On Wednesday, April 26, 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 at the Westwood Country Club in Vienna, Virginia.
For a look at the biographies of those honored that night, please take a look at the program available here . The top four award winners are profiled below.
Bethany Hall-Long, Alumna of the Year
When Bethany Hall-Long, PhD Nursing ’93, was sworn in as lieutenant governor of Delaware on January 17, she also became the first Mason alum to hold the second-highest office in state government. She is this year’s Alumna of the Year.
“I think what resonated with people and why they trust me is because I’m a nurse,” says Hall-Long, who won election with 59 percent of the vote. “As a nurse you take care of people—regardless of their political affiliation.”
She believes being a mother also helped her to connect with voters. She is mother to 21-year-old Brock, who is currently a junior at the University of Delaware.
Always a nurse first, Hall-Long has devoted her career to working with vulnerable populations. For the past 14 years, Hall-Long served as a Delaware state representative and senator. Over that time, she sponsored nearly 1,000 pieces of legislation, many of them pertaining to health—leading one Delaware newspaper to call her the state’s most prolific legislator. Her bills on telehealth, substance abuse, and cancer and chronic disease have served as models for other states.
It was while finishing her master’s degree at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston and working as a public health nurse that Hall-Long realized she might need to change the trajectory of her nursing career. “I was working in the community with mentally ill homeless, and I discovered if I really wanted to make a difference I needed to get involved with health policy.”
That realization led her to make a call to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services’ office, where Hall-Long landed an internship working on the national nurse shortage. While working that internship in Washington, D.C., she also had a job as an assistant manager of labor and delivery at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
About the same time, one of Hall-Long’s MUSC mentors, Catherine Malloy, came to Mason to teach and was associate dean of the college. She encouraged Hall-Long to join the university’s brand-new nursing PhD program. Not only did Hall-Long end up being one of the program’s first graduates at the age of 25, she says the experience helped launch her career.
“I landed at the right place,” she says. “I have really fond memories of my time at Mason.”
Hall-Long says Mason gave her the opportunity to really engage in her field as a faculty member and a researcher. Her work at Mason’s Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics immersed her in public policy work as she learned her way around state politics and Capitol Hill. “My degree and my health policy training have been vital to me. While at Mason, I was exposed to a lot of great leaders at state and national levels—and on the faculty.”
Hall-Long was also mentored by the late Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown; Rita Carty, who was the college’s dean at the time and now is an emeritus faculty member; and faculty member Cass Connelly. They all worked with Hall-Long on her dissertation, which focused on health policy.
In addition to her legislative work, Hall-Long has been teaching since her PhD days. A professor of nursing at the University of Delaware for nearly 20 years, Hall-Long is excited that she gets to keep teaching while serving the people of her state. “I love teaching,” she says. “I have to cut back my hours and give back some of the pay, but I’m glad I can continue my work there too.”
—Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’95
Gail Bohan, Alumni Service Award
Recognized for her commitment to her community’s technology infrastructure and emergency preparedness, Gail Bohan is the recipient of this year’s Alumni Service Award. Bohan, BA English ’70 and MPA ’82, served as director of information technology for the City of Fairfax from 1997 to 2013. During that time, she helped build the city’s telephone system, communications network, and geographic and mapping systems. She created and implemented a technology strategic plan to provide telecommunications, municipal services, and collaboration tools to residents and industry, and to support first responders by connecting IT systems throughout Fairfax County and Northern Virginia. Under her guidance, the city received awards from the National League of Cities and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Bohan’s experience and enthusiasm for those who take charge during a crisis was, she says, her most important effort.
“I’m very much into emergency response, and that’s where I feel I contributed most,” Bohan says. “Collaboration among governments will make us better, and we can provide more services by collaborating together and pooling our resources.” She was successful in securing grant money for the strategic plan, and says it was used to “connect all of our IT systems so we would not have the failure of communication that we had during 9/11.”
In addition to serving on numerous councils and committees throughout the Washington, D.C., area, Bohan is a past president of the Mason Alumni Association, having guided it from its independent status to its current place within the university. She now serves on the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Advisory Board and is a member of the college’s alumni chapter.
Bohan says she was “thrilled and surprised” to receive news of the award in January, and credited the MPA program she attended at Mason for allowing her to understand the importance of good government. “That’s one of the messages I want to send to people thinking of attending Mason,” she says. “They should participate and donate their time and talents to the university and their community. It will make everybody better.”
—Cathy Cruise, MFA ’93
Richard Rubenstein, Faculty Member of the Year
It’s right around 1958 and a young Richard Rubenstein is at a crossroads. He’s about to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard College but still has questions about his future. He goes to the campus preacher.
“I told him, ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,’” he says.
His mother had set a high bar, Rubenstein says, telling him she thought he could be the first Jewish president of the United States.
The preacher spoke about “the calling,” an intense feeling of knowing exactly what one needs to do with one’s life. He assured Rubenstein he would experience it, too, when the time was right.
So he practiced law in Washington, D.C., for a few years before finding himself involved in the antiwar movement in Chicago during the explosive unrest of the 1960s.
That’s when a friend from the Black Power Movement suggested he come teach at Malcom X Community College.
“I walked into the classroom and ‘Bam!’ This is what the preacher meant, this is the calling,” Rubenstein says.
Research, teaching, and writing form a holy trinity of sorts for Rubenstein, earning him great praise from his George Mason University students and colleagues who nominated him for the honor he now holds, Faculty Member of the Year.
He’s been teaching at George Mason since 1987. In those 29 years, Rubenstein has had a lasting impact on the students he meets and teaches.
Many alumni say he’s the reason they chose Mason, says Maria Seniw, BA Government and Politics ’06, director of development for the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.
“He understands which students would benefit from an education at S-CAR. He also understands what types of students will help S-CAR grow,” she says.
Rubenstein said teaching is a little like parenting. He views his students as sort of a quasi-family. He’s learned a great deal from his students, as many of them come from conflict-ridden places.
“They’ll teach you about conflict as much as you teach them,” Rubenstein says.
Conflict and resolution caught his interest at an early age. He describes his parents as “scrappy Truman liberals.” His mother was very political in the 1940s, a time when it was uncommon for women to voice their strong political opinions.
Discussing politics was also a way for him to bond with his father.
“It made me realize that conflicts are great, as long as it’s for a constructive purpose,” Rubenstein says. “This is exactly how the founders of our school, scholar-activists like John Burton and Jim Laue, felt about conflict. Constructive conflict is the road to social change.”
Beverly Harp, Senior of the Year
As a teenager she already had her eye on the Far East, spending her high school sophomore year in a boarding school in Mussoorie, India.
She continued to study Hindi and U.S.-India relations on climate change as a University Scholar in Mason’s Honors College, but during her senior year, Beverly Harp was quite focused on things closer to home, particularly campus groups.
“I didn’t study abroad during the school year, because I had these organizations that I really cared about. There’s so many opportunities on this campus to do things; I was really excited to dedicate a lot of my time to organizing and building things with students,” she says.
The global affairs major poured her time into co-founding Roosevelt at Mason, a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a public policy organization that fosters a network of student-run think tanks.
“It’s been quite a journey, but we have really grown,” she says. “We have 40 to 60 people attending our weekly meetings. It’s become a community for people and a great platform to do advocacy or any intellectual work.”
After its first year, Roosevelt at Mason was named the best new chapter by the national organization. Harp was asked to mentor other new chapters in the region, says Anthony Dyer Hoefer, assistant dean of Mason’s Honors College.
“Her aim has been to foster an organization that is sturdy enough to thrive through the leadership transitions that often slow down or even end student organizations,” he says.
Harp’s enthusiasm for public service, commitment to campus organizations, and knack for leadership are some of the reasons why she was named Mason’s Senior of the Year.
During her college career, Harp’s attention was also focused on helping her peers aid grade-school students from groups underrepresented on college campuses through the organization MasonU.
“It gives them the opportunity to see what college life is like and to get a vision of what college could be for them,” she says.
She found MasonU to be both motivating and educational, and since at some point she’d like to be a teacher, it was a good fit. The group focused on the middle school age group because research reveals mentoring is especially crucial if middle schoolers are to be steered toward college.
Though she’s been busy on campus, her three study-abroad trips to India have made her global affairs studies at Mason much fuller, Harp says. She’ll be returning to India this August on a Fulbright Scholarship to complete a yearlong research project on climate finance.
“I’m just really grateful to have gotten to come to Mason and to have learned from people who are much smarter than me and who have different experiences than me,” she says.