On Wednesday, April 9, the George Mason University Alumni Association recognized its most prestigious alumni, as well as Senior of the Year and Faculty Member of the Year, at an elegant dinner in the Mason Inn Conference Center and Hotel.
For a look at the biographies of those honored that night, please take a look at the program available online. The top four award winners are profiled below.
Dale “Dusty” Wince, Alumnus of the Year
By Preston Williams
Alumnus of the year awards tend to go to graduates with weathered State U. stickers on their bumpers and the dates for homecoming annually circled on their calendars, alma mater loyalists who fondly recall the campus friendships and academic challenges that helped define their young adulthood.
Dale “Dusty” Wince, the 2014 Mason Alumnus of the Year, is none of those things. He didn’t attend the university as a wide-eyed 18-year-old. He attended Mason in his late 40s, as an esteemed businessman with teenage children, to satisfy a nagging urge to add an MBA to his extensive résumé and experience academia in a way he never could have before.
Wince, 51, dropped out of a small California college his freshman year in the early 1980s to return to the East Coast to help bail out the business of his grandfather, a Pearl Harbor veteran who had raised him. Wince went on to launch and sell businesses of his own, and in 2000 he founded Knowledge Consulting Group (KCG), a cybersecurity firm that now has 250 employees. He is KCG’s CEO.
College came later. Wince earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Phoenix in 2007 and an Executive MBA from Mason’s School of Management in 2012. When Wince graduated, he was chosen by the faculty—Dean Sarah Nutter was one of his professors—as Outstanding Graduate and was inducted into the Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society.
That was only the start of his contributions to Mason. Wince donated $100,000 to establish the Mason Student Venture Fund that awards the winners of the School of Management’s annual Dean’s Business Plan Competition, an event where he served as a judge. Wince secured funds to help establish the recently opened Mason Innovation Lab and is the founding member of the Center for Global Business Advisory Board, whose resources benefit budding student entrepreneurs.
Despite his many professional accomplishments and busy home life, Wince fell hard for Mason, as hard as any 18-year-old with a head full of ideas and a boundless future.
“I thought I would go and be done and never be connected to the school,” he says. “There’s just something about it that I’m drawn to, from the students to the professors to the entire staff. I was able to learn from the professors, and the students never cease to amaze me.
“There were always a lot of discussions after the lectures were done. [My classmates] would come to me and say, ‘I heard what was said in class. What happens in the real world?’ I found I enjoyed that a lot. Not saying what I know is right or wrong—just sharing my experience.”
That experience is vast. Before founding KCG, Wince served as vice president of CIBER Enterprise Integration Practice, which came after a stint as cofounder and vice president of Business Impact Systems. He began his career with Electronic Data Systems.
Wince believes the educational adversities he had to overcome ultimately aided in his success. Even so, he and his wife, Shari, have wished for a more traditional path for their children—Mason graduate Chelsey, 24; Dustin, 21; and Bryce, 18.
Helping students launch satisfying careers will be one of Wince’s many missions at Mason. He continues to guest lecture and serve on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the School of Management.
“I really think my work is just beginning at the school,” the alumnus of the year says. “I have another family and another life—and that’s Mason.”
Sirena Johnson, Alumni Service Award
By Corey Jenkins Schaut, MPA ’07
Sirena Johnson, BS Accounting ’99, describes hers as “a typical Mason story.” Like many alumni, she was the first in her family to go to college and often carried a heavy course load while working full time. She credits her Mason education for opening doors.
But really, she started opening those doors for herself when she was 15.
At a time when many high school students were working part time in fast-food joints, Johnson was already pursuing a career as a lawyer, learning the ropes at a law firm in her hometown of Warrenton, Virginia.
Her aspirations started to change when she was in college, however. Taking a job in the accounting department of a government contractor determined that she would pursue an accounting degree.
Through it all, she has appreciated her time as a Mason student. It is what drives her to volunteer significant time for the university, earning her the 2014 Alumni Service Award.
“I received such a great education that enabled me to be where I am today,” she says. “It’s a good thing to be able to give back.”
Johnson is treasurer of the School of Management Alumni Chapter and an active member of the Women in Business Steering Committee. In the past year, she has sat on three award selection committees for the School of Management that have recognized students and alumni. She also participated as a panelist for the Women in Business Networking Series’ Kickoff Luncheon in 2013. All this is in addition to her day job as a principal at Thompson Greenspon, a certified public accounting firm in Fairfax, where she has worked since 1999.
Previous to this honor, she received the School of Management Alumni Service Award in 2013. Professionally, she has been named a Super CPA by Virginia Business Magazine in the Small Business Consulting category for three years running.
Johnson offers some advice to young women with career aspirations like she had as a student.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself,” she says. “You can be assertive and still be nice at the same time. But you have to be the cheerleader for you.”
Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, Faculty Member of the Year
By Mary Frances Forcier
Spend 10 minutes with Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, and you’ll walk away inspired, challenged, and with at least a few new ideas.
His innate curiosity, ability to connect areas of inquiry, and skill at explaining complex concepts make him a powerful presence in Mason classrooms and laboratories.
But—fittingly, for one trained as an electrical engineer—Seshaiyer is not just a power source; he’s an amplifier. At Mason and around the world, he helps teachers and students to develop their own inspiration, challenge, and wonder—and to pass those powers on to others. It is why the Mason Alumni Association has chosen to recognize him as the 2014 Faculty Member of the Year.
As professor of mathematical sciences at George Mason University, Seshshaiyer serves as the director of the STEM Accelerator Program as well as the director of Center for Outreach in Mathematics Professional Learning and Educational Technology (COMPLETE).
In his native India, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering and a master’s degree in mathematics, Seshaiyer gained deep theoretical knowledge. It was when he came to the United States in 1994 as a doctoral student in applied mathematics, he says, “that I could ‘learn by doing’ and really see how math can solve real-world problems.”
His research in computational biomechanics, for example, includes developing, extending, and applying mathematics for the purposes of better understanding the physiology and pathophysiology of the human vascular system.
“How can I model the growth of an aneurysm to provide solid data to a neurosurgeon so they can make a decision about whether or not to operate on a patient?” he said. “This is the real-world application of mathematics that really makes a difference in people’s lives.”
He has shared that inquiry-based, problem-solving approach to math with his Mason students, as well as to teachers of STEM in the region, the country and the world.
“I don’t start any class with a topic,” Seshaiyer said. “First, I introduce a problem and then have students discover the solution. Then they’re the ones who have figured out how the principle solves the problem; they’re not just memorizing a formula.”
One of the leading mathematics educators in the country, he was appointed to the U.S. National Commission for Mathematics Instruction by the National Academy of Sciences. He was selected to be one of the Nifty Fifty speakers by the USA Science and Engineering Festival in 2010 and 2011.
The impact of his work extends worldwide: with the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, he is working to develop mathematics education and the capacity for mathematical problem-solving in sub-Saharan Africa.
“There are so many social and public health issues that can be solved through applying mathematical models,” he said. “We are just beginning.”
David Lucas, Senior of the Year
By Preston Williams
Mason finance major and volleyball player David Lucas, the 2014 Senior of the Year, has been so busy the past four years studying, competing, interning, and working as a teaching assistant in the School of Management that he has not taken a full account of his impact on the university.
His professors, mentors, and coach certainly have kept track, though. Reading the raves in their recommendation letters has been a gratifying and humbling experience for the University Scholars Program standout.
Take the kudos from self-described “tough grader” James T. Bennett, an economics professor who has written few letters of recommendation for undergraduates during his more than four decades at the university because so few students ask, assuming that they will fall short of his lofty standards. Bennett is the only George Mason professor in four years to issue Lucas a grade lower than an A. He saddled his prize pupil with a B+ last spring in the Political Economy of Nonprofit Institutions course. But it was the highest grade awarded in the class.
“I have taught literally thousands of students and would rank him in the top five,” Bennett wrote to the Senior of the Year Selection Committee. Among his other words to describe Lucas were “inquisitive,” “imaginative,” “thoughtful,” “tenacious,” “hardworking,” “totally reliable,” “determined,” and “motivated.”
And those were in just one paragraph.
“It’s still a little bit mindboggling every time I read it,” Lucas says. “He’s always been positive toward me, but some of the things written in there are like, gee, is that really me that’s being talked about? It’s a blessing to have someone think that highly of you, especially someone I respect so much.”
Even beyond the typical senior year reflecting, there are other reasons for Lucas to pause and ponder his years at Mason. During his senior year at Centennial High in Ellicott City, Maryland, it appeared that he would not be able to follow in the footsteps of his father, Ric, and brother, Eric, to play volleyball at Mason. The Patriots’ program had reached its roster cap and could not offer the young libero a spot on the team.
“I was a little disappointed,” recalls Lucas, now a Mason co-captain whose father and brother rank first and second, respectively, on the school’s all-time single season dig records list and whose mother, Linda, also played college volleyball. “It had taken me a while to decide where to go, but I really did want to continue the family tradition and be a part of Mason. And then it was gone.”
Mason volleyball coach Fred Chao believed in Lucas and what he could offer not only to his program, but to the university. Chao requested and received special dispensation from Intercollegiate Athletics to add Lucas to the team.
So not only did Lucas come to Fairfax after all, he is extending his stay. He will remain at Mason as a Mercatus scholar in the economics doctorate program.
An avid musician with a strong religious faith, Lucas eventually plans to use his economics background to help developing communities transcend poverty. He and a sister, Bethany, a student in Mason’s School of Nursing, will continue the Lucas family’s Mason tradition.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way things have worked out,” the Senior of the Year says. “I feel like I was meant to be here.”