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Cultivating a questioning mindset

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

Inquisitiveness. Curiosity. Determination. These are some of the well-honed characteristics of a scientist at Mason. We are trained and encouraged to ask questions at every turn. To cultivate the spark of wonder. Why does this work the way it does? What would happen if we added this? Or how could we start/stop X to change something or make it better? With the X being anything from personalized treatments for breast cancer survivors to making transportation safer or more energy efficient, to tracking severe weather, or finding new exoplanets, scientists at Mason ‘solve for X’ a lot. 

These questions can also lead to process improvements, broader and more diverse perspectives, better health and workplace conditions, or enhanced research collaborations for our community. What type of an environment cultivates such curiosity? One where questions are encouraged and new ideas are welcomed with open arms. That's what innovation is all about. And the hallmark characteristics of curiosity and innovation our namesake’s patriots were known for are thriving here at George Mason University.

Teaching both the how and the why lets students broaden their understanding about their disciplines. That's how we get the first word of our mantra...UNDERSTAND. It's by asking questions. By running the data, time and time again. 

Enter the impact of data. Data driven decision making permeates society's every move and is so prevalent in higher education, Inside Higher Ed recently claimed all of us are ‘data people.’ Whether we rely on GPS tracking to tell us which is the fastest route home at the end of the day or we review the enrollment and class modality data to guide our decision making of what classes to offer when and how, data analysis has become a powerful tool for institutions to be more efficient, more personalized, more inclusive, or better optimized.

Over the past few weeks, some may have watched the collegiate Jeopardy competition.  

Jeopardy question about Mason

For those not familiar with the infamous question-driven quiz show, contestants are shown a description of something and they must shape their answer in the form of a question. It's a great way to acquire and test one’s knowledge about broad or complex subjects. At one point on the show, contestants even learned about George Mason University which was formed 50 years ago to fill a need for higher education in the Washington D.C. / northern Virginia area. 

Fast forward to now, as we celebrate Black History Month, in part by sharing scientific contributions of famous African American scientists both throughout history and today within our Mason science community. We also featured a question as we honored World Day of Social Justice by highlighting Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

As Mason approaches its 50th anniversary, we continue look back at the important need to encourage the questioning mindset of George Mason and trailblazing scientists who have shaped our nation. And we also look to our future Mason Science Patriots, fostering their curiosity to ask and seek answers to the important questions which will impact society’s future. How can your questions help us fulfil our mission?