When you think back on your college years, there most likely is a special professor who made your experience richer, going the extra mile to answer your questions after class. You may recall a staff member who was particularly helpful in the career center or financial aid office. For most university employees, it’s all in a day’s work, but for students, those encounters can make a noticeable difference in their college experience.
For many of the more than 5,000 university employees, working at Mason has become a passion that leads them beyond what’s outlined in their job descriptions.Their myriad ways to give back to the campus community and beyond have established lasting legacies. that will be remembered for generations of students to come.
George and Lou Cook
George Cook, now-retired from the School of Public Policy, and his wife, Lou, have been part of Mason since the university’s early days—and have been making charitable donations to Mason just as long. With nearly 30 years of consecutive giving, the Cooks hold the record for the longest term annual donors to the university. Their lifetime giving to the university tops more than $43,000.
Married 52 years, the Cooks, met on a blind date while they were students at George Washington University. This has given them a unique perspective on the benefits of a college education. On a higher plane, they both agree that offering a quality education to all is a prime responsibility of both government and private sector.
George’s affiliation with Mason began in 1972 when he was appointed to the first Board of Visitors for the newly independent George Mason University. He recalls that those initial meetings were held in Finley Hall, one of the Fairfax Campus’ original four buildings. He later served on the George Mason University Foundation Board of Trustees and joined the faculty of the School of Public Policy in 1993.
Before he joined the faculty, George worked for Colonial Parking. He was with the company 38 years and served as chairman of the board and CEO.
Lou also volunteered at Mason, serving on the Women’s Advisory Board in the late 1990s. But her advocacy for higher education began earlier. In 1986, while chair of the Alexandria School Board, she helped establish the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria, which raises scholarship money for academically qualified, financially needy students from T. C. Williams High School to help them afford post secondary education. “Since 1986,” Lou says, “We have awarded $6,613,234 in financial support for 3,109 students. I am really proud of this project especially since many of our recipients have returned to give back to the community.”
As part of their long charitable history with the university, the couple decided in 1999 to establish the Katherine Bernard Scholarship, which is named for Lou’s mother. The Cooks married during Lou’s senior year and found that scholarships for married women were few and far between. She says “I remembered this when we set up our scholarship and decided to make it open to married women, specifically those needing assistance in returning to college. George and I agreed that women applying for the Bernard Scholarship can use the award to fund whatever their greatest needs are, including child care.”
Their gifts to Mason and their relationship with the Development Office have worked well to meet the Cook’s personal goals.
“Even though I work full time, family obligations make it hard to fully fund my higher education on my lone salary,” one recipient of the Bernard Scholarship wrote the couple. “Please know that your contributions assist others in funding higher education.”
—Corey Jenkins Schaut, MPA ’07 and Maria Seniw, BA ’07
When Linda Schwartzstein, MA Economics ’91, PhD Economics ’94, began teaching at George Mason University Law School in 1979, she never imagined that someday she would be working in Mason’s central administration.
“I don’t think anybody grows up thinking they want to be a vice provost,” she says with a smile. Schwartzstein, who works as both vice provost for academic affairs and vice president for enrollment services, is delighted with how her professional path has evolved and says she is grateful for the 30-plus-year career she has had at Mason.
In fact, she is so grateful that she and her husband, Lee Goodwin, recently gave a major gift to Mason’s newly formed Honors College, an administrative initiative she had been working on since December 2008. The new college serves to streamline various honors activities that previously had been run by different university units. More important, the college offers more—and better—opportunities for high-achieving students.
Schwartzstein felt obliged to give for several reasons. “I have spent my career in higher education, and as corny as it may sound, I really believe that this is where we make dreams come true,” she says. “And to see the erosion of public support in the sense of the budget cuts is very troubling to me…. People who are successful are never successful just by themselves. So if they are, they really should recognize that and give back in some way to their community.”
Budget cuts aside, she is a firm believer in what the Honors College symbolizes. “It points to the achievement of the university, the past achievements we are building on and the future potential,” Schwartzstein says. “So being able to do something that helps move that along is meaningful to me, and I really hope it will encourage other people to decide to give.”
Lee and Marty Talbot
A day doesn’t go by in which Lee Talbot and his wife, Marty, aren’t making a difference in the world. Both explorers and scientists, the Talbots have made it their life’s work to educate people on and protect endangered species and land.
The couple met in 1959, and six weeks later were married and working on a two-and-a-half-year research safari in Africa tracking wildebeests and studying the ecosystem. Together, they have led more than 145 expeditions to remote areas on five continents. As an advisor for Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter, Lee helped write influential environmental legislation such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, which the Washington Post recently called America’s premiere environmental legislation. He also has helped protect land in Laos from development and has discovered new ethnic groups and plant and animal species. Marty is president of the Society of Women Geographers and was cofounder of the Student Conservation Association.
And yet, for all their globetrotting, the Talbots also have a great deal of influence here at home. Students in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at Mason clamor each semester to register for one of Lee’s courses. He’s developed eight different ones and teaches them in rotation.
Lee says the university’s entrepreneurial spirit is what drew him to teach at Mason.
“I came to the university at a time when it was expanding rapidly. The predominant culture was much more entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary than traditional schools. I was impressed with that and decided I could make a difference here,” he says.
In 2007, the Talbots established the Lee and Marty Talbot Foreign Student Endowed Scholarship Fund. They have donated more than $112,000 to this fund, which will help foreign students from developing countries come to the Department of Environmental Science and Policy to pursue a master’s or doctorate. They’ve also donated to the George Mason University Foundation to help with fellowships that the department gives to deserving graduate students.
“In our overseas work in developing countries, we often find great people struggling with environmental issues, and they could be helped substantially if they had the chance to come here,” says Lee. “Therefore, we wanted to do even a little to help such potential students and maybe just make the difference between their coming and not coming.”
—Tara Laskowski, MFA ’05
School of Management professor Mahesh Joshi has gone far beyond his teaching duties to encourage student growth outside the classroom. Generously giving his time and expertise, he has pioneered a number of programs that help students tap into their potential and connect with business community members.
An associate professor of global strategy and entrepreneurship, Joshi says that his extracurricular involvement with these activities is driven by his desire to give back to society. “All my life strangers have helped me and so I want to give back to my students, to my institution, and at times to strangers,” he says.
And give he does. For starters, Joshi is on the organizing committee for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a yearly activity where seasoned entrepreneurs provide guidance to Mason students on how to start a business. He is also chief coordinator for the Mason Entrepreneurship Research Conference, which has grown into a successful international conference held every spring on the Fairfax Campus.
His other initiatives are student competitions. He started the Dean’s Business Plan Competition where students with innovative business plans can receive feedback from successful entrepreneurs, as well as earn cash awards. Joshi also coordinates the SOM 498 Capstone Case Competition. For this event, Joshi connects with roughly 30 businesspeople outside of Mason and invites them to serve as judges. In the past, Joshi had worked with the dean’s office to raise sponsorship money for these contests.
The Capstone Consultation Project, another Joshi brainchild, is designed to help executive MBA students get hands-on experience by providing free consulting services to businesses. For the past three years, these students have worked on projects for both startups and well-established companies.
“I want to be a part of many success stories, and these activities allow me to achieve that,” Joshi says.
Alan and Sally Merten
Leading a major university means supporting the institution’s charitable giving efforts. George Mason University President Alan Merten and his wife, Sally, are no exception, with a total credited giving history of nearly a half a million dollars.
In spring 2009, the Mertens created their most recent endowed scholarship in creative writing, naming it in honor of Sally’s parents, G. Louise and Anthony J. Otto. It was the fourth endowment the couple has created at Mason.
“My mother was a reader,” Sally says. “She always had a book. Hemingway was one of her favorites, and she liked Shirley Jackson’s work a lot. She read a little bit of everyone, and she always was encouraging me to read. This endowment honors both of my parents, but it is especially for her.”
In thanking the Mertens, William Miller, director of Mason’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program, said that this sort of connection is crucial to writers today—those who learned by reading the writers of their parents’ day are now sustaining today’s emerging talents.
“That cycle is vital to us all,” Miller says.
Thanks to the Mertens’ making an additional gift to compensate for reduced earnings by the university’s investments, the initial award from the Otto Scholarship Fund was made in December 2009.
“This will be a particular help as we all struggle to deal with these difficult times,” Miller says.
The other endowments created by the Mertens are the Eric G. and Melissa H. Merten Endowed Scholarship, a merit-based scholarship named in honor of the Mertens’ children for a College of Health and Human Services student accepted into the nursing program; the Ruth A. and Gilbert E. Merten Endowed Scholarship, a merit-based scholarship named in honor of the president’s parents for a School of Management student; and the Kathleen A. Lieder and Lloyd C. Fell Student Scholarship Endowment in Music Performance/Vocal Studies named in honor of friends of the Mertens. The Mertens have also made significant gifts to a number of other university funds, including the Patriot Club, the Long and Kimmy Nguyen Engineering Building Fund, and Mason arts programs.
—Corey Jenkins Schaut, MPA ’07, and Art Taylor, MFA ’06