June 2021 Strategic Plan Update
Each of the four University Life Strategic Plan goal groups have launched into implementation mode over the last quarter. Themes across the areas include attention to work group formation, gap analysis, best practice literature reviews, needs assessment development, definition of terms, and mapping out next steps for the summer and beyond. Below are some key strategy highlights from the third quarter of the 2020-21 reporting cycle.
Goal Area: Inclusive Thriving Community (ITC)
The Inclusive Thriving Community Goal area is advancing efforts in the development of a lifecycle/ecosystem analysis for first-gen students, as well as developing a framework and audit to help connect programs and initiatives that address topics of social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- As part of this strategy, the group is working on the creation of a website focused on first-generation initiatives.
- In addition, a survey will launch this summer with the goal of identifying and affirming Mason fist-gen faculty and staff.
- To create a comprehensive report of University Life programs and initiatives that address areas of social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion, the group is working to develop a taxonomy, or set of category areas, that can inform efforts to collect data from UL units through surveys and informational interviews this summer and into the fall.
Goal Area: Engage All Students (EAS)
The Engage All Students group has a focus to identify and enhance gateways to student engagement across the division, as well as to develop a comprehensive student development philosophy that informs student leadership, education, training, and development. The group has made strides in the following areas this past quarter:
- Research on student development theory/philosophy, student engagement measures, gateways through literature reviews, and benchmarking is ongoing. A group of undergraduate research assistants will begin working with the strategy groups in fall 2021.
- The 2021-22 Career Readiness Guide will be refined this summer, along with ongoing efforts to offer Career Influencer Network trainings for faculty and staff throughout the 2021-22 academic year.
- Effective hybrid engagement strategies/needs (specifically focused on technology) are being examined.
- Housing and Residence Life is working to establish and implement sequenced learning outcome development for the residential curriculum and will continue with the creation of sequenced initiatives throughout the summer.
Goal Area: Holistic Student Support Services (HSSS)
Assessment has been a critical component of the work of the Holistic Student Support Services group.
- In an effort to identify and assess service delivery models, the group has defined contemporary students as those who are 25+, off-campus and/or transfers, for the purpose of this goal.
- Throughout the summer, the group will analyze relevant 2020-21 student engagement data in the UL students-served dashboard.
- Additionally, the group plans to administer a survey to unit leaders that will inventory best practice service delivery to contemporary students.
- In the area of compliance, accreditation, and industry standards, the team will work to compile a list and build an inventory of units going through a process of accreditation and compliance review.
- To support needs around student well-being, the Healthy Minds Survey was administered to students this spring, complementing work taking place on a formal needs assessment plan for historically under-represented students spearheaded by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in collaboration with other units.
Goal Area Organizational Excellence (OE)
Despite constraints related to COVID-19, the Organizational Excellence goal area has made several significant strides across the work of the UL shared services teams.
- In support of the outcome to reduce time to hire, the UL Human Resources team is working on hiring checklists and interview resource materials including, but not limited to, sample interview questions, communication templates, and matrixes. The team hopes to share all tools through a newly redesigned UL HR web page next fall.
- The Professional Development group is conducting a current-state analysis and benchmarking in order to draft a framework proposal outlining options based on resources.
- The implementation of a division-wide resource prioritization and allocation plan is underway with efforts taking place to conduct a current-state analysis of division-wide processes related to resource prioritization and allocation.
- Ongoing review of organizational structure, roles, and responsibilities are happening within the UL Cabinet, with a goal of enhancing division-wide alignment across areas.
- The UL Shared Services units (UL Technology Services, UL Communications and Marketing, UL Assessment, UL Project and Process Management, UL Human Resources, and UL Professional Development) are working to implement a value mapping model that will allow these units to better understand expectations of the units they serve. This summer a survey will be administered to key stakeholders for each of these units to clarify value areas and support the development of shared services performance metrics for success.
- The UL Communications Working Group is working towards developing and implementing an efficient division-wide communication strategy that orchestrates/organizes best practices for effective communications with the goal of student engagement with University Life and the understanding of the support our division provides to student success.
- The UL Assessment team is working to continuously improve programs and services through consistent assessment and planning. They are doing so by developing procedures and guidelines for a division-wide program review, further enhancing the students-served metrics dashboard, and piloting the program review process with one University Life unit.
Neither summer vacations nor planning for a robust return to campus in the fall have hampered progress across the many domains of our University Life Strategic Plan. Much appreciation goes out to each of the goal and strategy leads who are working diligently to advance this critical work of our division.
Center for the Advancement of Well-Being
The Resilience Badge, a collaborative effort between the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB) and University Life (UL), designed to support student well-being, was introduced in spring 2016 and has recently been expanded. The Resilience Badge provides students with greater fluency in a skill vital for their careers and contributes to both their academic and personal success.
We issued approximately 200 Resilience Badges to students, staff, and faculty in the program’s first four years as a hybrid co-curricular offering. Donor funding allowed us to overhaul the program by building on the existing work and making it more interactive for an asynchronous online environment. The new version launched in Blackboard during fall 2020. We anticipate issuing as many badges in this pilot year as we did in the first four.
In this pilot year, we spread the word in a variety of ways, including overview presentations and interactive sessions that allowed participants to engage with the content in a hands-on fashion. We are grateful to partners like Housing and Residence Life (HRL) and New Student and Family Programs (NSFP), both of whom committed to bringing the Resilience Badge into their training courses. In spring 2021, we awarded the Resilience Badge to all summer 2021 Patriot Leaders. This summer, we look forward to issuing the Resilience Badge to HRL student staff, who are expected to complete the training modules prior to fall 2021. This fabulous summer learning opportunity will serve them well as campus leaders and in their professional lives beyond Mason.
We know the challenges associated with a co-curricular program and the self-discipline needed to complete an asynchronous program can be stumbling blocks. These may have been pronounced in the face of pandemic-related digital fatigue, but we’re committed to helping even more students earn the Resilience Badge in 2021-22. After all, a new component is a robust pre- and post-assessment for quantitative and qualitative data. We are encouraged by initial returns that suggest those who complete the six modules:
- Have a much richer understanding of resilience
- Are more likely to utilize campus resources after completing the Resilience Badge than before completing
- Are more confident in knowing their strengths
- Are more confident in knowing how to use their strengths in everyday life
- Are more confident in knowing how to use their strengths at work and in school
These results motivate us to push forward to ensure all first-time students pursue this opportunity. In the coming months, we will work with the Resilience Badge Sprint Group, comprised of campus partners from offices like University Career Services, Student Health Services, and Student Involvement, to name a few, to determine the best ways to embed this opportunity in Mason’s campus culture.
Finally, we hope you will explore the Resilience Badge yourself this summer, as this free opportunity is available to students, staff, and faculty. As campus leaders, we need to develop our own well-being so we can model this for colleagues and students. Taking the time to better understand your resilience and discover ways to enhance it is a great approach to developing your well-being that can then contribute to our thriving campus community. We look forward to more commitments from campus partners like we had with HRL and NSFP in our pilot year. Please contact us to discuss those possibilities.
New Student and Family Programs
In March 2021, New Student and Family Programs (NSFP) introduced Mason families to the Mason Family Connection, the official platform for family communication and engagement. Everything parents, families, and supporters need to make the most of their Mason family experience is now located in one centralized location within the Mason Family Connection. Families who previously received the Mason Family Flash weekly e-newsletter were automatically imported and received a welcome email with instructions to register for the Mason Family Connection.
In the Mason Family Connection platform, families can:
- Customize the content they receive to meet their family’s needs and interests
- Set the frequency of how often they wish to receive updates
- Use the commenting feature to ask questions and/or share their perspectives and experiences
- View upcoming University events, important dates, and deadlines
- Select specific academic, topic, and identity-focused communities they want to join to engage and find support
- Make account changes at any time
We are eager for families to engage in our community through the Mason Family Connection and know this platform will make it easier to communicate with them. We recognize that they have a lot of questions and are a key part of their student’s experience, which is why we will begin approaching individual offices to talk with you about our change in philosophy, the new ways we are communicating with families, and to provide you with a tutorial and access to the platform. We want to work together to help you amplify your priorities, distribute information to families in advance, and help alleviate an influx of questions. In the meantime, you can learn more about the platform by watching this instructional video.
Please share this information with the students you engage with and encourage them to talk with their families about staying connected to Mason. We appreciate your support of our Mason families as they support their students!
Please join us in congratulating the Green Machine for winning the following Telly Awards in the 42nd Annual Telly Awards!
- George Mason University Winterguard – 2019 World Championships is the Silver Telly Winner in Non-Broadcast: Educational Institution (Official Listing)
- Resistance is the Silver Telly Winner in Non-Broadcast: Diversity & Inclusion (Official Listing)
- Resistance is the Silver Telly Winner in Non-Broadcast: Social Impact (Official Listing)
The Telly Awards is the premier award honoring video and television across all screens. Established in 1979, The Telly Awards receives over 12,000 entries from all 50 states and 5 continents. Entrants are judged by The Telly Awards Judging Council—an industry body of over 200 leading experts, including advertising agencies, production companies, and major television networks, that reflects the multiscreen industry The Telly Awards celebrates.
The video in the category of “Educational Institution” is a montage from the Winter Guard International 2019 World Championships where Mason brought home the gold with a historically high score (sixth highest in the circuit's 40+ year existence). View the Mason Winterguard video.
Receiving recognition in the categories of both “Diversity & Inclusion” and “Social Impact” is a video of our incomparable Bobby Lacy II delivering his poem “Resistance,” which he wrote in collaboration with Dr. Michael Nickens, who also goes by Doc Nix. The poem and video were developed for the University’s 2020 Winter Commencement presentation, and as part of the Green Machine’s ongoing Activist-Artist initiative. View "Resistance."
LuLu Géza Kelemen, Assistant Director for the Center of Culture, Equity, and Empowerment’s LGBTQ+ Resources, will have their work on gender identity featured in the upcoming edition of Discover Sociology from SAGE Publications. According sage.com:
“Discover Sociology presents sociology as a discipline of curious minds. The authors inspire curiosity about the social world and empower students by providing the theoretical, conceptual, and empirical tools they need to understand, analyze, and even change the world in which they live.”
The feature will include an original diagram that answers the question “How are the terms Transgender and Cisgender related?” Géza Kelemen created the diagram to describe the relationship between gender identity and sex/gender assigned at birth. The visual is a general way to understand what being transgender and cisgender mean, especially in relation to each other.
The key takeaway? How a person self-identifies is the most crucial part, so follow their lead! Géza Kelemen is a double graduate of George Mason University, earning their Bachelor of Arts in Integrative Studies and minors in Women and Gender Studies with an LGBTQ Focus and African and African American Studies and their Master of Arts in Sociology. Their thesis focused on the intersections of athletic and gender identity and expression at the university level. In 2019, they were awarded the Val DuMontier New Professional Award by the Coalition of Sexuality and Gender Identities in the Association of College Personnel Association (ACPA).
Géza Kelemen is an inspired educator who has led dozens of workshops, classroom presentations, and collaborations throughout their Mason career. As the Assistant Director of the Center of Culture, Equity, and Empowerment’s LGBTQ+ Resources, they coordinate the LGBTQ+ Learning Community, Mason’s Safe Zone Program, and more. These initiatives serve to create a safer, more welcoming & inclusive campus environment, to strengthen the community, and to support the well-being of LGBTQ+ people.
Center for the Advancement of Well-Being
The Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB), in collaboration with the Campus Center for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT), began offering Rx Racial Healing Circles (RHCs) during the spring 2021 semester. Those circles have helped students, faculty, and staff strengthen their well-being by building their racial awareness and sense of community.
RHCs, created by CWB Senior Scholar Dr. Gail Christopher while at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, are founded on the principles of jettisoning the hierarchy of human value and narrative change through storytelling. The uniqueness of RHCs come from their focus on health, well-being, agency, inclusion, and our common humanity.
In RHCs, participants can share their stories about race and community in powerful conversations. This framework is rooted in spiritual and community-sustaining models in many indigenous cultures. The power of the RHC experience comes from sharing stories – telling personal stories (taking us to the heart space) rather than simply relating to an event (the mind space). Participants often can see their own experiences in the stories of others, which helps everyone to see themselves in one another.
RHC creator Dr. Christopher wrote about the RHC learning outcomes in an Association of American Colleges & Universities article:
“I believe the capacity for empathy and for perspective taking are requisite skills for achieving the goals of a liberal education. Faculty and student participation in effective racial healing circles can support liberal education outcomes in the following ways:
- Racial healing circles provide opportunities to engage with perceived "others" in ways that enable self-reflection and nonthreatening acknowledgment of one’s own previously unquestioned assumptions and biases
- Faculty and student participants gain direct experience sharing authentic personal narratives among diverse peers, which enhances their perceptions of human interconnectedness while increasing their capacity for empathy and understanding
- Participants become more willing to explore the historic and contemporary consequences of adhering to the fallacy of a racial hierarchy
- Participants gain a heightened sense of responsibility for taking actions to reduce needless human suffering and promote fairness and equity for the greater good.”
During the upcoming academic year, CWB and TRHT will offer more RHCs to the Mason community for open enrollment. Mason groups can also request an RHC in a closed enrollment format.
Dr. Amber Holton-Thomas
On March 30, 2020 my husband and I sat at our kitchen table deciding on where to go to dinner for our first wedding anniversary. Minutes later, our phones chimed, alerting us of the stay at home order for Maryland due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the days went on, I visited campus to pack up what I’d need to work remotely for a while.
Days turned into months, and in June, the first virtual delivery of the Student Transition Empowerment Program (STEP) was underway due to the closing of on campus summer programming. We extended invitations to more than 60 students and welcomed them to a first-generation summer bridge program held virtually! Parallel to this intensive program, a search committee was hard at work to help hire the first full-time staff member dedicated to leading the STEP. Lex Lewis-Semien joined our team in July, beginning our journey toward connecting our first-generation work nationally. In her interview, she mentioned, that she’d like “to see Mason be a First-gen Forward campus.”
As the semester began, and we continued to meet via Zoom and MS Teams, while also working ahead on the application to be recognized as a First-gen Forward campus by NASPA. In November, Lex led the first First-gen Week at Mason, giving a sense of community and pride for first-generation students.
A lot can happen in a year. And while this brief piece shares firsts that celebrate milestones and positive change, I also add that this year had many other firsts. This year was also the first time that many have seen the pain, suffering, and death from police brutality, political tensions, and the COVID-19 virus. A lesson from this year of firsts: there is complexity in celebration and there is complexity in pain.
Office of Advancement and Alumni Relations
When more than 100 golfers tee off on June 14 at the George Mason University Diversity Scholarship Golf Classic, they’ll be gathering for an event that has become one of Mason’s most durable and meaningful traditions.
The golfers play to support two programs—the Early Identification Program (EIP) and the Student Transition Empowerment Program (STEP)—that exemplify Mason’s mission of access to excellence.
Since it debuted in 1995, the Diversity Scholarship Golf Classic has raised more than $700,000 to support scholarships and aid for deserving first-generation college students. That’s an exceptional number, translating into more than 220 scholarships awarded.
The tournament is a top fundraiser because its cause is so strong, according to Angela Moody, chair of the University Life Advisory Board, which puts on the event. “Our generous sponsors understand that the mission of the event directly supports preparing, recruiting and retaining first-generation college students,” says Moody. “The 2020 EIP graduating class saw 96% of the EIP students enrolled in college. That is an incredible return on investment.”
Founded in 1987, the Early Identification Program supports the academic, career, and personal development of first-generation college-bound students. Each year EIP accepts a new class of rising eighth graders from seven school districts in Northern Virginia. Students “graduate” from the program after their senior year in high school. More than 200 EIP alumni are currently attending Mason.
The Student Transition Empowerment Program helps many of these same students succeed once they are accepted at Mason. STEP follows a summer bridge model, hosting 50 to 60 students each year who live on campus, taking courses together and receiving mentorship support.
“EIP was an amazing opportunity in my life that helped me find my path to college,” says nursing student Angelica Felder. “EIP made it so I would have my very own support system in college—people rooting for me and always willing to hear me out.”
Funds raised through the Golf Classic are often the key to helping students who may struggle to make ends meet. “Every year I have students who are entering Mason and need additional funds. We also have students going to their next semester who need funds to close the tuition gap,” says Khaseem Davis, director of EIP since 2015. “Often the pot of money we raise from the golf tournament is able to help students who are already cash-strapped.”
Book awards to students via EIP’s office are typically about $250 to $500; scholarships can be up to $2,000.
“The great thing is that this money is unrestricted, so we are flexible in how we distribute the funds,” says Davis. “We are able to get students the assistance they need, when they need it, and how they need it.”
Like so many other events, last year’s tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once over the initial disappointment, volunteer organizers rallied with determination to bring the event back in 2021 better than ever. That’s just what is happening, making this year the “new” 25th anniversary.
Sandy Spring Bank has been the tournament’s title sponsor for the past decade. Recently ranked #1 by the Washington Business Journal for employee volunteerism, the company is known for giving back to the community.
“A founding core principle, from 153 years ago, is to make the communities we serve better places to live, work, raise a family and run a business,” says Jay O’Brien, executive vice president for commercial and retail banking at Sandy Spring, who helps spearhead the bank’s involvement. “Our employees live that out every day, leading and volunteering, in big ways and small. Supporting the Classic is very meaningful to us.”
The dedicated volunteers of the University Life Advisory Board, along with Mason University Life staff, are the engines behind the tournament’s success. They recruit local corporations, small businesses, and individuals to sponsor (and play in) the tournament, always with the goal of supporting students in mind.
“These tournaments and fundraising events don’t just happen. A successful event—and one that has thrived for 25 years—requires amazing leaders and volunteers,” O’Brien adds. “They are incredibly passionate about the impact that Mason and its programs have on these amazing students and so committed to helping the students reach their goals … literally changing lives for the better.”
“A big thank you goes to everyone who takes the time to come play and who puts the tournament together,” says Khaseem Davis. “They’re not paid. They do this because of their affinity for Mason and their love of the students—and wanting to help provide those students the opportunities they need to succeed. So a big thank you from me to everyone who volunteers to help.”
Please join us in welcoming our new and newly promoted colleagues to the University Life team!
Housing and Residence Life
- Makenzie Gold Quirose, Administrative Specialist
- Andrea Hernandez, Housekeeper
- Maria Lopez, Housekeeper
International Programs and Services
- Julia Adams, Office Manager
- Toshia Johnson, COVID Student Compliance/Conduct Coordinator
Student Health Services
- Kaylay Herr, Registered Nurse, COVID Team Support
- Jamie Slagle, Nurse Practitioner
Student Success Coaching
- Sam Hediger, Graduate Professional Assistant
University Life Assessment
- Christina (Chris) Lee, Assistant Director, Co-Curricular Assessment
Spring 2021 University Life Partnership Award
- Ken Thompson, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, English department
University Life Outstanding Service Awards
- Dennis Kisielewski, Manager of Human Resources, Mason Recreation
- Steve Kuchera, Associate Director of Business Services, Mason Recreation
- Casey Machuga, Assistant Director for Off-Campus Student Service, Contemporary Student Services
University Life Positive Impact Awards
- Sara Clifton, Success Coach, Student Success Coaching
- Alli Minieri, Associate Director, Training Services, Counseling and Psychological Services
A big THANK YOU to this month's contributors
Center for the Advancement of Well-Being
LGBTQ+ Resources Center (re-established as a separate department in University Life)
LuLu Géza Kelemen
First-gen+ Center (formerly an area within CCEE, now a separate department in University Life)
Dr. Amber Holton-Thomas
Green Machine Ensembles
New Student and Family Programs
Dr. Lori Scher
University Life Advancement
Dr. Kaitlin Cicchetti
University Life Marketing