Skip to main

Dean’s Blog: Proud of our team

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

Last week, many across America watched the 147th Running of the Roses, the Kentucky Derby, perhaps the ultimate single event honor in equestrian racing. Bob Baffert, the trainer of the winning horse, Medina Spirit, set a Kentucky Derby record with his seventh career win at Churchill Downs. When discussing the accomplishment during a postrace interview, in addition to acknowledging the accomplishment, Baffert also said, "I couldn't be prouder of my team."

There were many times over the past week I found myself saying the same thing…”I couldn’t be prouder of my team.”

Recently, Thomas Lovejoy became the first Mason College of Science faculty inducted into the National Academy of Sciences recognizing his numerous and significant contributions to conservation biology. A University Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policyand a United Nations Foundation Senior Fellow, Lovejoy has conducted environmental research in the Brazilian Amazon for more than fifty years, and is among the world’s foremost experts on biodiversity, coining the term in 1980. As a recent member on the Scientific Advisory Group, Lovejoy helped craft the United Nations Environmental Programmes’ “Making Peace with Nature” report that envisions a sustainable economy driven by renewable energy and nature-based solutions as a way to combat global warming. 

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, then I learned three of the five presidential medal recipients at Mason this year will be College of Science faculty, honored for their impactful career of work. Congratulations to Jagadish Shukla, Padhu Seshaiyer, and Gerald Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon, our chemistry and biochemistry department chair, and the college’s Chief Diversity Officer – Faculty, will receive the United Bank Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion. This is a valuable and well-deserved recognition for his leadership and his contributions towards inclusive excellence within the College, at Mason, and much beyond.

Director of the Climate Dynamics program in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences and Managing Director of the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies (COLA), Shukla will receive the Beck Family Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Research & Scholarship for his pioneering work in climate science, his efforts and his contributions to the science enterprise at Mason and around the world.

Seshaiyer, a mathematical sciences professor and the college’s Associate Dean of Academic Innovations and Partnerships, will receive the Earle Williams Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Social Impact for his tireless and extensive work in academic innovations, forging countless STEM partnerships across the college and Mason, at the state, national, and international levels.

And there’s still more-- a number of our faculty recently were honored with the OSCAR 2021 virtual Celebration of Student Scholarship awards. Check out these video acceptance speeches from Mason Scientists like Amy Fowler, Hamdi Kavak, Jennifer Sklarew, who each were recognized for their efforts to mentor students, and to David Luther who was recognized by OSCAR for sustaining excellence.

Yet, my pride lies not just in such visible examples. There is also so much work going on behind the scenes by our staff and faculty. For example, there are hundreds who helped compose our Inclusive Excellence Plan, work hard each day to set up our labs and equipment, facilitate and administer COVID-19 vaccines, or even those who are working round the clock to pull off what will be my first in-person degree celebration and graduation as Dean of our College. Thanks to all of you for being difference makers.

What makes these accomplishments so remarkable is, let’s face it, this was no normal year. Our faculty and staff had to persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic, reimagining many a syllabus and shifting curriculum delivery, implementing changes to standard processes, all while making huge adjustments to day-to-day life. During this graduation, when we celebrate the Class of 2021 next week, those individuals actually symbolize our true reward -- we were able to keep our students’ dreams on track. In a world where not all things were certain, we were able to keep our systems and processes flexible. These heroic actions across the board make me proud of our team and I can’t wait to celebrate next week and beyond.