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Dean's Blog: Taking our collective scientific success from Good to Great

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

Last week, two very important conversations took place on our campus which set a starting point and foundation for future dialogue and action. Both occurred on Thursday, November 4.

First, we visited with Mason’s president, Dr. Gregory Washington to review the University’s and our contributions to accomplishments over the past year and the challenges we collectively will face in the months ahead. I appreciate all those staff and faculty who attended this discussion, especially those who were able to join us in Merten Hall, and those who took the initiative to ask questions and share their concerns.

Dr. Washington outlined his Access to Excellence vision including the Mason Virginia Promise: a pathway toward the bachelor’s degree or one’s own business for every Virginian who wants it—touting our academic and research pathways along with Mason's 26 small business development centers across the state ready to train and support entrepreneurs who seek to turn their innovative ideas into businesses.

I refer to us as being in the ‘science success business.’

President Washington also reviewed the campus transformation ahead, detailing changes to the Fairfax and SciTech campuses that will affect our teaching and research environments—the strategy: future growth will be dictated by investment (a $1 billion capital campaign) and partnerships.

The president also described new initiatives to address faculty and staff compensation and professional development, and inclusivity; establish an Ombudsman’s office; and a program for dependent tuition coverage; in addition to the already in place efforts for post-COVID flexible work from home schedules and the campus-wide mental wellness initiative.

Washington said we have a lot to feel good about—standing up Mason’s COVID-19 testing and vaccination enterprise saved the organization about $50 million. And our scientific work, including what we are doing in sustainability, climate, quantum materials, and space to strive for a healthy society, economy, and planet with healthy people is making an impact.

Yet there are challenges: RECRUIT and retain high achieving students, faculty, and staff, especially as we shift into becoming an increasingly research-intensive college; BUILD a diverse, inclusive, equitable and thriving STEM workforce that can address the world’s future goals. And GROW financial resources for innovation, expansion, and opportunity to fulfil the promise of being in the success business.

But we can’t do any of these things without a fully inclusive science community. That’s where the second event from last week comes into play. Picture a Scientist is a documentary that I’d strongly recommend all researchers watch at least once to better understand the gender inequity and treatment that systematically impacts our global science community. I joined Mason’s Vice President of Research Andre Marshall and a number of our chairs, associate chairs for research, faculty, staff and students to screen the film and talk with its directors. Personally, each time I watch it (three times so far), I learn more, and better appreciate the struggles and challenges female scientists collectively have faced over time in their pursuit of scientific excellence.

As a college with a majority of women in our student ranks, (62% undergrad and 51% graduate science students at Mason are female), it is vital for us all to understand such inherent bias, some examples of which are addressed in the documentary, and strive to create a healthy environment of collegiality, equality and civility which fosters and champions scientific curiosity for all.

I look forward to addressing these overarching biases as we implement our inclusive excellence plan. It starts within each and every one of us, looking beyond what we think we know, and truly opening our minds and hearts to expand the way we think and feel about diverse perspectives.

We’ve got a challenging yet potentially great future ahead. 

Let’s do this.