Skip to main

Deans Blog: Taking initiative — a key to STEM success

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

If you ask 'What is the secret to success?' some may say, 'hard work.' Others may suggest it's 'being at the right place at the right time,' or maybe even 'it's who you know.' Some others might attribute it to luck.

I would add one other element to a list of how to achieve the highest levels of success—one's ability to take initiative.

In Mason's College of Science, we offer many opportunities to take initiative, grow, and succeed. Applying and coming to Mason is an excellent demonstration of taking initiative for a large percentage of our undergraduate learners who are first-generation college students. Our researchers are also taking initiative, using creative and innovative approaches to solve difficult problems.

Life consists of a variety of opportunities for success along one's journey, and they're not all going to come directly to you. We encourage Mason scientists to take initiative, look for opportunities, research them thoroughly, and sometimes even do the extra work, or take a risk, to try something new or to grow.

Truly, to consider how to achieve your vision for success, it's helpful to proactively identify what steps one must take, what stands in your way, or perhaps even what might be holding you back. This past weekend, mathematics students at Mason were offered an opportunity to go through a day long Math Boot Camp to expand their mathematical skills and problem-solving abilities. This activity aimed to close any sequential gaps in mathematical concepts that build on each other as one advances in scientific learning. 

Now that's what I call taking initiative.

I greatly appreciate our Mathematical Sciences faculty, staff, and graduate assistants who spent time to help these students who took the initiative to brush up on mathematical fundamentals; on a Saturday. The department plans to offer another Math Boot Camp in April and a math readiness summer camp for incoming freshmen at the end of July.

According to an EducationWeek research study in January 2020 (BEFORE the pandemic), as many as one in five U.S. adults report experiencing severe math anxiety. In many cases, once students came back into schools for post-pandemic learning, folks realized they might have to work even harder to help students recall and demonstrate their sequential mathematical skills they would need to be successful at a higher education level.

The recent national "report card" clearly shows the mathematics skill gap. The pandemic disruption to learning has made it difficult for some students to quickly recall even basic math concepts. Some of our educators noticed a gap in skills, so they stepped forward and created a possible solution. Our college offered for the first time an early semester Math Boot Camp to help students come up to speed quickly as a semester begins. And for the students who took the extra initiative to learn and grow, ideally they will reap the benefits.

According to Mason mathematics student, Tracey O. who served as a learning assistant at this recent Boot Camp to help undergraduates, taking initiative is something our students can do throughout their educational journeys. She ran off a list of many experiential learning examples, submitting entries in Mason’s Three Minute Thesis, a graduate student competition each spring to showcase and enhance science communication skills; requesting feedback and mentorship; and spending summers abroad researching with our School of Systems Biology faculty in Italy and exploring mathematical concepts in Germany. She took the initiative to pursue opportunities like these to grow and looked for funding to support her interests.

How do these opportunities happen? Students can engage with faculty and attend information sessions to learn about different programs. But just knowing something is available isn't enough. One must take the initiative and time to apply. An aside, Tracey G. did say her Mason advisors were super supportive and a key motivator in helping her through the application process to present papers and pursue research opportunities. Yes, advisors and faculty may strongly encourage you to engage. But ultimately it comes down to your own drive, determination, and initiative. 

As each of us visualizes our own success, I encourage you to go for it. After all, you are more than worth the time and effort.


Visit the dean's blog for more insights from Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm.