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Go West, Young Gunston

The university mascot is providing scholarly inspiration to California grade school students

Gunston has gone west. A class at Agua Caliente School in Cathedral City, California, has adopted Mason’s furry mascot and taken an interest in the university.

A letter to Mason from second-grade teacher Amy Kudlac led to a partnership between the university and her students, who are participating in a schoolwide initiative called “No Excuses University,” which is designed to encourage college aspirations among its students. Each class at Agua Caliente adopted one college.

“A lot of them didn’t even know what a college was when I first introduced the project,” Kudlac says. “Agua Caliente is in a very low-income area. Most of the parents don’t speak English, and college isn’t really talked about.”

“When we heard about the idea, we thought it was really cool, and we said we’d love to help,” says Lisa Snyder, BA Integrative Studies ’01, associate director of the Leadership and Development Office in University Life.

Snyder started a pen pal program between the students at Agua Caliente and Mason students on the Leadership Empowerment and Motivation Team. The team came up with the idea for “Flat Gunston,” a takeoff on the Flat Stanley book series. As the story goes, a basketball player fell on Gunston during a game, making him a flat mascot. He was therefore able to travel through an envelope to visit with the students. The Office of University Life also sent the schoolchildren a box of Mason gear, including t-shirts, temporary tattoos, pencils, and stuffed baby Gunstons.

“Every Monday, we all wear college T-shirts to school,” says Kudlac. “They all really enjoyed [the letter writing], and they learned college vocabulary words, like what a dormitory is and what it means to graduate. They are already say-ing things like, ‘I’m going to get a scholarship, I’m going to go to Mason.’”