Vol 7, No 1 (2023)
Halla B. Holmarsdottir
OsloMet - Oslo Metropolitan University
George Mason University
MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society
George Mason University
George Mason University
Sissil Lea Heggernes
OsloMet - Oslo Metropolitan University
George Mason University
The preparation of teachers, and to some degree, teacher educators in the majority of countries around the world, has traditionally focused on developing understandings, skills, and attitudes appropriate for teaching in local schools. Yet the importance of global competence and intercultural understanding has never been greater. As the world is increasingly faced with expanding challenges such as increased migration due to, among other things, war, famine, climate change and global inequality, there is a demand to recognize the relevance of global competency and to educate young people to be better local and global citizens. This requires teachers and teacher educators to possess a global mindset and take a more active role in fostering that mindset in their classrooms. Moreover, in an ever-changing world, we propose that while our values may evolve, there is a critical need to ensure a greater understanding of the “other”. This understanding is increasingly urgent as the interests and opinions of members of societies become more divisive, where deeply held beliefs are more polarized and polarizing (Council of Europe, 2016; UNESCO, 2021).
Educating global citizens is likewise part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, which emphasizes this among other vital issues (Leite, 2022). However, while countries work to achieve the SDGs, it is necessary to incorporate further education on global citizenship into national curricula by 2030. The impetus for the SDGs is partly a deeper understanding of our interconnectedness as global citizens and a more significant “appreciation of cultural diversity and culture’s contribution to sustainable development” (Chiba et al., 2021, p. 1). We believe that educating for global citizenship requires awareness and action consistent with a broad understanding of humanity, the planet, and the impact of our decisions linked to our interconnectedness. Further, we agree with Chiba and colleagues (2021) that education is “integral to the achievement of the SDGs” (p. 1). In our view, such education should distinctly focus on global citizenship.
Against this background, together with the lessons learned from the multi-year Global Awareness in Teacher Education (Open GATE) collaborative project between Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet) and George Mason University (GMU/Mason), this forum piece attempts to draw some insights on educating global citizens. The project aimed to make the curriculum more reflective of international and global dimensions while ensuring we have more internationally competent teachers and researchers. In the project, we aimed to achieve these goals through transformed courses, opportunities for study abroad, and other formal (including research) and informal experiences for both staff and students and in collaboration with practitioners (schools and local departments of education). This forum piece links our project outcomes with the need for greater global competence and intercultural understanding to educate global citizens and achieve the SDGs. What follows are the reflections from the Open GATE recipients on how their participation in the project influenced how they are working in teacher education in terms of internationalizing aspects of the project and/or how the project supported them as emerging scholars (i.e., PhD students) through collaboration and internationalization.
By sharing the voices of our participants directly, we believe the impact of such collaborations can genuinely represent the value of internationalization in higher education spaces. The spillover effect, from the long-term interactions to the deep and lasting connections across multiple participants, highlights how sustained collaborations can have a powerful impact on this work. It is not enough to simply claim that we want to encourage the development of global citizens. Instead, this requires being exposed to international environments that support the development of a global mindset through genuine experiences, both through work and study as described by our participants.
My Open GATE participation enabled close collaboration with a GMU PhD student, which enhanced my learning as a PhD scholar on a range of topics. By sharing and discussing our fieldwork experiences and findings, I got a broader understanding of my research topic and insight into other ways of doing fieldwork, writing notes, and connecting with the field. It was inspiring to share similar experiences and confirm interpretations related to our findings. Furthermore, our joint analyses of documents gave a much needed insight into the magic of document analysis, the steps and processes you never can see in final publications and that most scholars do behind closed doors. Our collaboration resulted in a publication, and the processes leading to the final product were a learning experience that I made good use of in later collaborations and research. We met with the editors to discuss our article’s direction, discussed peer review feedback, and reached out to senior scholars in our field. Often as a PhD student, you work on your own, it can be lonely and I often lost confidence in my ability to do my work. Meeting with others in similar situations across borders confirmed that I have the ability and know the standard procedure of research that are common in the field and at an international level. This realization was a significant contribution in keeping the motivation during the long journey towards finalizing the PhD.
As a teacher myself, I enjoyed meeting teachers during my Open GATE journey, and we shared practical teaching experiences. We also co-taught a master’s course in international education and development at OsloMet. I remember in particular a teaching method I learned from my colleague, which I now frequently use in my classroom teaching. I also got the chance to bring one GMU scholar and teacher to a Norwegian secondary school to observe social studies and music classes. The extra learning added by this joint school visit was unimaginable. We discussed different subject areas, education policies, structures and pedagogy. It was certainly valuable to get someone from the outside to remind my colleagues and me of the essential values we take for granted in our education system. The unique contribution of comparative education came to the surface in a particular way during this school visit and opened doors also for future research topics to emerge.
Through my research stays (at GMU in Virginia) and collaborative conference attendances and presentations (Student conference at George Washington University, Washington, DC and CIES, Mexico City), I got in touch with several international colleagues who today are central people in my international research network. These include early scholars like myself and more experienced scholars, all of whom I can ask for collaboration in international projects. These international colleagues who know about my research, share invitations for contributions to book projects, special issues of journals, webinars, post-doc and other academic opportunities. One opportunity worth mentioning was the chance to share my research with Global Affairs Canada and USAID which allowed me to make a bridge from theory to practice concerning educational research and practice in South Sudan.
The opportunities for collaboration and internationalization would not have been possible without the funding from Open GATE that made it possible to visit and learn, but also host visitors and learn at home. As participants, we created opportunities once we were in the position to do so, and the generous funding made this possible.
Participation in Open GATE profoundly influenced me to integrate an international dimension into my teacher education work. This inspiration blossomed through collaborating with my Norwegian colleague, Dr. Kristin Skinstad van der Kooij. Kristin’s dedication to inviting educators to explore historical narratives from a critical lens led to imagining new ways to internationalize teacher education from a social justice stance. We embraced the work to nurture current and future teachers to cultivate spaces to invite critical reflection about our globalized world from a social justice lens.
Following Open GATE, I connected with like-minded scholars with social justice goals for globalizing teacher education as a Global Teacher Educate (GTE) Fellow (Longview Foundation). As a result, I redesigned a teacher education course, embedding global outcomes and learning experiences that could prompt teacher education students to critically examine an issue of global significance. I was inspired by O’Connor and Zeichner’s (2011) work to link globally competent teaching with critical global education where I seek to educate students to understand the causes and consequences of global injustices and support global solidarity and work towards transformative change.
I drew on the work Kristin and I had begun to center teacher learning on the global issue of the lived experiences of immigrants and refugees. These histories illuminate common threads across time, cultures, countries, and contexts, both shared strengths and struggles, while also revealing the roots of entrenched nationalism and racism around the world. Moreover, the implications of these sociopolitical realities on families from immigrant and refugee backgrounds cross all social, cultural, economic, and educational sectors. Thus, these stories seemed meaningful for engaging teacher education students in critical reflection in hopes of enhancing their engagement with and advocacy for children and families from refugee and immigrant backgrounds.
I continued this work by co-teaching the course with a scholar with expertise in working with immigrant and refugee families internationally, Dr. Melissa Hauber-Özer. We engaged graduate students around the four domains of global competence in the Asia Society/OECD (2018) framework. Using Global Thinking Routines (Boix Mansilla et al., 2017) we invited critical reflection and perspective taking on immigrant and refugee stories. Another goal was to acquaint students with useful tools for creating lessons/units that could inspire critical thinking around issues of global significance with learners in their teaching contexts. We investigated how these learning experiences may affect teachers' thinking about teaching for global competence (Ramos et al., 2021). Although results suggested some positive outcomes for participants, this research deepened my thinking about the work of making teacher education curricula more reflective of international dimensions while supporting the development of internationally competent teachers.
As Zhao (2010) argued, the goal of developing educators’ global competence and their pedagogical expertise must be interwoven throughout a teacher education program. This effort goes beyond individual course revisions and implies faculty collaboration and dedication to program redesign. It is equally important to recognize that no single framework is the right one for approaching this work. For example, Simpson and Dervin (2019) questioned the Western-centric social, political, and economic assumptions inherent in the Asia Society/OECD (2018) framework.
Ultimately, the work of internationalizing the curriculum and preparing internationally competent teachers implies meaningful engagement in anti-racist education. Von Esch and colleagues (2020) challenged scholars in the field of language teaching to consider that
…a great deal of language teaching and learning in the global context has been shaped by the violent, strategically maneuvered, and racist practices of colonial expansion, especially European imperialism, White supremacy, settler colonialism, chattel slavery, and in more recent years by the legacies of these projects (p. 391).
Annamma and Winn (2019) argued that teacher education must “reject hegemonic norms and values, explicitly prioritizing intersectional justice to recognize and disrupt the multidimensional nature of systemic and systematic oppression” (p. 319) through a commitment to “consistently acknowledging and disrupting layered, interlocking inequities in the lives and communities of multiply-marginalized students” (p. 319). These scholars emphasize that history matters, race matters, justice matters, and language matters.
As I grow as a teacher, educator and scholar, it seems to me that the work ahead will mean sustained, collaborative efforts to explicitly connect our internationalization work to anti-racist education. It’s a tall order, but it seems paramount that we strive to heed O’Connor and Zeichner’s (2011) call to apply a critical, reflective lens that fosters deep learning about the causes and consequences of global inequities and inspires advocacy and action toward transformative change.
The Open GATE program has been tremendously valuable as a future education policymaker and teacher educator. I consider the experiences with Open GATE among the most thought-altering of my PhD studies. Just as an undergraduate study abroad programs open the hearts and minds of young twenty-somethings, this forty-something had the unique opportunity to truly think globally and take my doctoral studies to a whole other cultural context, one in which gender equality and heavy investment in early childhood education are fundamental societal values. The doctoral student exchange experience encouraged comparative and critical thinking about the relationship between education and the larger society in a way that was improbable in a singular national context. The month-long experience in Norway with multiple international presenters helped me further recognize the challenges in education all countries share. Among the two most considerable challenges are 1) the incorporation of technology and its future in education, and 2) education and globalization – which brings human migration and the internationalization of education programs, as well as issues of the language of instruction and integration of immigrant youth.
During the exchange, I was able to examine Norwegian programs and recent policy initiatives around these challenges and concluded that internationalization of education is something Norway is excelling at, expanding its international student body and strengthening university partnerships around the globe. They are also proactively using technology to expand vocational education to address societal needs. For example, in an OsloMet seminar of policymakers and university faculties, I learned that Norwegian policymakers recognize the potential of online adult vocational education programs to steer middle-aged men in rural areas away from online political extremism. This was a futuristic, eye-opening idea , and being present in that space, I realized the value of policymaker/education faculty exchanges to share ideas around the same societal challenges globally.
Being abroad also encouraged me to consider how international collaboration among scholars and practitioners in subsectors of education (special education, higher education, etc.) could promote best practices internationally. In my field of early childhood education (ECE), Scandinavian countries are often cited as models to emulate. One of the most valuable experiences from my studies in Norway was the time to dig into the origins and inner workings of the Norwegian ECE system, which has a seamless transition from a year of paid maternity/paternity leave to subsidized universal daycare (barnehage) from ages 1-5. The most important policy takeaway from the Open GATE exchange program is that the Norwegian system is a model of ECE access and quality for the United States if/when we prioritize ECE as part of our economic infrastructure. Norway’s national curriculum emphasizes a child-centered, social constructivist approach and the general philosophy of Bildung - focusing on the general competency to cope with life’s changes and for co-existence in society. From a young age, the child is viewed as an autonomous, competent member of society and childhood itself is valued, not just as preparation for adulthood.
Norway is also a model for outdoor community programs and outdoor schools (Uteskole) as reflected in the cultural value of friluftsliv, which translates literally to free air life and generally indicates an all-encompassing love and appreciation for nature. There are unique partnerships among social workers and recreation centers which allow all children, regardless of socioeconomic status, outdoor opportunities, such as borrowing soccer balls at parks and skis for weekend trips via public transportation. There is also a unique notion of risky play, having children face fears and uncertainties (jumping from heights, playing around water or fire, or using typically adult tools) and learning how to overcome those fears and uncertainties, something that all children could benefit from after global prolonged interrupted schooling and rising anxiety among youth. The Open GATE exchange program also allowed me to visit an Uteskole firsthand to experience what it is like for students and educators in a typical outdoor school. For this former preschool teacher, seeing three-year-olds using handsaws to cut firewood was a truly thought-changing experience on the capacities of a young child. These immersive experiences and the opportunities to comparatively reflect on them will most certainly influence the direction of my dissertation research on play-based bilingual learning.
Two takeaways from the Norwegian doctoral education system that would enhance the United States’ doctoral student experience are in-person Text Seminars, where doctoral colleagues read each other’s perspective articles and provide constructive feedback before submitting for publication, and International Days where faculties invite guest speakers from all over the world encouraging students’ comparative lenses. I was fortunate to be able to attend the International Days in the Early Childhood Education department, and OsloMet hosted a professor from New Zealand who addressed Maori language nests and incorporated the indigenous Maori culture into every aspect of the ECE framework. Another seminar addressed the indigenous Sami population in Norway and how their culture is being preserved through recent educational initiatives. I also observed Erasmus students from other areas of Europe taking an OsloMet seminar on the importance of outdoor play and outdoor learning in early childhood. This international exchange of ideas has the potential for students, professors, and educational policymakers to think more globally minded and borrow ideas from other cultures. Most importantly, it has the potential to build international networks of like-minded education experts who are focused on incorporating ideas of social justice and activism into their teaching practices and curriculum.
An unexpected bonus from the Open GATE experience was the international network of education scholars I had the pleasure of working with during my exchange and afterwards. While I had befriended Sissil (Heggernes) in Oslo, we had little overlapping research areas during my exchange. As my research interests evolved through GMU coursework, we were able to link interests, find common ground, bounce intellectual ideas off each other, and ultimately present “Teachers’ perceptions of intercultural learning” at the Nordic Comparative and International Education Society (NOCIES) conference in Stockholm in 2019. This was my first scholarly presentation, and to do something collaboratively and internationally was pure joy. Sissil and I also collaborated again for the 2021 Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) virtual presentation on the partnership with a larger group of our Open GATE colleagues.
Through our experiences abroad, doctoral exchanges allow students to think more globally about the profession and gain international perspectives through experiencing education in the context of another country, through co-presenting on topics utilizing a comparative lens and thoroughly examining their society’s supports (or lack thereof) for education. They also help us as teachers and teacher educators to critically examine our role in a global society and our responsibilities to promote social justice and equality. Finally, the networks we build encourage us to persevere when global struggles consistently shift educational outlooks.
One of the great opportunities for learning as a PhD student came through my involvement with the Open GATE project. I initially hosted doctoral students from George Mason University (GMU), and I was the lucky receiver of a grant to visit GMU for four weeks. My PhD focused on intercultural learning through picturebooks in English language teaching. I was initially hesitant about the relevance of visiting GMU. Their course in intercultural competence had gone online, and picturebook research seemed scarce. However, my doubts proved to be groundless.
The structure of the PhD programmes in the two universities are vastly dissimilar. While PhD students at GMU spend years on coursework before writing their thesis proposal, Norwegian PhD students apply with a research design for fully funded PhD positions. This makes the learning process and financial situation fundamentally different. While PhD students at GMU receive a thorough grounding in research methods, PhD students at OsloMet plunge in headfirst and gain independence while learning through doing. At GMU, I attended classes in advanced research methods, second language learning and content area literacy. In this way, I gained valuable insight into their teacher education programme and the similarities and differences to our programme at OsloMet. Now that I have defended my PhD, those experiences can help me contribute to developing our own PhD programme.
As a teacher educator, visiting another university and a different educational system provides multiple learning opportunities. Participating in classes and seminars at GMU inspired my teaching practice. Even if the topics were somewhat different to the courses at OsloMet, it was interesting, for example, to witness the students’ ability to discuss and critique research, which are transferrable skills. Finally, my discussions with GMU faculty on intercultural, dialogic, ecological, and semiotic theory proved instrumental in the development of the theoretical framework for my dissertation.
While 95 % of elementary school children in Norway attend their local state schools, the US has a great diversity of schools. I visited three very different ones in Virginia: a local elementary school, a French immersion school and a high school. This allowed me to witness best practice kindergarten teaching, language learning in different contexts, innovative practices in high school, meet staff in positions that are infrequent in Norwegian schools, such as dedicated literacy and maths specialists and discuss the American and Norwegian school system with teachers and principals.
Through Open GATE, I also expanded my professional network. A tangible result was the presentation at the NOCIES 2019 conference in Stockholm with my fellow PhD student and Open GATE fellow from GMU, April Maute Ege. Even if we did not initially have any shared research interests, we had immediately connected in Oslo the year before, and soon we were roasting sausages over the campfire. When I came to Virginia six months later, April was doing a course in intercultural competence. Suddenly we were in the same field, and Dr. Supriya Baily encouraged us to send in an abstract for the NOCIES conference on teachers’ perceptions of intercultural learning.
Preparing a conference paper with someone else forces you to communicate your ideas clearly. It provides fresh perspectives on your data, often leading you to reconsider your ideas. However, time and geographical distance are real challenges. When finally meeting in person again, without Zoom issues, a proper dialogue emerged. We challenged one another’s ideas, elaborated on them and developed an improved paper! Presenting with a friend and colleague is a bonus, more fun and a great comfort! Also, it helped us to create a paper that was better than what we could have managed single-handedly.
Finally, a note on my education through Open Gate. A wise person once said that “growth and comfort never coexist”. Going abroad is stressful, and adapting to a new setting takes time. I worry about finding my way around, being alone and how I will meet people. Much to my surprise, the greatest challenge initially was feeding myself, as you need a car to visit a grocery store. So I started eating late breakfasts, not to be consumed by hunger, before figuring out where to get my next meal.
To grow personally, you must venture out of your comfort zone. New experiences, connections and challenges your fears make your life more colourful and meaningful. I didn’t starve and met wonderful people who helped make my stay in America very comfortable and educative!
In 2015, two years before my acceptance to the Open GATE project, I attended the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) annual conference in Washington, D.C. I was presenting my poster on debate programs in South Sudan Secondary education, and it was there that I met Merethe Skårås from Norway. The encounter with a fellow doctoral student studying South Sudan education brought about many possibilities for collaboration. Even though she and I kept in touch, we struggled to create a meaningful collaborative project.
We both applied and were accepted for the month-long PhD fellowship through Open GATE. I would travel to Norway first (winter of 2017), and before I arrived in Norway, Merethe and I agreed upon our collaboration project. As we both are doctoral students focusing on South Sudan civic and history education, we decided to submit a journal abstract based on global citizenship education in South Sudan. We also submitted a paper proposal for the 2018 Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) annual conference in Mexico City. Although knowing each other in advance, Open GATE allowed us to preplan in detail, gave us the time to focus, work virtually and face to face, and bring our ideas for collaboration to fruition. The experiences from these collaborations continue to influence my doctoral studies and professional interactions.
Upon arrival in Norway, Merethe and I began to work on our projects and consulted with Dr. Anders Breidlid from OsloMet to collaborate with faculty in international and teacher education. We also submitted proposals for a UNICEF Think Piece Series. The UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) Regional Office commissioned think pieces to improve the quality of education in the region. The first proposal was on the topic of improving classroom practice, and the second was on the topic of reforming the curriculum. Although our UNICEF Think Piece proposals were not accepted, this professional and personal collaboration would not have occurred if not for Open GATE. All of our collaborations allowed us to create out-of-the-box ideas and projects in international teaching and education and gave us confidence and opportunities to submit to a peer-reviewed international journal, which accepted and published our article, as well as a large-scale international organization.
I also attended a presentation by a guest lecturer from Rhodes University, South Africa. Dr. Kenneth Mlungisi Ngcoza presented on the topic Marrying Ubuntu, Agency & Resiliency: The Power of Community Engagement Partnerships. The presentation gave additional lenses and narratives of community engagement projects to enhance social responsibility and mutual relationships between a community and a university. He also presented on teacher professional development, pedagogical knowledge workshops, and understanding cultural heritage towards a culturally responsive pedagogy. I developed a greater sense of international awareness and education through these opportunities via Open GATE.
Merethe and I attended the Constructing 21st Century Teacher Education symposium that gathered international speakers and presenters at OsloMet. Merethe introduced me to other faculty members and as a doctoral candidate, Merethe is tasked with advising master’s students. Serving as an advisor to master’s students could benefit the George Mason University (GMU) doctoral program as it could create more profound experiences in education and teacher development.
A favorite experience was attending a Text Seminar for which Merethe was a presenter. A week before, you submit your paper for review. It should be something substantial and be fleshed out to some degree. You add a cover sheet explaining the type of feedback that you need and any questions you may need answers to. The paper is then emailed to the PhD students and faculty to review. A “dedicated” reader is selected so that you know at least one person has reviewed thoroughly, and they will be the first person to talk after the author. It is quite casual and constructive in tone. Questions can be asked, and it seems to be very helpful. I felt nervous as a reviewer because I wanted to ensure I came across as constructive and not negative in any way, especially culturally. Dr. Anders Breidlid asked Merethe and me to co-lecture two of his classes. The course Education and Development in the South is for the Masters in Multicultural and International Education Program. We co-lectured two classes over two days, “Educational discourses globally: The significance of the global architecture of education” and “Is Africa different? Culture, schooling, and indigenous knowledges”. The students are international and with all instruction in English. It was exciting to be back in the classroom via collaborative teaching for classes of international students.
As pointed out in the introduction of this forum piece, we are increasingly faced with global challenges, including economic, digital, cultural, demographic and environmental changes leading to increased intercultural encounters. This complex environment requires an education focusing on global citizenship and recognizing our interconnectedness as global citizens. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes education’s crucial role in reaching the SDG goals. Furthermore, developing a global and intercultural mindset is a lifelong process that education can shape. Yet, a crucial question revolves around how teachers are being prepared to develop students’ global competence. In the Open GATE project, we recognized that a global mindset is supported by an understanding of global issues that affect lives locally and around the globe as well as intercultural knowledge, that is, knowledge about the similarities, differences and relations between cultures. Opening up opportunities for the Open GATE recipients, both those working in teacher education and emerging scholars (PhD students) aimed to provide lifelong learning opportunities enabling them the ability to make their own teaching more reflective of our shared global challenges.
While each of the participants was at a different point in their academic and professional careers, some themes emerged across their narratives above that we believe bear sharing to encourage others to engage in such forms of partnerships and to urge entities and agencies that seek to support international and collaborative research to continue to fund such opportunities. Each of these narratives addressed the powerful impact of time, place and freedom in their reflections and those three aspects of the project are what we believe allowed it to be such a transformative experience. In turn, these experiences affected the participants’ own work in teacher education, not just for the five we asked to participate in this essay but the larger group who were Open GATE Fellows – but were not featured in this article.
The power of time emerges from the fact that the project was structured to provide participants with between one and four weeks to engage at the other institution. For our faculty, one week to ten days might have been all they could get away for, but the PhD students were provided up to four weeks to immerse themselves in the other context. Part of this had to do with learning to acclimate and be comfortable with one’s own discomfort. The time also allowed for real connections and a sense of settling in, which offered a chance for ideas to be generated and worked on versus just brainstorming with no momentum created. The power of place was the role of the two universities, making it easy for the participants to engage and be a part of the community. While each Principal Investigator (Holmarsdottir and Baily) was located in the two spaces, we did “host” and set up meetings. Yet, we cannot reiterate how open, flexible and easy the institutions themselves made the process. Finally, the power of freedom is something that must be highlighted. The participants were not expected to have a strict agenda, pre-designed delivery, or outcome. Much appreciation must be extended to the funder (The Directorate for Higher Education and Skills), which permitted openness as a sign of creativity and agency rather than disorganization and opaqueness. This allowed for unique partnerships that fostered a sense of ownership among participants. Each outcome was distinctive and representative of the collaborations. This honours the role of intrinsic motivation for change to be generated by those closest to the problem.
The way that these teacher educators frame a topic in their teaching as a result of the experiences through the exchanges discussed above can significantly shape their contribution to global competence. By framing a topic for their own students influenced by the exchange experiences, these teacher educators and emerging scholars can consider how the topic addresses local and global dynamics, and how it can enable their students to understand broad global patterns and the impact on their local environment and ultimately bring into their own classroom teaching.
Open GATE was a four-year project extended to six due to the COVID pandemic. The experiences of our participants, the influence of this partnership on the two institutions and the insights gleaned between the United States and Norway teacher education programs have been deepened due to the work that happened throughout this endeavour.
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 Another Open GATE participant from George Mason University.