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Deans Blog: Learn from leaders

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

This is the time of year when many thousands of students and their families are deciding whether and where to apply to university or even considering college acceptance letters to make one of the most important future decisions of a young person’s life. Where should they pursue their education and explore their professional future?

To make this decision, some people consider the success of a university based on the success of their athletics program. Others look at whether their educational experience should be closer to or far away from home. I would contend, one of the top considerations should include the expertise of the faculty and the connections of the programs within the fields one intends to pursue.

It’s also about a student-centric culture. 

In addition, do these scientific leaders have a demonstrated commitment to student success, beyond just one’s own personal advancement? Are students participating in meaningful and well-funded research, presenting their own discoveries, creating professional connections, and authoring papers in their areas of interest?

Here in Mason’s College of Science, we are fortunate to not just have faculty with instructional and scientific discipline expertise, these faculty are also highly committed to engaging and mentoring students on their own individual paths to scientific discovery.

For example, consider the globally renowned Forensic Science program and its director, Mary Ellen O’Toole. With criminal activities dominating the news these days, she has been counted on by the national and local media to explain numerous cases and interpret evidence and criminal activities in clear, informative ways. (Newsweek, CBS News, Fox News, CNN, Inside Higher Ed). She leverages her decades of experience as an FBI profiler to enhance our classroom and lab experiences and she’s building a program that will uniquely position its graduates for success either in the public or private sectors.

The forensic program’s most recent news? Our faculty are the first to be trained to teach our students how to use FARO’s state of the art equipment to assess a crime scene. Because this tech is cutting edge, our students will be learning along with professional practitioners which makes for both credible networking opportunities and practical experience building.

To us, this academic leadership is just as important as athletic success.  Don't get me wrong, you saw tons of Mason Patriot Pride when our basketball team made the Final Four, or as our track teams continue to excel and produce Olympians. But I’d maintain there are fundamentally broader considerations to take into account when choosing a university.

Our Mason Science faculty and staff strive to provide a premier student experience with transformational learning opportunities, providing elite academic and research pathways for anyone who seeks it. Mason’s scientists are addressing the grand challenges of our society--diagnosing and preventing the spread of COVID-19, exploring both outer space and diagnostics for conditions like cancer and Lyme disease, forecasting climate impact across Virginia and around the world, and addressing biodiversity, sustainability, and the impacts of artificial intelligence, and hunger.

Our faculty seek to solve big problems and are fully committed to accessible STEM education globally.  I’m proud to be a part of it. And I look forward to greeting the next group of scientific leaders deciding now to join our growing ranks, ready to learn from our leaders.