On March 28, the George Mason University Alumni Association will recognize its most prestigious alumni 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 full program  available online. The top four award winners are profiled below.
Alumnus of the Year: Sean Connaughton
By Jason Jacks
As Virginia’s secretary of transportation, Sean Connaughton, JD Law ’92, is familiar with congestion. But the career of this attorney turned senior public official has been far from stuck in one place.
“Sean’s entire career carries distinction,” writes Una M. Murphy, former executive director for advancement at Mason’s Prince William Campus, in a letter recommending Connaughton for Alumnus of the Year.
Distinction, yes. But busy, too.
In his current position, Connaughton oversees seven state agencies with more than 9,700 employees, signs off on combined annual budgets totaling $5 billion, and travels the commonwealth extensively to visit with local leaders and tour transportation projects.
“It is amazing the number of issues I have to deal with on a daily basis,” he acknowledges.
Connaughton is a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and served as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard and later as a civil servant in its Office of Marine Safety, Security, and Environmental Protection. In 2006, President George W. Bush appointed him U.S. Maritime Administrator.
Before that, he spent 15 years as a practicing attorney, specializing in maritime and international law as a member of both the Virginia and Washington, D.C., bar associations. Just seven years removed from law school, he argued a maritime case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and won.
As an attorney, Connaughton also served as chair of the Prince William County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors from 2000 to 2006, a time when the Washington, D.C., bedroom community ballooned in population from 280,000 to 360,000 residents.
Around this same time, Mason’s Prince William Campus also began to grow. While in office, Connaughton, who still lives in Prince William County, helped shepherd the addition of the Freedom Fitness and Aquatic Center and the Hylton Performing Arts Center, among other facilities.
“His vision for the community has always included an increased commitment to higher education,” notes former Prince William County Executive Craig Gerhart, MPA Public Administration ’90, in his recommendation letter to the Alumni Association. “He truly recognizes that great communities are based on strong partnerships; none more important than a partnership based on a local government, an entrepreneurial university, and the right blend of community and business leaders.”
Today, Connaughton still sees the value of having a major university in Northern Virginia, in particular by helping to attract businesses and jobs to the region. “It’s not just serving the students, but also the workers of Northern Virginia,” he points out.
Mason has also served him well—something Connaughton is proud to admit.
“Mason really did provide me with an excellent legal education that helped my career take off.”
David Atkins, Alumni Service Award
By Jason Jacks
Student, teacher, staff member. David Atkins, BS Decision Science ’90, has done it all at Mason. So when he learned he was being honored with the Alumni Association’s Alumni Service Award, the emotions rushed out.
“I was absolutely elated!” he recalls. “To be honest, a tear came to my eye when I got the phone call about the news.”
Atkins arrived at Mason in 1985 as a student and has spent all but four years of the next quarter century learning, working, and teaching at the university.
He graduated in 1990, left briefly, then returned to work as the building manager of Student Union Building II in 1994. From there, he moved on to become associate director and then executive director of the Johnson Center. Among his early achievements were creation of the first student employment program at Mason and penning a diversity philosophy statement that is still used today.
Today, he’s director of contract management and licensing in the Office of Auxiliary Enterprises, a position that puts him in charge of contractual agreements Mason has with various venders, including Capital One Bank, Apple Federal Credit Union, Coke and Canteen Vending, Collegiate Licensing Corporation, and Orca TV. Much of the money raised from those contracts goes toward student scholarships.
“I know that the money goes to a good use,” he says, “which is why I love what I do.”
Since the early 1990s, Atkins, who has a master’s degree in divinity from Howard University, has also taught University 100, a class that helps freshmen transition into the Mason community. The position gives Atkins an up-close and personal look at the Mason community’s newest members.
“Their academic skill level has certainly gone up,” he says of freshmen today. “The classes are also much more diverse.”
Outside the office and the classroom, Atkins has also left his mark on Mason. He has been a director-at-large for Mason’s Alumni Association and is a founding member and past president for the university’s Black Alumni Chapter, where he was instrumental in raising what is now a $30,000 endowment for student scholarships. Much of that money was raised through a wildly popular step competition that he organized held annually during Alumni Weekend. “We have such a vibrant chapter,” he says.
Atkins acknowledges he has been busy at Mason, but he’s not complaining.
“It has been quite a ride!”
Linda Apple Monson, Faculty Member of the Year
By Catherine Probst Ferraro
Piano virtuoso Linda Apple Monson found her passion for music when her parents gave her an upright piano on her sixth birthday.
Instead of touring the world to the accolades of fans and colleagues, this newly minted Faculty Member of the Year and International Steinway Artist shares with her students the enthusiasm for music she felt in grade school.
“Music has the power to reach and teach each of us in ways that words cannot express. Therefore, I try to instill in my students that music is a gift that needs to be shared with others to be able to truly appreciate it,” says Monson, a professor in Mason’s School of Music. “To have the privilege of sharing this wonderful legacy of music making with the next generation of students is my supreme joy.”
Monson began her career at Mason in 2000, designing and revamping the curriculum for the keyboard studies area, as well as preparing students for a variety of performances. In 2003, she was named director of keyboard studies and associate chair of the Department of Music (now associate director of the School of Music).
“I can think of no one more deserving of this honor than Dr. Monson. She possesses a rare gift of being able to communicate with her students exactly what they need to do to perform their very best,” says Dennis Layendecker, Heritage Chair of Music and director of the School of Music. “An exceptional performer and educator, Monson consistently impresses me with her knowledge, insight, and obvious care for each one of her students.”
Today, students from around the globe flock to her studio where she teaches a variety of classes ranging from private music instruction in piano to graduate accompanying classes to weekly repertoire and master classes. Her success as an educator is demonstrated on the concert stage and in the numerous recitals, performances, and competitions that showcase her students.
In addition, Monson’s teaching and leadership have been the inspiration and catalyst for Mason to become an All-Steinway School in 2007. Through an effort spearheaded by Monson; one of her former students; and Sidney O. Dewberry, former rector of Mason’s Board of Visitors, Mason was able to purchase 16 new Steinway grand pianos for the School of Music.
The long hours and hard work that Monson puts into the university and the School of Music each and every day continues to be recognized year after year. In fall 2011, Monson was honored with a $200,000 endowment fund in her name. The fund, which supports scholarships for music students, recognizes the extraordinary commitment and impact that Monson has had on her students, faculty, and friends of the school.
Also in 2011, she was named a Distinguished Service Professor, an honor reserved for outstanding Mason faculty members whose scholarly and service contributions win international distinction. In addition, Monson is a recipient of Mason’s 2009 Teaching Excellence Award. She was selected for the 2007 Fulbright Senior Specialist Roster, in collaboration with the U.S. State Department and the Council for International Exchange of Scholars.
When she’s not in the classroom, she’s touring the world as a performer and scholar. She has given lecture-recitals, solo piano recitals, and piano master classes in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Central America. She is also a frequent lecture-recitalist at international, national, and regional conferences of the College Music Society. An advocate of new music, Monson has presented numerous solo piano world premieres.
If her teaching and performing schedules weren’t enough to keep her busy, Monson serves on countless university committees, most recently serving on the Mason Presidential Search Committee. She is also serving her fourth term as a faculty senator at Mason, representing the College of Visual and Performing Arts. She is president of the College Music Society Mid-Atlantic Region. In addition, she is the director of music at Springfield United Methodist Church.
Monson earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in music from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University and a diploma in piano from Musica en Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Kevin Loker, Senior of the Year
By Jason Jacks
Yes, Kevin Loker will miss being a student at Mason after he crosses the stage at Commencement in May. But this extremely busy senior is looking forward to one post-graduation benefit: more sleep.
That’s because as a full-time student, executive editor of an online news site, and a pulled-in-multiple-directions volunteer, Loker gets precious little of it at the moment.
“I lost a lot of sleep through it all,” he acknowledges, “but happily and willingly so!”
To get a better sense of just how involved Loker—the Alumni Association’s 2012 Senior of the Year—was over his four years at Mason, one just needs to glance over his resume, which would rival most job seekers with many years already logged in the work force.
For starters, he’s interned and worked part time at the Washington Post since September 2010, assisting with the paper’s events department and its social media needs. He has also worked as a blogger for USA Today and mediabistro.com.
At Mason, much of his time has been dedicated to populating the online news site, Connect2Mason, with features and breaking news about Mason. In 2011, the Associated Collegiate Press named the site as one of its 2011 Online Pacemaker sites for its content, coverage, interactivity, and design. Connect2Mason was one of 24 campus news organizations to be honored out of the more than 250 that were considered. Loker says he puts in much more than the 20 hours a week the job requires.
“My goal is to get to a place where I can hand it off, so it keeps going,” he says of leaving Connect2Mason.
Loker, a South Dakota native who will depart Mason with a BA in anthropology, is also involved heavily with Mason Catholic Ministry, through which he volunteered as a mentor for youth at the Fairfax County Juvenile Detention Center.
“When you’re in a tough situation, it’s nice just to have someone there for you,” he says of working with the kids in detention.
Another way Loker dedicated his time to Mason was by planning and organizing a scavenger event called The Hunt that took place during Welcome Week last year. The event, the first of its kind and a way to introduce incoming freshmen to Mason, involved coordinating with numerous university departments and offices, and was held throughout the Fairfax Campus.
So what’s his secret to taking on so much? Loker, who intends to also be an involved alumnus, says he simply sought out opportunities as a student and tried hard at whatever he did.
“That has gotten me pretty far,” he says.