Horizon Grants

About the grants

The Horizon Grants respond to emerging trends and challenges to enhance sustainable teaching and learning practices within Maricopa Community Colleges. Our goal is to inspire creative thinking and the implementation of innovative practices that encourage broader research impacts and student success. 

Horizon Grants encourage projects that fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Implements an emerging educational technology
  • Utilizes an inventive and leading-edge strategy
  • Creates an interdisciplinary experience
  • Encourages multi-college collaboration
  • Addressing equity and access to high-quality learning

Qualifying proposals range from formative ideas that explore learning concepts to fully tested models ready to be adopted and disseminated.  Multi-college and multi-discipline proposals are given first preference.  

Learn more about the program and application process.

2024-2025 Projects

Laura Safa, GateWay Community College; Linda Denney, Tufts University and GateWay Community College; Bali Gill, GateWay Community College

This interdisciplinary project will utilize the “Neubie”, an FDA approved device that provides direct electrical stimulation through electrode pads applied to the skin, and study its impact on sleep behavior disorder for individuals with Parkinson’s Disease. GateWay Community College students in the physical therapist assistant (PTA) and sleep medicine programs (PSG) will collaborate with faculty, each other, and doctorate of physical therapy students (DPT) from Tufts University as well as interacting with community members (participants with Parkinson's Disease) during this project.  Multiple studies have shown the benefit of interprofessional collaboration to patients, healthcare systems, and practitioners.  This interdisciplinary project will allow students to learn more about each other’s disciplines and how they are connected as well as how they may consider referring patients to each other in the future. GateWay Community College students will benefit from the high-impact practice of mentored undergraduate research, which has been shown to improve student engagement which promotes greater achievement, persistence, and success.  Additionally, students will use new devices they may encounter in the clinic setting.

Anna McWhirter, Mesa Community College; Linda M Speranza, Phoenix College; Susan Bendix, Chandler-Gilbert Community College

This innovative project combines mindfulness and movement (also known as embodied mindfulness), critical and creative thinking processes, and reflective writing practices to address the high rate of social anxiety expressed by our post-pandemic students. This project will create and implement a series of innovative, dynamic workshops that combine embodied mindfulness, creative thinking, and reflective writing. The project team will teach mindfulness practices through the lens of physicality and movement; expose participants to physical activities that build community and trust to develop a supporting cohort; teach critical and creative thinking processes that apply to a variety of situations; and utilize reflective writing to solidify problem-solving skills, encourage metacognitive introspection, and address social anxiety. Mindfulness practices can be integrated with movement to alleviate stress. Introspective metacognitive reflection helps build critical and creative thinking skills. These skills help students understand their personal goals, identify stressors, and combat anxieties that interfere with goal achievement. 

Christie Colunga and Ana Stigsson, Paradise Valley Community College

What is lost when we dismiss young children’s innate intelligence, creativity, transdisciplinary thinking, and capacity for making meaning? This project makes visible the intelligence of young children discovered in the study of pedagogical documentation. These discoveries compel a shift in the dominant early childhood education system and practices that privilege linear knowledge transmission, standardization, prophetic outcomes, and “return on investment”, to one of new strategies, techniques, and initiatives. The project elevates children and educators' use of multimedia tools as instruments of the 21st century learning areas of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, and real world application.

Laura Liuzzo, Rio Salado College

Labs are a crucial element of forensics programs. Because Rio Salado’s program is fully online, students do not get the benefit of participating in an actual science lab. Though labs can be demonstrated through photos and videos, students need direct and hands-on experience as well.  Since Rio Salado College is committed to keeping courses as affordable as possible, our goal is to identify and purchase inexpensive and common materials that course developers can use to create student labs to improve experiential learning. In addition, this project will create more effective forensic science courses by utilizing digital photography equipment to supplement online course instruction and learning.

2023-2024 Projects

Sharon Zygowicz and Kerry Sanderson, GateWay Community College

Peer mentoring is broadly considered a high-impact practice to promote student success and move the needle on student achievement and retention. In 2022, GateWay Community College was selected by the Master’s of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) at the University of Pennsylvania to be the focus of a capstone project for their MAPP graduate students. GateWay’s proposed project, as stated in the MAPP team’s final paper, was a comprehensive peer-to-peer well-being program, where students get hands-on experience and also contribute to GateWay’s goals of improving student outcomes. The peer-to-peer program could simultaneously function in one-on-one, one-on-group, or group-on-group settings, depending on the specific application of the program and its target audience. The MAPP team created a training manual and three separate (though interconnected) modules for content delivery. GateWay’s Counseling Department is piloting the MAPP positive peer mentoring program. Positive Peer Mentors (PPMs) will be trained using the MAPP model and will use the MAPP curriculum as a foundation for outreach to both first-year students, as well as the campus community at large.

Final report summary

Stefanie Gardner, Glendale Community College

The clarinet and percussion studios at Glendale Community College will commission a new piece of music for clarinets and percussion and host a series of guest artists throughout the 2023 - 2024 academic year. The first musician featured in the series will be composer and Zen Shakuhachi master Cornelius Boots. Cornelius is a famous bass clarinet music composer, and GCC actively programs his music and currently boasts the largest bass clarinet choir in the world! Cornelius is also a Zen Shakuhachi master (the practice of performing Japanese flute music for meditation purposes) and will demonstrate how to play the Zen Shakuhachi flute and host guided meditations. The second residency will feature the bass clarinet and marimba duo Transient Canvas. For over a decade, Boston-based contemporary duo Transient Canvas has been thrilling audiences with their “engaging musicality and easy sense of ensemble" (Cleveland Classical) and “superb” performances (Boston Globe). During their residency, Transient Canvas will coach our music ensembles, perform GCC student compositions, and teach clarinet and percussion students individually in addition to performing many of their exciting new pieces for bass clarinet and marimba. The third and final residency will feature world class percussionist and sound bath healer Douglas Cardwell. Douglas will demonstrate how to use sound and vibration as a form of holistic, alternative healing for stress-related conditions using percussion performance instruments such as antique Himalayan singing bowls, gongs, drums, chimes, and ting-sha (Tibetan cymbals), and how they are used to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain, anger, and trauma. 

Final report summary

Lily Davidov and Robert Bergman, Rio Salado College

The Take A Break Activity project by Rio Salado College (RSC) is intended to create and implement a series of short, engaging activities that RSC’s online students can participate in to be made aware of stress management strategies and reduce stress for online learners. The impetus for the Take A Break Activity project evolved from an Honors in Action project developed by three RSC students who researched methods to reduce stress levels for students. Their research noted increased dropout rates for online students as compared to in-person students due to a variety of issues including, but not limited to, feelings of isolation and disconnectedness within an online environment. In researching methods to relieve stress for online students, they focused on taking short breaks and implementing play and/or art therapy.

While online learners face similar challenges to traditional brick-and-mortar institutions, like paying for college, testing anxiety, and the challenge to complete assignments on time, these can be compounded by issues such as internet connectivity, technological issues with equipment, loneliness, and isolation. Additionally, some learners come from backgrounds where self-care and care of mental health are ignored or frowned upon. This project will benefit RSC students by having short, guided, measurable mental health breaks that will allow them to retain more information within their courses, introduce stress management, build focus endurance, and increase self-efficacy and motivation. All of these attributes are critical to student success and well-being.

David Bradley and Dr. Caron Sada, Paradise Valley Community College

While we don’t know AI’s ultimate effects on humanity, as educators, we cannot miss this moment in history as we fulfill our promises to prepare students for the present and future. As ChatGPT was going viral in the spring of 2023, the book Your Brain on Art was also published by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross (March 2023); this book brings to life neuroaesthetics, neuroscience, and the power of “making and beholding art” as a holistic vehicle for transdisciplinary learning in our personal, academic and professional lives. Consistent with the research shared in the book, our Horizon project will connect students in psychology and ceramics classes in addition to students, faculty, and community members representing a variety of disciplines in the “making and beholding of art using AI.”

Dr. James Abraham, Glendale Community College; Michael Dzbenski, Gateway Community College; Dr. Cate McNamara, South Mountain Community College; Dr. Juliane Roybal, Gateway Community College; Dr. Jeannette Shaffer, South Mountain Community College

Traditional methods of experiential learning can be limited by safety concerns, logistical constraints, and financial burdens. Experiential learning in a virtual reality (VR) environment offers a solution to these limitations, providing a platform for immersive, interactive, and engaging experiences that can simulate real-world environments without the associated risks and costs. Our proposal will integrate VR technology as a supplement to classroom instruction, specifically targeting the aspects of the experiential learning cycle where VR can have the most significant impact.

By integrating VR technology into our educational programs, we aim to create a transformative learning experience that addresses the various aspects of the experiential learning cycle. With the ability to facilitate concrete experiences, promote reflective observation, encourage abstract conceptualization, foster active experimentation, and support reflective generalization, VR has the potential to revolutionize the way we learn and teach. We believe that the incorporation of VR will not only enhance student engagement but also improve learning outcomes, increase student motivation, and better prepare them for future challenges.

2022-2023 Projects

Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Cantú, Dr. Linda Manning, Professor Erica Wager, Estrella Mountain Community College

An Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) Student Experience Research study conducted during the spring 2021 and fall 2021 semester showed that students were longing for personal connection and engagement. Our goal through the MCLI grant is to implement videos and how-to guides that help students navigate our college and have more personal touch points along their academic journey with employees (faculty and staff) and other students. This would complement the wrap-around services that already exist at EMCC and provide more opportunities for us to assess what students are learning and finding helpful.

This project incorporates family-friendly programs designed to help college employees understand students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences while also giving opportunities for students to learn and exchange knowledge about their own cultural communities. The grant will also support a campaign to promote the Community Innovation Summit more widely as a program that fosters teamwork and the pursuit of mutual success by having students engage in cross-cultural interactions focused on solving real-life social and community problems (Museus & Smith, 2016). In order to assess these initiatives and interventions, we have developed campus assessment practices that generate data and evidence that can inform efforts that lead us to maximize success among diverse populations.

Final report summary

Patricia Ashby, John Nagy, and Phil Root, Scottsdale Community College

Several factors stand in the way of completing college-level science courses, including difficult content, time constraints, work and family considerations, inadequate study skills, and hesitancy to seek help. Many students at-risk of failing are first-generation college students and underrepresented minorities, who may enter college poorly prepared for the rigor of science classes. Studying outside the classroom is essential for learning and successful completion, and external support places a key role in student success. This project aims to increase student success in BIO181 and CHM130 for all at-risk populations, including underrepresented minorities, by providing enhanced student support in the form of embedded peer tutors in the labs. 

Final report summary

Ryan Stone and Joshua Moss, Paradise Valley Community College

Video Game Production (VGP) and Esports are rapidly growing programs at PVCC. In year two, VGP is already the second-largest program in Computer and Information Technology with 90 students.

Recently, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) approved the Esports Certificate of Completion (CCL). As students begin to enter that program, it is essential for the college to provide access to the equipment and technology encountered in the expanding field of Esports and competitive gaming. This project’s purpose is to purchase equipment to outfit a Mobile Esports Arena and utilize that equipment in competitive gaming events starting in Spring 2023. PVCC students will engage with tournament organization and event planning through the Center for Performing Arts and the Esports CCL program to produce five Super Smash Brothers Ultimate tournaments at PVCC during February and March 2023. This project will enhance student learning, student engagement, student recruitment, and student collaboration.

2021-2022 Projects

David Bradley and Ryan Wentzel, Paradise Valley Community College; Leroy Timblin, Scottsdale Community College

This project will create a virtual 3D gallery of objects belonging to PVCC for the purpose of instructing students in fine arts classes, art history classes, and engineering classes in how to use photogrammetry, as well as allowing the sharing of the gallery via the internet with anyone anywhere in the world. Students in the arts and engineering as well as other disciplines need to be conversant with this type of technology in order to create new uses for the technology and to be competitive in the workforce. This is an innovative use of photogrammetry for fine arts uses and will provide a valuable experience for students.

Final report summary

Stephanie Green, Phoenix College

This project will incorporate emerging technology to convert whole and prepared foods into shelf-stable products to (1) revitalize innovative teaching and learning practices that will (2) expand collaboration opportunities for and (3) increase the value of the program. The introduction of freeze-drying methods will be a new and atypical affordance in a community college setting. Freeze-dried and shelf-stable food production is a well-established and growing market in the food industry however it is underrepresented within the food, nutrition, and culinary offerings in the MCCCD curriculum. The introduction of this technology would not only be relevant but it would also be practical and applicable. The market trends for freeze-dried food are growing as well as the trend for startups. Additionally, the costs of necessary equipment have come down in price and are affordable as consumer appliances. The democratization of this technology makes the learning prospects grounded and practical for students who want to capitalize on this type of career and technical education (CTE) learning as the low barrier to entry and increase potential for startups and homegrown entrepreneurship is more accessible.

Final report summary

Niccole Cerveny, Mesa Community College; Elena Ortiz, Phoenix College, Danielle Cowan, Scottsdale Community College

This project addresses a community need by engaging students in high-impact educational practices including service-learning, civic engagement, and undergraduate research. Students will learn about the importance of native plants, how to identify them, how to collect and process native seeds, and germinate/propagate native plants. Their work will form the backbone to supply the seed libraries at Phoenix College, Mesa Community College, Scottsdale Community College, and GateWay Community College who have an established seed library distribution from FY2020-2021. There will be learning opportunities in partnership with the Tonto National Forest, Arizona Native Plant Society, and the Southwest Native Agriculture Center. We will introduce students to other ways of knowing, especially indigenous ways of knowing such as connections to land and place that can be explored through native plants.

Final report summary

Sonia Valle, Paradise Valley Community College

This project will focus on an innovative approach to dance making and embrace a new dance genre known as Screen Dance.  Screen Dance is a unique cinematic experience that merges cinematography and choreography.  It is a new and innovative visual language, which was amplified by the current COVID-19 pandemic.  With the inability to come together to perform live in a theatrical setting, screen dances provided an alternative and made it possible to present dance in a virtual setting.  Screen dances incorporate video editing techniques to polish and present dance as a dance film in which dance plays a central role.  This project is important for student success because we need to prepare dance students with new and emerging technologies that eventually will provide an edge to their education and artistry.

Final report summary