The University Life Strategic Plan Steering Committee began convening in November, formally kicking off the 2020-24 UL Strategic Plan implementation process. The Steering Committee has emphasized the broad-reaching engagement of University Life staff members across all units in the work of the Strategic Plan. The plan, guided by the University Life Vision that EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS, will serve as a roadmap for the work of our division over the next four years.
A survey was distributed division-wide, just prior to Thanksgiving break, seeking input from professional staff interested in contributing to this work. Plan Goal Leads and Co-Leads for each of the four UL Strategic Goals (Inclusive Thriving Communities (Creston Lynch and Lisa Snyder), Engage All Students (Juliet Blank-Godlove and LuLu Geza Kelemen), Holistic Student Support Services (Rachel Wernicke and Naomi Martinez-Jones), and Organizational Excellence (Lewis Forrest and Birgit Debeerst)) will work with the Strategic Plan Operations Team (SPOT) to identify strategy group leads and working group members. Strategic Plan goal and strategy group meetings will commence in January 2021.
All units within the division are encouraged to discuss the University Life Strategic Plan and identify areas of alignment between unit plans and the divisional plan. Every member of the division has an opportunity to champion the plan and contribute in a meaningful way to help move our work forward.
If you are interested in learning more about the UL Strategic Plan implementation process or are looking to get involved, you are encouraged to reach out to any of the following SPOT members:
Project & Process
Lori Cohen Scher
Each year, the NASPA Foundation recognizes exceptional members of the student affairs and higher education community through the Pillars of the Profession award, one of the Foundation’s highest honors. This year, Rose Pascarell, Vice President for University Life, was honored with the Pillars of the Profession award and was recognized for her outstanding contributions to the field (watch NASPA's 2021 Pillars of the Profession announcement video).
“It is an honor to be acknowledged by my peers and colleagues. And, honestly, there’s no way I could achieve this in this role without the skill, intelligence, collaboration, and collegiality of the teams I’ve worked with who truly know what it means to put students first,” Pascarell said.
Please join us in congratulating Rose on becoming a Pillar of the Profession!
The holidays can be a wonderful time of year, yet too often they turn out to be a stressful time of year. Here are some practices that can help you head into the holidays with well-being:
- Let go of unnecessary stress by practicing mindfulness. While you can’t avoid all stress, you can reduce the amount of stress in your life through mindfulness meditation. Practicing mindfulness involves simply focusing your awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting the thoughts and feelings in your mind and the sensations in your body. Mindfulness can help you respond to stressful situations (like the ongoing pandemic) calmly. Research shows that mindfulness can help relieve stress in many ways, including helping you respond wisely to your thoughts rather than just reacting to them, making you more aware of your emotions and their impact, empowering you to focus better, and showing you a positive perspective on your circumstances. There are a diverse variety of ways to practice mindfulness. You can get started with these simple mindfulness exercises from the Mayo Clinic.
- Give yourself permission to have fun. As you begin a break from work, immerse yourself in the festive fun that the holidays offer. Let yourself enjoy the holiday season to the fullest. Engage your senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching in ways that bring you joy. You can drive through a holiday light show to explore various creative displays, listen to seasonal music in your favorite genres, buy scented candles in a several fragrances (such as spruce, cinnamon, and vanilla), cook a special meal or bake a special dessert to eat, or snuggle under a soft, warm blanket on a cold evening. Don’t pressure yourself to do too much during this season, though. Simply choose what matters most to you and what you enjoy most. Let the rest go without guilt.
- Pursue something greater than yourself. The holiday season is full of opportunities to connect with something greater than yourself. Doing so will help you transcend stress and experience joy. You may pursue something beyond yourself through spirituality, by practicing your faith in ways that are most meaningful to you. You may connect with something greater by looking for the wonder around you during this season of celebration and savoring feelings of awe. You may find a greater perspective by nurturing your relationships through intentional kindness and gratitude. Finally, you may experience being part of something greater than yourself by serving others. Many community organizations are seeking contributions to help people in need during the holidays. Consider making donations or volunteering to some of them. Research into what’s known as a “helper’s high” reveals that by caring for other people’s well-being, you can strengthen your own well-being as well.
The more you take care of your well-being during the holidays, the more you can enjoy the adventures of this season!
Patriot Success is an ongoing initiative to identify, assess, and implement student-level interventions to increase engagement, retention, and timely degree completion. This year, the Patriot Success survey ran from September 21 thru October 3, and we received over 3,700 clean responses from degree-seeking undergraduates. This survey was used to gather demographic information not available through other avenues, such as the distance of students' commutes to the main campus, sexual orientation, and general student trends.
Teams from the Mason Care Network, Student Support and Advocacy Center, Housing and Residence Life, Contemporary Student Services, and academic units reached out to students who responded to at-risk indicators, such as a lack of food, shelter, financial resources, and safety, or retention factors. This information has been useful to determine how our students are faring in the pandemic and how we can better serve them in Spring 2021.
For Fall 2020 results, please visit: oiep.gmu.edu/data-analytics-research/survey-results/patriot-success-survey/
Mason is multifarious and we are proud of our exceptional diversity and our commitment to forming a global community. Our campuses are a place where students, staff and faculty have the freedom to express their thoughts in a constructive manner. As a family, we may not always agree with our peers’ thoughts or expressive acts, but we recognize as an educational institution, that these are opportunities for positive changes and potential challenges.
The 2020 Presidential Election brought with it some divisive and damaging rhetoric including hate towards individuals and groups of people of color, those who are undocumented, and those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. Those experiencing anxiety should seek out avenues that support their well-being: reach out to CAPS if you are a student or check the Mason HR Resources and Information page if you are a Mason Employee; complete mindfulness activities; and discussing your emotions with supportive allies and accomplices as well as those who are a part of your community.
In addition, as a result of 2020 election outcomes, some individuals may engage in maladaptive acts of violence and speak words of bias. It is important that we remind our Patriot family that any acts of bias or violence directed toward anyone or group will not be tolerated in our community. Inherent in our commitment to be a universal campus is the understanding and expectation that all members of our community feel included, respected, and safe.
To learn about and to report acts of bias, visit the Mason Campus Climate webpage. We urge anyone who has experienced bias or a hate crime to report the incident and give the University an opportunity to respond. It is also important to encourage and support those who are hesitant to report an incident to do so.
Although Mason will always uphold the constitutional right to free speech, we also expect students and staff to keep in good faith with our community standards, which include respect for diverse beliefs and backgrounds as one of our highest ideals.
This fall leading up to Election and afterwards, over 1,000 participants took part in the 100+ MasonVotes opportunities that our University Life colleagues and partners provided for the community to learn, dialogue, process, and make meaning of the election, regardless of the outcome. There were a wide range of offerings from faculty-led panels to election-related stress reducing workouts and everything in between, including important group and individual post-election conversations. Counseling and Psychological Services also created important Election Stress Resources for students, faculty, and staff.
In addition to a multitude of events, a team of dedicated students ensured that MasonVotes.gmu.edu provided current voting and election-related news, updates, and events throughout the fall semester. On Election Day, Coalition Building and Diversity Education staff provided treats and MasonVotes buttons to the 347 students who chose to vote in-person at the Merten Hall polling location (362 registered on the Fairfax campus voted absentee and early in-person). Another group of dedicated UL and Mason staff came out to the HUB that evening so that students could gather to watch Live Election Night results on Mason Cable Network and CNN.
A special thank you to ALL the Mason faculty and staff who graciously offered their valuable time and expertise to make a comprehensive set of programs and services available. The MasonVotes team was led by Kristen Wright, Director of Civic Engagement, Ben Endres, Assistant Director, Student Involvement, and Jason Hartsel, Assistant Director, Student Media, who worked diligently since last fall to ensure that we would be ready with a full spectrum of offerings for our students, leading up to, and following the 2020 Presidential Election.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our work within University Life across each of Mason’s campuses and locations in countless ways. From pivoting service delivery and engagement strategies to responding to student financial needs to providing support around shifting protocols, policies, and regulatory guidance in this new and uncertain virtual environment, it has been a whirlwind of adaptation for us all.
For students studying at the Mason Korea (MK) Campus, the need to adjust to a new normal has been felt in ways both similar and unique to those of our students across Mason’s Northern Virginia locations. At the start of the pandemic, South Korea had more reported COVID-19 cases than anywhere else in the world outside of China. Today, as a result effective national containment and mitigation strategies, new cases in Korea remain quite low by comparison. Yet, impacts of COVID-19 on Mason Korea students have been palpable. An early need to pivot online at the start of the MK Spring semester in February 2020 meant implementing stringent quarantine and travel regulations, updating residence hall procedures, and managing strains on student mental, emotional and physical health. Like so many international students, those Mason Korea students who were studying in Fairfax last Spring needed to make quick decisions about whether to return home or stay the course. The majority of the MK cohort chose to return to South Korea.
In mid-November 2020 ,University Life Regional Campuses, in coordination with Mason Korea Student Affairs and the Provost’s Office, offered a comprehensive pre-departure orientation for nearly 100 eligible inbound students. Greeted by Vice President Rose Pascarell, these students were well-supported with comprehensive information from a range of University Life units, including Housing and Residence Life, Student Health Services, International Programs and Services, and the Mason Care Network. Students could better understand and visualize all that is waiting for them in Fairfax through real-time connections with many of our dedicated staff members, and through a customized Living and Learning in Fairfax presentation.
As the Quill deadline approached, students were still weighing options around transitioning to the Fairfax Campus during these extraordinary times. As always, University Life looks forward to welcoming Mason Korea students as conditions allow.
Congratulations to Bernadette Davey from University Career Services, who received the UL Outstanding Service Award this summer.
Please watch for the upcoming award presentations to all our Fall 2020 award recipients for the UL Outstanding Service award, UL Positive Impact award and the UL Partnership Award, which is awarded to an external partner twice a year.
Don’t forget to nominate a deserving colleague before the next award deadline on February 1, 2021: ulprofdev.gmu.edu/programs-initiatives/recognize-a-colleague/.
A big THANK YOU to this month's contributors
Center for the Advancement of Well-Being
Contemporary Student Services
Office of Coalition Building and Diversity Education
Dr. Lori Scher
University Life Communications and Marketing