explored if mushrooms could diminish the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in mice, she was hooked.
“Those are skills that really do carry on, not only for your academic a career, but one day, your professional career, too,” said Dimopoulos, whose concentration is in cognitive and behavioral neuroscience.
Working in the lab of Department of Psychology associate professor Jane Flinn, and with the approval of Mason’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, Dimopoulos fed mice who had the Alzheimer’s gene about six grams of white button mushrooms a week, about five percent of their diet, for six months.
The research builds on similar studies that have shown how mineral metabolism imbalances may play an important role in Alzheimer’s progression.
The mushrooms contain selenium, an antioxidant that improves spatial memory or, in other words, the ability to navigate space.
Dimopoulos said the mice with the Alzheimer’s gene showed a 10% improvement in navigating a water maze. The maze contained a raised platform that provides the swimming mice a safe harbor. The research tested the ability of the mice to recall the location of the platform.
Dimopoulos said such experiments can help find treatments for Alzheimer’s in people.
“The research can go further than just studying mushrooms,” Dimopoulos said. “I can see selenium-fortified human clinical trials happening even now.”
— Damian Cristodero
BS Computer Science
Mathematics has always been personal for Shreya Bhatia, and she has literally taken it to heart.
She was still a child when she underwent open heart surgery, and it was her fascination with math that helped during many subsequent visits to her cardiologist.
“When I would see their medical equipment, I would get so intrigued about how math was used to calculate the health of the heart,” said Bhatia, who will graduate from George Mason University on Dec. 19 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. “In 10th grade, I began taking calculus classes where I learned about integrals and Riemann sums [which approximate the lengths of curves], so I imagined how the surface area of the heart was likely scanned and used to calculate the volume of the heart changing during beats.”
Next up for Bhatia could be a master’s degree in computer science through Mason’s Accelerated Master’s Program. She’ll be completing her coursework while working as a system development engineer at Amazon Web Services, where she had an internship.
Bhatia, who also served as an Honors College Peer Research Mentor, was invited to speak to middle schoolers in Loudoun County by her former high school calculus teacher. She says her story is proof that school doesn’t have to be a chore.
“Learning about something new can provide you with the tools you need to build something great,” Bhatia said.
— John Hollis
BIS Individualized Study
Pursuing a college education as a nontraditional student can make for some budgeting and scheduling challenges, something George Mason University’s Hicham Hall knows firsthand.
Hall has been continuing his education with the support of his wife and two small children. A veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force and the Army, Hall will graduate from Mason Dec. 19 with a bachelor of individualized study in Islamic thought. He is fluent in English and Maghrebi Arabic, and is studying modern standard Arabic.
“I wasn’t always interested in religious studies,” he said. “I have always been, however, very passionate about whatever it is I found interesting.”
The path hasn’t been easy for Hall, who worked full-time as an emergency room technician while in school and did side work to earn extra cash. His wife oversaw things at home and even made time to organize an initiative that raised $100,000 for black churches in the South that were burned down a few years ago. She was among those honored at the White House by then-President Barack Obama.
“My days are busy, and so are hers,” Hall said. “We are making it happen day-by-day. Our kids have no idea the sacrifices their parents are making because they are too little to know. When life settles down and we settle into our careers, we will tell them stories of how it was for us.”
— John Hollis
PhD Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Samantha Borders-Shoemaker noticed an unsettling trend when she conducted workshops in Fairfax County Public Libraries on how to talk with others about polarizing topics.
“A lot of [the attendees] spoke about political issues at home, how it caused divorces or in some cases fractured close family relationships,” she said. “It was quite serious.”
Borders-Shoemaker said those struggles helped spark her dissertation addressing interpersonal communication around political differences. And the conflict resolution curriculum and dialogue program Borders-Shoemaker helped develop in partnership with Fairfax County Public Library won the 2019 Gordon M. Conable Award from the Public Library Association.
“I would like to take the workshop I designed [for my doctoral research] and apply it in more rural communities,” Borders-Shoemaker said.
After graduation, Borders-Shoemaker said she plans to help address local conflicts, such as political tensions and racial reconciliation, among individuals in the Hampton Roads area.
She said she’s grateful for the connections she has made at Mason. Professors Karina Korostelina, Julie Shedd and Richard Rubenstein became mentors who “from day one invested in me and helped me succeed in a meaningful way,” Borders-Shoemaker said.
Her Christian faith and the transformative impact of others’ investment in her own life motivate her to give back, she said.
In addition to attending classes, Borders-Shoemaker worked as a certified interventionist at the Lizzy Foundation, a local suicide prevention organization, and serves families affected by dementia through storytelling therapy at the Center for Well-Being and Resilience.
— Mariam Aburdeineh
Qui “Kelly” Mai
Winter graduate Kelly Mai said she came to Mason for diversity, and as a student in the Honors College, she found plenty of opportunities to explore.
“Mason is well-known for its diversity in thought, opportunity, and culture,” said Mai. “I am fortunate to experience this richness in my courses and outside around campus.”
She completed several research projects as part of her courses, but she also participated in the Arlington Global Health Fellowship, where she was able to fuse philosophy into global issues such as poverty, immigration and health justice. She also explored other parts of the world with a study-abroad opportunity at Oxford University with support from the International Horizons Scholarship.
“The International Horizons Scholarship was a chance for me to literally expand my horizons," said Mai.
In her classes, Mai completed an ethical analysis on international pharmaceutical restrictions and another on indigenous property rights, like the Western-Shoshone peoples in Nevada, in relation to the nuclear waste conversation, in particular, the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository proposal.
After graduation, Mai said she’ll be studying for the LSAT so she can attend law school to pursue medical law.
— Mary Lee Clark
Ana Ramon Albors
MHA Health Care Administration
As a working professional, George Mason University winter graduate Ana Ramon Albors said she looked for a university that was reasonably priced with in-person classes—because she preferred them to online classes—and a flexible schedule (evening classes). With all of that in mind, she said, Mason was a great fit.
During her time at Mason’s College for Health and Human Services, Ramon worked with Len Nichols, professor of health policy, who is working on a feasibility study to prove a new model of financing social determinants of health (SDoH).
“The field was something outside my comfort zone. I am a pharmacist by training and having to focus on economic models, social determinants of health and learn about specific Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations was both challenging and very rewarding,” said Ramon. “I am very thankful that he gave me this opportunity.”
For her capstone class, Ramon worked on a memo to Congress advocating for changes in CMS policies to allow and also incentivize Medicaid and Medicare plans to invest in SDoH to implement a holistic health care approach.
After graduation, she plans to take a break after having to balance work, classes and family for the past few years. Stepping out of her comfort zone at Mason, she said, has open new opportunities in her career.
“My capstone opened new doors,” said Ramon. “I have seen how much we can do from the health care side to address social issues, interventions that will benefit population health and that I am very interested in exploring.”
— Mary Lee Clark