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Dean's blog: We can stand strong together

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

During last week’s State of the College address, I noted the pride we take in serving our students. Driven by access, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, we pursue exciting and consequential educational experiences and research. And we thrive by actively engaging within our community, collaborating with sought after professional partners.

On the one hand, these are exciting times. Mason Science total enrollment has grown across the board. And we seek to further invest in student support. We are preparing to launch the most ambitious advancement campaign in the college’s history. And this week, the steering committee and working group members met to officially kick off our strategic planning effort. This process will provide the strategy and structure to reach our audacious, important goals over the next few years.

However, these are also tumultuous times, with challenges ahead. One of the challenges I noted in my address was the mental health crisis. For some, these unsettling times can be overwhelming.

And for those who need it, we must be there to help.

Be alert to those who may be struggling because of what’s happening at home, whether it be in one’s home country, or at home here in northern VA. Mason is such a diverse environment and, living and working this close to the global epicenter of Washington, D.C., we get a unique perspective on world events each day. Whether it’s aiding hurricane ravaged communities in Florida, or supporting our staff, students, and faculty affected by the war raging in Ukraine, we must understand where help is needed and support the many people impacted by these current events.

Consider the continuing protests in Iran, especially since the death of 22 year old, Mahsa Amini and the ripple effect it has had around the world. How might this global issue affect our Iranian student population? For that matter, the whole Muslim community at Mason? It’s definitely an extremely difficult time for those impacted, and we are deeply concerned and care about their welfare. Whether it’s offering a listening ear, or sharing information about the free counseling Mason offers, take time to help each other.

According to our Associate Dean for Student Affairs, Dr. Donna Fox, “if any of your students are struggling with difficulties, please ask them to contact CAPS. They have a crisis hotline and are ready to help anyone who needs it. Please don’t forget that Graduate Teaching Assistants and professors can also refer students of concern by submitting an online form through the Student Support and Advocacy Center (SSAC). If you click on ‘forms’ in the menu bar the referral form will be in the drop-down menu. Someone from the SSAC team will reach out to them.”

Don’t underestimate the value of a caring heart and an empathetic ear. Taking time to listen and support those around you can and does make a difference. That is part of what makes our Mason Science community such a special place.

This need to help recently hit home for me too. As you may know, the U.S. government just approved a petition process for Venezuelan refugees following the model being used for Ukraine. In an effort to support those who are trying to leave the country and its oppressive regime, my family and I introduced a petition to sponsor and host a Venezuelan refugee. I am grateful for the opportunity to do this, as the situation back home has weighed heavily on my mind for years.

It’s fitting to consider helping others face their respective darkness as we celebrate Diwali, India's most important holiday of the year. This ‘festival of lights’ holiday, which started on Oct. 24 and is celebrated over five days, celebrates light prevailing over darkness, or good prevailing over evil.

The challenges ahead for our Mason Science community are real. Yet, I’d say, despite these challenges, it's an exciting time for Mason Science. The strategic planning process will help us put initiatives and systems in place to address what lies before us. The important effort will set our vision, goals, strategies, and actions for the next five years.​ We seek to re-envision our college culture, how we operate.​ We look to diversify and expand revenue sources; become more efficient operationally, while we work diligently to establish our brand.

Our research mission is to produce science that enhances society. In these unprecedented times, I’d also add we must strive to do so in a supportive, caring environment. By offering a quality education and creating clear pathways for students, we aspire to enhance wellbeing and economic development in the region, the nation, and around the world.

Let’s embrace this time and stand strong. Together.

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