A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Voices of Mason

By Colleen Kearney Rich on December 16, 2021

They are students. They are teachers. They are researchers. They are advocates. Some are the first in their families to obtain a college degree; others come from a family of Patriots. But one thing that is clear is they are all passionate. They are passionate about their studies and helping others. They aren’t content to just have a place at the table; they want to make sure others are heard too. Here are just a few of the Mason students who are showing the world what it means to be a Patriot every day.

Natalia Kanos. Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications


Natalia Kanos

Hailing from Jos, Nigeria, Natalia Kanos is the new student body president. During her time at Mason, the double major in government and international politics and conflict analysis and resolution has been a resident advisor, a research assistant, a student-athlete on Mason’s rowing team, and a part of the Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force.

“Growing up in Nigeria and experiencing ineffective government and violence pushed me toward majors in government and conflict analysis. Being interested in politics, I knew being close to Washington, D.C., would give me the knowledge and experience I needed. My goal is to help developing countries in Africa. I want to help advise leaders to create policy that will positively help its citizens. I love the diversity at Mason, but I saw a huge lack when it came to inclusion. College is supposed to be a place where you are able to express yourself and find yourself, and I wanted everybody to be able to feel comfortable in their space. A university exists because of its students, and I want to make sure that Mason students are heard and represented.”

Yousif Hakeem Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services

Yousif Hakeem

Junior Yousif Hakeem comes from a Mason family. His sister Danya Hakeem, BS Conflict Analysis and Resolution ’14, is an alumna, and his sister Julia is a senior majoring in biology. The community health major from Vienna, Virginia, is a member of the Theta Chi fraternity and vice president of Mason’s Volunteers Around the World (VAW) Dental Outreach chapter. In August the aspiring dentist traveled to Cusco, Peru, where he and chapter members assisted two VAW dentists and a nurse with cleanings, restorations, fillings, and extractions for almost 100 patients.

“My high school had this program in which you do an internship for two weeks and then report on your experience. I decided to intern with my cousin, who is a dentist, and I instantly fell in love with the profession. I love how focused it is and how the results are instantaneous. Many people think dentistry is just teeth, but it really ties to your overall health. In Cusco, we saw a 14-year-old who had never brushed his teeth in his entire life. That was normal for them, and it was so easy to implement change—you just give out toothbrushes and floss and provide some simple lessons. In community health, you learn about preventative medicine for large groups of people. I really want to become a global health dentist. I don’t necessarily want to work in an office building. I want to travel the globe and work in underserved communities. The work we did in Peru cemented for me what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Austin Johnson. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services

Austin Johnson

Musician Austin Johnson teaches orchestra to fourth, fifth, and sixth graders at two Fairfax County Public Schools. Prior to the pandemic, Johnson, who plays the viola among other instruments, performed with several ensembles and is hoping to get back into performing as things begin to re-open. He has been pursuing a master’s degree in arts management and plans to graduate in spring 2022.

“Music, and the arts in general, create such an amazing community. There are several paths that you can take in the arts, and by pursuing a master’s degree, I wanted to open myself up to not only being a teacher but to being someone who could create artistic communities outside of the classroom. A lot of us in the arts move into education or move into arts management, but we all start out as performers. We are musicians at our core. I love being a teacher, and I aim to create a community for my students. In the classroom and when performing, we’re working as a team. And we’re connecting on a different level. I miss performing, and I know my students do too.”

Dorothy Hayden. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services

Dorothy Hayden

Graduate student Dorothy Hayden started out her academic career at Arizona’s Pima Community College with a $1,000 scholarship. A first-generation college student with a challenging home situation, Hayden made great grades and was able to turn that initial scholarship into others, eventually securing a full ride to the University of Arizona where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in higher education. Hayden, who has worked in the career services field for more than eight years, is an industry advisor at Mason’s Career Services and is working on her third degree, a master’s degree in learning design technology.

“I’m a low-vision student, so I have a disability. I’ve done quite a bit of research on user design and disability, and that’s something I’m considering doing for a PhD program. There’s so much research around who engages with technology and who participates—and I think that’s a reflection of who’s in the conversation. There aren’t many individuals with disabilities in the conversation, which creates disparities in who participates in training opportunities. I want to combine my knowledge of universal design, user experience, and career education to create new ways of providing career readiness training for everyone. If I had a hashtag, it would be #access. That’s what I’m passionate about. And it’s great being at Mason because I feel like I can be myself within my office and within University Life. They’re all very supportive of me and what I’m trying to do.”

Shriniwas Patwardhan. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services

Shriniwas Patwardhan

Bioengineering doctoral student Shriniwas Patwardhan was one of the winners of this year’s Three-Minute Thesis competition at Mason with his presentation, “The Senses and My Hand: An Investigation for Multisensory Feedback for Prosthetic Control.” Patwardhan, who has an electrical engineering degree from the University of Pune in his native India and an MS in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a graduate research assistant in Mason’s Biomedical Imaging Lab.

“I think that being able to communicate your work to a broad audience is almost as important as being able to do the work itself. If I have truly understood the problem at hand, I should be able to explain it to an audience with any expertise level within any given time frame. Mason offered me a chance to follow my passion of working closely with prosthetics and more broadly with all types of interesting questions in rehabilitation science. Mason’s proximity to several federal research labs in the [Washington, D.C., metropolitan] area enables students to pursue such opportunities. I decided to join my current lab within Mason because it offered me the freedom and opportunities to follow my research interests wherever they may lead me.”

Lenaya Hezel. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services

LeNaya Crandall Hezel

Sociology PhD student LeNaya Crandall Hezel is a classically trained soprano who is now using her voice to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion. During the tumultuous year of 2020, the military spouse and mother of three girls started NayceQuest LLC to guide organizations as

they discover meaningful ways to be equitable and inclusive. She has been named a 2021 Stand-To Veterans Leadership Program Scholar with the Bush Institute and 2021 Tillman Scholar by the Pat Tillman Foundation for her work with veterans and the military community.

“The original plan was that I would be working full time and going to graduate school part time. Then when COVID-19 hit—I have three small children and my husband had just returned from a deployment in Djibouti—I thought, ‘How are we going to do this?’ I made the decision to step away from my full-time job. Then George Floyd’s death happened, and I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and be like, ‘I’m just going to be a full-time student and let the rest of the world figure it out.’ When I recognized where the need and the demands for this work were, I took action.”

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