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Dean’s Blog: It’s award season

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

In the entertainment world, January and February mark the “Award Season” where the Hollywood community comes together to nominate and recognize standout performances. For academia, our award season typically occurs each spring semester in April and May when countless nominating committees review recommendations for student performance, advisor and instructional excellence, community engagement, and successful demonstration of intellect and research impact. 

During our spring graduation and within our program, we will highlight the various student awards for each department. As this is my first spring at Mason, I had the opportunity to expand the awards from the dean. These now include the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Academics or Research, Dean’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching, Dean’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Research, and Dean’s Award for Excellence in Service. I will be presenting them during our in person mini degree celebration on May 10. As most of you are not attending that event, I wanted our whole community to know about the recipients for their significant accomplishments and contributions to the Mason Science community.

  • Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Academics or Research
    Melony Kim, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Dean’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching
    Patrick Ford Combs, School of Systems Biology
  • Dean’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Research
    Abdullah al Fahad, Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences
  • Dean’s Award for Excellence in Service
    The SPECTRUM Group Co-Founders, Department of Physics and Astronomy
    • Jenna Cann
    • Kathryn Fernandez
    • Natasha Latouf
    • Carly Solis

In addition, I am proud to announce that many of our faculty, staff, and students have distinguished themselves during what some might say is an unprecedented year to navigate. Join me in congratulating them both in this post and via social media and accolades throughout the coming months. 

For example, in an assessment of more than 800 submissions, Department of Biology’s Valerie Olmo was recognized as one of the top 10 advisers across all of Mason receiving recommendations for the 2021 V. Ann Lewis Academic Advisor of the Year. Congratulations, Val, and thank you for your excellent work to inspire and advocate for our students. 

In addition, during the university’s recent Three Minute Thesis ESP graduate student, Chase LaDue,received second place. And of the 10 finalists, three of them were from our college, congratulations to all. 

From the faculty and staff award perspective, kudos to the following honored by the Stearns Center for Teaching Excellence: Teaching Excellence Award Winners Glenn Preston, Department of Mathematical Sciences and David Luther, Department of Biology and Teachers of Distinction award winners Cynthia Smith, Department of Environmental Science and Policy and Stephanie Lessard-Pilon, Department of Biology.

Congratulations, also, to Outstanding Achievement Award Recipient Maria Walters, Human Resources Operations Analyst for the College of Science who was recognized at Mason’s Outstanding Achievements Awards Ceremony on April 13.  

We champion meaningful recognition for stellar work and accomplishments, for those who receive it understand their work has been noticed. It’s also quite a motivator, as learning about the good works of one’s peers allows all to strive to be their best selves. Although today, in some circles, there’s a mindset such that every person should receive some recognition or trophy. Unfortunately, that’s not always how it goes with one big exception --all students who work hard and successfully demonstrate their intellect will receive a George Mason University diploma -- a very just reward. And all our faculty and staff need only to look introspectively to recognize that internal ‘why’ they do their work. For, well beyond the accolades, awards and citations, each of us can revel in the feeling that we have made a difference in the lives of our students, our communities, and the scientific fields that we represent. And that is the most important award anyone can receive.

On a separate note, as I was finalizing these lines, the trial of the death of George Floyd concluded with a jury verdict of guilty on all 3 murder charges. As I watched the news come out, I felt a mix of sadness, relief and justice being served. My sense about this tragic and horrible death at multiple levels is frustration: you don't lean with your knee on a handcuffed person's neck for more than 9 minutes no matter who you are, who the person laying on the ground is, where you are or whatever the circumstances may be; no matter what; period. I am comforted by the fact that the jury deliberated quickly and rendered an unequivocal verdict. It is a bit of hope that the future will bring us more justice, peace and freedom.