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Dean’s blog: Milestones to celebrate and help us grow

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

Basketball and a scientist’s research trajectory both offer meaningful milestones worth celebrating.

During March Madness when the NCAA basketball tournaments provide us with exciting game after game, I can’t help but think of both teams on the court. One team emerges victorious and the other experiences the agony of defeat. We interview the victors. Yet, I also wonder about the other team and how they handle the milestone moment. Do the players of the team leaving the illustrious brackets relish thoughts of the journey for this special milestone or do they spend their time stuck in the moment of not moving forward? It’s critically important to ‘stop and smell the roses’ during these milestone moments. And then move onward.

 Think back and consider how much time and energy all of these athletes have put in just to get to this point. Some played basketball since they first started elementary school. To reach and succeed at such an elite level, they had to put in the time to practice and prepare, so when the game is on the line and they are taking their shot, they have confidence the ball will drop through the net.

Many here at George Mason University can recount our Patriot’s illustrious march to the Final Four in 2006. For schools fortunate enough to achieve such a milestone, the journey swells brand awareness and school pride. It also presents opportunities for those universities involved to grow.

According to a current NCAA advertising campaign, did you know only 2 percent of college athletes become professional athletes in their sport? The majority of these student athletes will go on to become scientists, lawyers, educators, policy makers, or various other professionals bolstered by their educational experiences. So universities have the charge to help prepare these athletes with skills and abilities beyond sports for other life milestones yet to come.

We help our students successfully hone their scientific skills by offering many opportunities to present their research. Whether it’s at our upcoming Undergraduate Research Colloquium or at the recent graduate level Three Minute Thesis, researchers can step into the research spotlight to share their efforts and learn how to effectively explain their results. And whether they win or lose, just taking the opportunity is part of the learning experience.

For Mason PhD students, the Three Minute Thesis is their respective March Madness. A field of over 80 researchers were whittled down to 50, then down to a dozen finalists who were challenged to describe years of work within a three-minute presentation. Congratulations to the four students who represented the College of Science at this year’s event: Amy Carfagno, Tracey G Oellerich, Jessica Roberts, and Callista M Skaggs. Regardless of their outcome, we are proud of your accomplishment and hope you can channel this experience to enhance your abilities.

There’s still time for our students to submit abstracts for this year’s virtual Undergraduate Research Colloquium, which are due next Monday April 4, 2022, the same day the NCAA basketball champ is crowned and Mason kicks off its 50th Anniversary week of events. I encourage you to engage in the university’s milestone celebrations to come. Whether it’s the Fiftieth Anniversary events, or our graduation celebration back in the Eagle Bank Arena, it’s at these moments when educators and families can celebrate the success of their scientists.

Speaking of success from undergraduate experiences, allow this proud papa just a moment to brag as I’m celebrating a successful science milestone of my daughter’s. It seems fitting as we conclude Women’s History Month to highlight a Women in STEM success story. My daughter, Andrea Miralles Barboza, inspired by her undergraduate science experience, just secured a position at NOAA to study climate from a social science lens.  

Whether it be as a parent, a faculty or staff member interacting with our scientists, a coach watching players succeed, or our university honoring 50 years, let’s take the time to celebrate meaningful milestones, for they spur us to our best work and greatest potential.