Quarterly Quill March 2021


What’s Happening with the Strategic Plan?

Forward action toward implementing the strategic plan is well underway. The UL Strategic Plan Steering Committee - comprised of Goal Leads and Co-Leads for each of the four strategic goals, along with the Strategic Plan Operations Team (SPOT) - has met weekly since January. The Steering Committee has advanced work in a number of areas including:

  • Goal group recruitment
  • Assessment plan development
  • Establishing a comprehensive communication plan
  • Institutional strategic plan alignment

Four-year implementation timelines have been established for each goal area, which plot out all strategies that will kick off this spring. Full timeline details for each of the goal areas are available on the UL Strategic Plan implementation process website, where you can also find the Strategic Plan Document, Project Organization Chart, and Implementation Presentations.

Goal leads and Co-leads are committed to providing opportunities for any member of the division to offer feedback on plan progress within each of their respective areas. If you have questions on implementation or are still looking to get involved, please reach out directly to Birgit Debeerst (project and process) or Lori Scher (unit alignment).

Lumina Foundation Grant Awarded to Mason

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) was awarded a grant of $725,000 by Indianapolis based Lumina foundation in support of efforts advancing equitable postsecondary outcomes across the Commonwealth’s higher-education institutions. George Mason University was one of six Virginia institutions to be awarded a sub-grant of $105,000.

[Full Press Release Below]

Governor Ralph Northam today announced that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) was awarded a grant of $725,000 from Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation to support efforts to advance equitable postsecondary outcomes across the Commonwealth’s institutions of higher education. This Equity Institutions grant complements a $500,000 Talent, Innovation, and Equity (TIE) Partnership grant that Virginia received from Lumina in 2019. Governor Northam set a target of increasing educational achievement for students of color by 5 percentage points by 2024 and making Virginia the best-educated state in the nation by 2030 with 70 percent of working-age adults earning a degree or credential.

“This new funding will help Virginia further align our equity agenda with the promising efforts underway at six of our public institutions of higher education,” said Governor Northam. “The disruptive impacts of the pandemic on our education system have exposed an urgent need to address achievement gaps that have long persisted in historically underserved communities. We are grateful for our partnership with Lumina and remain steadfast in our ongoing work to build a more inclusive Commonwealth where every student has equitable access to quality, affordable postsecondary opportunities.”

The $725,000 grant will support institutions’ efforts to improve outcomes for students of color in alignment with state and local attainment goals and includes sub-grants to the following higher education entities, with funding levels indicated below.

  • Virginia Commonwealth University ($105,000)
  • George Mason University ($105,000)
  • Old Dominion University ($105,000)
  • Norfolk State University ($105,000)
  • Patrick Henry Community College ($105,000)
  • Reynolds Community College ($105,000)
  • Virginia Community College System ($45,000)
  • SCHEV ($50,000)

“Now more than ever, the work SCHEV and its institutional partners are doing is critical to eradicating unjust and unfair educational outcomes,” said Danette Howard, Senior Vice President and Chief Policy Officer at Lumina Foundation. “By supporting increased attainment for Virginia’s African American and Hispanic populations and maintaining an ongoing commitment to equity in Virginia’s higher education community, we expect significant improvements for students of color across the Commonwealth and models of effective equity-minded practices that can be shared nationwide.”

The TIE grant supports statewide efforts to pursue improvements in four areas: leadership culture and values, equity policy and initiatives, communications and outreach, and programming to improve educational attainment. The new Equity Institutions grant will help align institution-based efforts to increase degree attainment for African American, Hispanic, and Native American students, providing direct funding to institutions that have already demonstrated a commitment to and success in closing gaps. Supported activities include creating learning communities, providing faculty development, and building infrastructure to support sustainability.

Header Image for article on SUCCEED, UL in Review

New University Life Publication 

During this time of social and physical distancing, the ability to connect with students, colleagues, and our larger University Life family is more important than ever. Among our efforts to bring our community together is the launch of a new annual divisional publication entitled Succeed.

Reflecting University Life’s Vision, “Every Student Succeeds,” this publication showcases the breadth and depth of the daily impact professionals within our division are making on the life of our students. Succeed offers an annual year-in-review; this first edition encompasses the past year-and-a-half, reflecting UL’s ongoing response to the pandemic.

Appreciation for our donors is also central to the message of Succeed as we feel this publication will be instrumental in helping them understand and relate to the significance of their continued contributions.

A digital version is now available. All units are encouraged to read and share Succeed widely with stakeholders.

Special thanks to the committee that worked to move this effort forward:

  • Dr. Lori Cohen Scher, Assistant Dean
  • Dr. Kaitlin Cicchetti, Director of Advancement
  • Atossa Shafaie, Director, UL Communications and Marketing
  • Dr. Eunkyoung Park, Director of Assessment and Planning
  • Sophie Gorshenin, Programming and Administrative Coordinator
First-gen Forward Cohort

The Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation, recently announced the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort. The First-gen Forward designation recognizes higher education institutions that have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students. Selected institutions receive professional development, community-building experiences, and early access to the Center’s research and resources.

At George Mason University, first-generation students are defined as students whose parent(s)/legal guardian(s): highest level of education is from a community college, did not complete a bachelor's degree, or completed a degree outside of the United States. As of fall 2020, Mason reported that 20% of all first-time freshmen and 26% of all undergraduate degree-seeking students were first-generation college students. 78% of first-generation students enrolled in fall 2020 were attending full-time.

First-generation college students face various barriers when trying to excel both academically and socially. Mason works to eliminate these additional barriers and foster first-generation student success through intentional programming and catered support. This support includes:

  • Early Identification Program (EIP): George Mason University’s college preparatory program for first-generation students in collaboration with local schools.
  • Student Transition Empowerment Program: Mason’s Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment’s (CCEE) initiative created to enhance the recruitment, engagement, and retention of first-generation college students accepted to George Mason University.
  • First-Generation Peer Mentoring Program: CCEE’s mentoring program to support first-generation student success.
  • First-Generation Student Task Force: Task force led by Mason Faculty/Staff who were first-generation students themselves.

“The Center is so pleased to welcome George Mason University into the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort. Through the application process, it was evident that Mason is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is also prepared to make a long-term commitment and to employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, Assistant Vice President of the Center for First-generation Student Success.

Dr. Creston Lynch, Assistant Vice President for University Life at Mason said, “We, at Mason, are excited to be in this First-gen Forward cohort because it not only further positions our faculty and staff to continue their amazing and comprehensive work in support of first-generation students, but it also aligns directly with the Mason University Life vision that “every student succeeds” during and after their time here.”

As a First-gen Forward Institution, interested faculty and staff will be afforded multiple opportunities to engage with peer institutions that are also creating environments that improve the experiences and outcomes of first-generation students. Selected institutions will send representatives to the First-gen Forward Workshop slated for early -June and will participate in monthly phone calls, virtual professional development, goal setting, blog development, annual reporting, and more. After two successful years in the program, institutions are eligible to apply for the Advisory Leadership designation.

First-gen Forward is an exciting opportunity for George Mason University to join a dedicated community of professionals prepared to share evidence-based practices and resources, troubleshoot challenges, generate knowledge, and to continue to advance the success of first-generation students across the country. We are excited to see a groundswell of activity from the First-gen Forward cohort and know Mason will be a significant contributor,” offered Dr. Kevin Kruger, president and CEO of NASPA.

To learn more about the Center for First-generation Student Success, please visit firstgen.naspa.org.

To learn more about First-gen Forward at Mason, please contact Lex Lewis-Semien, Assistant Director for Student Access and Equity (within CCEE) and primary contact for First-gen Forward.

If you are interested in connecting with the First-generation Student Task Force, please contact one of the co-chairs:

StudentTalent Development Program

The Growth program provides University Life student employees with feedback on their work performance, including their areas of strength, actionable steps to improve areas of weakness, and connections to their future career goals. Combining both a student self-assessment and supervisor(s) evaluation, each student receives a unique Career Readiness Report that serves as a basis of discussion with their immediate supervisor.

This division-wide effort is led by the Growth Working Group, whose members spent the fall learning the new program platform, SkillSurvey, to create training materials customized for Mason staff. The group currently supports UL's 25 offices with undergraduate student employees. Last semester, 61 UL staff attended one of three, hour-long training modules Kisielewski, Reid and Rippa hosted. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, more than 425 UL student employees received a Career Readiness Report as part of their fall 2020 student employment experience.

Thank you Growth Working Group and supervisors of student employees for engaging in the process again this semester so that we can support students’ continued growth!

Special thanks to the Growth Working Group:

  • Kristin Leonato (lead, University Career Services)
  • David Corwin (Women & Gender Studies)
  • Dennis Kisielewski (Recreation)
  • Kelly Reid (Student Centers)
  • Phil Rippa (LEAD)
  • Melissa Taylor (UL Communications and Marketing)
  • Saskia Campbell (University Career Services)

The Student Support and Advocacy Center (SSAC) provides students support services and educational programming, one-on-one consultations, and resources in the areas of sexual and interpersonal violence, financial well-being, substance use, and collegiate recovery. SSAC also assist students encountering barriers to personal success. You can engage with SSAC in any number of ways:

Request a Workshop: Topics include bystander intervention, boundaries, healthy relationships, the Patriot Pantry, supporting survivors (faculty and staff session & student session), Recovery Ally, What’s the Buzz alcohol presentation, referring students in distress (faculty/staff), and an SSAC overview presentation. To request a presentation, visit: ssac.gmu.edu/programs-and-workshops/

Peer Leadership Opportunities: Starting in March, we will be recruiting for our peer education programs!

  • Relationship Peer Leaders (RPLs): SSAC peer educators focused on healthy relationships, prosocial skill building, boundaries, and creating a culture of consent.
  • Substance Use Peer Educators (SUPEs): SSAC peer educators focused on promoting safer substance use behaviors by students and working to positively change the campus environment and culture.

Join the SAIV student group: We are looking to recruit interested students to give feedback and to participate in a sub-committee of the Sexual and Interpersonal Violence Committee at Mason. This is a great way for student leaders to get involved to give voice to the issue of sexual and interpersonal violence. Interested students should email Courtney Diener.

Student Support Spaces

  • Patriots for Recovery: Patriots for Recovery is an open peer-to-peer support group that is for Mason students who identify as being in recovery for a substance use disorder, eating disorder, or other process addictions. Interested students can email recovery@gmu.edu and a representative from SSAC will be happy to share more about the group. Students are also welcome to just drop in to an upcoming meeting of Patriots for Recovery meeting, if they would prefer.
  • Survivor and Recovery Space: Survivor and Recovery Space is an advocate-led, drop in virtual self-care space for Mason student survivors of any type of trauma and/or students in recovery. This is an opportunity for students working towards healing and recovery to be in community with other students. This is not a therapeutic group. As these are drop-in times, students may join as many group times at they want and may choose how often and which ones they attend.

For more information, please visit the SSAC website or contact Courtney Diener. For SSAC event and training details, please visit the SSAC Events Site.

Mason Joins Campuses Nationwide in Effort To Be Voter Friendly

Fairfax, VA – George Mason University is one of over two hundred campuses in thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia designated as a “Voter Friendly Campus.” The initiative, led by national nonpartisan organizations Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project (CVP) and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, held participating institutions accountable for planning and implementing practices that encourage their students to register and vote in 2020 elections and in the coming years.

The mission of the Voter Friendly Campus designation is to bolster efforts that help students overcome barriers to participating in the political process. Our campus was evaluated based on a campus plan for how we would register, educate, and turnout student voters in 2020, how we facilitated voter engagement efforts on our campus, and a final analysis of our efforts - all in the face of the upheaval caused by a global pandemic. The designation is valid through December 2022.

As part of our effort to be designated a voter-friendly campus, Mason had ambitious goals to increase voter turnout and implement multiple campus-wide strategies in a virtual format amidst the pandemic. Our coalition grew over the course of the 2020 election and successfully conducted a well-rounded, thoughtful, and effective series of voter education events. From ballot issues, to the basics of how to vote during a pandemic, to hosting a dialogue on the many “what ifs” connected with 2020 election results, our coalition of faculty, staff, and students delivered a robust and intentional menu of events for Mason students.

The primary goals of our efforts this year were to:

  • Increase participation from academic partners and faculty
  • Create virtual voter engagement initiatives
  • Expand the Mason Votes network to increase student participation, incorporate Mason Votes into the first-year experience, and promote engagement through dialogue programming

We made advances in each of the areas highlighted above and managed to do so during challenging and unprecedented times. These focus areas continue to expand the type of programs and outreach we are able to do. The core of our Mason Votes team grew with the addition of members from the Office of Community Engagement and Civic Learning and Coalition Building and Diversity Education.

We had an increased number of faculty and academic units collaborating with Mason Votes over the course of our programming, especially during fall 2020. Because Mason is a large and decentralized university with many students who do not fit into traditional “18-24” student populations, we have many students who work, only take evening courses, are parents, etc. Connecting with academic units expanded our student reach and we were able to reach students who have not typically interfaced with student organizations in the past. These partnerships also helped expand our areas of expertise and we look forward to continued success in this area moving forward.

George Mason University has made a strong statement about the civic mission of higher education to prepare students to be engaged participants in our democracy and is excited to continue engaging students through 2021, 2022, and beyond.

“Our proximity to the Nation's Capital places us in the middle of the critical conversations, policies, and decision-making that impact the future of not just our campus, but our nation and our world. We draw students who are very interested in politics and policy and are able to have their classrooms extend from the wall of campus into Washington, DC, and beyond. This interest in politics leads to a campus environment rich in political interest, discourse, and engagement.

We look forward to continuing to expand and deepen our democratic engagement programming moving forward. The events of 2020 and our current political climate further highlight the importance of sustained democratic conversations and the incorporation of civic engagement and civic values into the curriculum and student programming year-round, not just during election years. We look forward to collaborating with our partners to develop new and creative democratic engagement programs and initiatives while also learning from the successes and challenges of our peer institutions," explained Kristen Wright, Director of Civic Engagement, Office of the Provost.

The institutions designated Voter Friendly Campuses to represent a wide range of two-year, four-year, public, private, rural, and urban campuses. Notably, the list of designated institutions includes many Minority Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The program is ultimately serving millions of students.


George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity, and commitment to accessibility. For more information visit gmu.edu.

NASPA is the leading association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession. Our work provides high-quality professional development, advocacy, and research for 15,000 members in all 50 states, 25 countries, and 8 U.S. territories.

Fair Elections Center is a national, nonpartisan voting rights and legal support organization that works to eliminate barriers to voting and improve election administration across the United States. Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project works with universities, community colleges, faculty, students and election officials to reduce barriers to student voting and helps campuses institutionalize reforms that empower students with the information they need to register and vote.

Header image for Advance Program at Mason Article

As with many community colleges and regional public universities, the path from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, has become heavily traveled over the years.

To smooth that path for students, the two schools in 2018 implemented the ADVANCE program, which among other benefits, assigns them one of six “success coaches,” who counsel them throughout their time at both schools and ensure they take the right courses, in the right order and in the most efficient way possible toward completion. The program also provides NOVA students with George Mason health insurance benefits and ID cards so they can use libraries and recreational facilities.

Read full article on Community College Daily.

New To University Life

Please join us in welcoming our new and newly promoted colleagues to the University Life team!

Center for the Advancement of Well-Being
Whitney Hopler, Web and Communications Manager

Disability Services
Jennifer Early, Associate Director, MASI

International Programs and Services
Michelle Melo, Graduate Professional Assistant for Intercultural Engagement

New Student and Family Programs
Daylen Orlick, Assistant Director, Family Programs
Student Conduct
Moira Jones, Graduate Professional Assistant, Case Adjudication and Management
Student Health Services
Dionne Dolphin, Saturday Registered Nurse
Lois Doyle, Lead Nurse
Cameron Hoffman, Registered Nurse
Stacey Mihelich, Clinic Administrative Specialist
Brandon Scott, Medical Assistant COVID

Header for Awards and Recognition


Northern Virginia 40 Under 40, Leadership Center for Excellence

  • Dorothy Hayden, University Career Services

Scholarship Award

  • Taylor Campbell was the recipient of the David W. Rossell Endowed Scholarship for Higher Education Program (NODA)

Spirit of King Award

  • Kheia Hilton received the Spirit of King Award during the MLK Evening of Reflection, January 2021
  • Joseph Deluna, nominated for the Spirit of King Award, January 2021

University Life Outstanding Service Awards

  • Ashley Bus-Morgan, International Programs and Services
  • Lisa Park, Student Health Services
  • Kelly Reid, Student Centers
  • Philip Wilkerson, University Career Services

University Life Partnership Award

  • Jayson Padilla, Social Action and Integrative Learning (SAIL), Fall 2020
  • Jade Perez, Enrollment Management, Fall 2020

University Life Positive Impact Awards

  • Ebony Amis, International Programs and Services
  • Bernadette Davies, University Career Services


  • Amira Aly, ADVANCE Success Coach, received InsideTrack Success Coaching Certification
  • Allison Castro, University Life Human Resources Services, earned the SHRM-SCP (senior certified professional)
    SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) are HR professionals who develop strategies, lead the HR function, foster influence in the community, analyze performance metrics, and align HR strategies to organizational goals
  • Glenda Cosby, Success Coach, received InsideTrack Success Coaching Certification
  • Taylor Dilley, Success Coach, received InsideTrack Success Coaching Certification
  • Micah Hodges, Success Coach, received InsideTrack Success Coaching Certification
  • Susan Schott, Success Coach, received InsideTrack Success Coaching Certification
  • Ket Rethsuda, University Life Human Resources Services, earned the SHRM-CP (certified professional)
    SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) are HR professionals who implement policies and strategies, serve as point of contact for staff and stakeholders, deliver HR services, and perform operational HR functions
  • Victoria Suarez, University Career Services
    Earned Oracle Certified Foundations Associate, Java Certification
  • Laura Winkler, University Career Services
    Earned Licensed Professional Counselor from State of Virginia Board of Counseling

Academic Accomplishments

  • Emilie Dubert, Contemporary Student Services, successfully defended her Ph.D. portfolio I, December 2020
  • Wai Ling Fong, Mason Care Network, successfully defended her Ph.D. portfolio II, December 2020
  • TJ Pegg, Mason Care Network, became a doctoral candidate, October 2020

Professional Association Leadership

  • Joseph Deluna was appointed one of the Co-Chairs of the Non-Traditional Student Network for NODA
  • Joseph Deluna served as Co-Chair of Technology and Special Projects for NODA’s first fully-virtual annual conference, November 2020
  • Rick Gray serves on the Annual Conference Advisory Committee for NODA
  • Eddie Higginbotham served as the Annual Conference Chair for NODA’s first fully-virtual annual conference, November 2020
  • Dr. Adrienne White will be serving on the Journal of College Student Development’s Research in Brief Review Board for a 3-year term
List of this quarter's contributing authors

A big THANK YOU to this month's contributors

Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment
Lex Lewis-Semien
Dr. Amber Holton-Thomas

Student Support and Advocacy Center
Courtney Diener
Dr. Maggie Olszewska

University Career Services
Saskia Campbell

University Life

Alissa Karton
Dr. Creston Lynch
Dr. Lori Scher
Amy Snyder

University Life Finance
Rosalynn Holder Wiggins

University Life Marketing
Sanglin Chang
Jada Robinson
Atossa Shafaie
Karen Wolf