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Always think like a scientist

The acronym KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. And as a student-focused organization in higher education, some might say graduation is one of our most important KPIs.

College of Science Dean Fernando Miralles Wilhelm at the college's 2022 degree celebration

Last month, the College of Science held its degree celebration, my first traditional graduation as our college’s dean in Mason’s Eagle Bank Arena. The year before, we gathered in large outdoor areas near the arena due to COVID concerns, inviting graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021. All were just thankful to convene in person at all, for the year prior was a virtual commemorative event. Progress.

This Class of 2022 celebration was bigger in my mind than usual – commemorating Mason’s 50th anniversary, it was definitely something special considering perhaps half of graduates’ undergraduate journey and maybe the majority of their master’s level work at Mason occurred when the world was in COVID-mode. Consider the grit and determination deployed to reach this milestone—by students, faculty and staff. What a great day!

There were many students and proud supporters in the stands who were inspired by our speakers.

We acknowledged Donna Fox, our Associate Dean of Student Affairs, biology professor, and lead of the college’s Enlisted to Medical Degree Program, on her pending retirement later this year. Thank you, Donna for orchestrating our graduation festivities for many years, and especially for your tremendous service and dedication to our students’ day to day and overall success.

Speaking of honoring lasting impact, this year’s graduation program also referenced some of our dear colleagues who have departed since our last graduation ceremony. One of those referenced was Environmental Science and Policy professor and Mason Institute for a Sustainable Earth Science Director, Tom Lovejoy. I recently learned from our partners at the National Zoo that their 8-month-old male golden-headed lion tamarin twins recently received their names. Tom was named in memory of Lovejoy, renowned conservationist and member of the Zoo’s Advisory Board, and Carmen was named for Carmen Thorndike, Dr. Lovejoy’s longtime Director of Operations. Tom and Carmen are the first of their endangered species born at the Zoo in 16 years. Less than 6,000 remain in Brazil due to deforestation, a focus area for Lovejoy’s biodiversity research.

Smithsonian's golden-headed lion tamarin twins named after Thomas Lovejoy and Carmen Thorndike

Caption for photo: The National Zoo shared characteristics of their 8-month-old male golden-headed lion tamarin twins recently named in memory of Mason Science professor and conservationist Thomas Lovejoy, and in honor of Carmen Thorndike, Dr. Lovejoy’s longtime Director of Operations.

Tom’s fur has a golden hue, and Carmen has a white patch on his tail. Small Mammal House keepers say Tom is the more outgoing and curious of the two, while Carmen is shyer and more reserved. Both enjoy interacting with enrichment puzzle feeders, especially when they’re filled with worms, peas, mango, papaya and blueberries!

As you can tell from the graduation live streamed recap video, our student speaker, Michael Reefe, a film and video studies major turned astrophysicist, encouraged us to break out of our comfort zone. Reefe also aptly described the impact our faculty can have on a student’s trajectory, specifically sending shout outs to confidence-building mentors, Physics and Astronomy professors Shobita Satyapal, Joe Weingartner, and Peter Plavchan.

Our keynote speaker, Walter McLeod, a clean-tech finance and policy leader who earned his graduate level chemistry degree at Mason, tapped into his more than 25 years of experience in business development, strategy, and government relations in the energy and mobility sectors to encourage our graduates to leverage their scientific training and way of thinking to benefit society.

McLeod, who also previously served as the president of our college alumni chapter, shared words from Mason President Washington’s recent commencement speech to describe our graduates as our future. “You’ve earned a degree from a university whose campus looks like what America will soon look like. With no ethnic majority. You’re accustomed to working and collaborating across cultures and diversity of origin, identity, circumstance and thought. This allows you to see the world more completely, think more creatively, and examine full truths.” 

McLeod implored our graduates to “Always think like a scientist. Stay curious. Always explore and ask questions. You’ve been taught the process. Don’t let it stop today. Take it to the next level.”

I take Walter McLeod’s charges to heart. Our Mason Science community should continue our drive and strengthen our resolve to help our students succeed. Let’s use the summer to consider our efforts and think creatively to take our work to the next level.