The College of Science has launched a program designed to increase enrollment in science and math programs and to help create science and technology jobs in Virginia.

The Science and Math Accelerator program was devised to assist science, technology, engineering and mathematics students throughout their undergraduate careers at George Mason University, as well as encourage students in secondary school who may be considering a STEM education to apply to Mason.

According to Cody W. Edwards, director of the Science and Math Accelerator and an associate professor in the College of Science, the Accelerator program was formed in 2011 as part of an initiative by Gov. Bob McDonnell to increase STEM enrollment in state universities and to create new STEM jobs throughout the state.

“The governor wants the state of Virginia, our institutes of higher learning, to produce the bulk of the folks for these [STEM] jobs,” Edwards said. “You want people educated in Virginia to fill these jobs in Virginia.”

According to Edwards, the Accelerator has four main goals: increase enrollment in the College of Science, increase student retention in Mason STEM programs, help students graduate in a timely manner and offer career counseling to help STEM students develop career goals.

The Accelerator program comprises faculty members from the five participating departments and acts as a consolidated entity that brings all departments in the College of Science together. According to Edwards, the Accelerator program provides resources to help each department in the College of Science meet its goals and ensure that students are excelling in the critical first stages of STEM education.

Additionally, the Accelerator program plays an important role in encouraging middle and high school students to consider pursuing a STEM degree at Mason. Faculty members from the Accelerator program go to area middle and high schools to present all the STEM opportunities available to prospective students, especially those who would not normally consider Mason.

“Maybe these would be students who, when they were in junior high or early stages of high school, they said, ‘I’m going to University of Virginia or Virginia Tech or somewhere out of state,’” Edwards said. “We want them to consider coming here for their STEM education.”

As part of its outreach initiative, the Accelerator program faculty is actively involved with science and math teachers at local schools, ensuring the latter are aware of opportunities available to their students. Also, the Accelerator program sponsors campus visits that allow high school students to sit in on lectures, observe labs and interact with faculty and students in the College of Science.

The Accelerator program also generates innovative ways for students to learn. Through an experimental course design implemented by a faculty member called a “hybrid course,” lectures are posted online and class time is devoted to solving problems. According to Edwards, grades in the experimental hybrid physics class are higher than when the class was taught in the traditional lecture format.

Students seeking assistance with courses or career guidance are encouraged to speak with Accelerator program faculty members.

“We want you or any of our other students to be competitive with folks coming from the University of Virginia, Penn State, [or] anywhere else. We want you to be able to compete for jobs,” Edwards said. “We need to make sure we are doing our part to do that for you.”