Going the Distance

Alumnus helps Mason’s campus in the Middle East get on its feet

By Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’05

David Rossell, DA Education ’00 and associate provost for personnel and budget at Mason, has always believed that he had one of the longest commutes at the university. His commute to campus from his home in Madison, Virginia, can take up to three hours one way on a bad day. But when he was named acting dean of Mason’s new Ras al Khaimah (RAK) Campus in the United Arab Emirates, his commute became even longer—and now includes a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany.

Since he was appointed to the new position in February, Rossell, who has been at Mason for 23 years, has been using his administrative expertise to get a structure in place for the new campus, which will begin offering academic degree programs this fall.

“Anytime you start a new campus there are going to be challenges,” says Rossell. “But there is also an excitement in the air over there. It reminds me of the Fairfax Campus in the early 1980s.”

Rossell expects to make six visits over the course of eight months to the new campus. During his March trip, Rossell and Provost Peter Stearns took part in a cornerstone dedication ceremony for the new building currently under construction. This first year, classes for the Foundation Program in English, which serves to improve the English language skills of prospective students there, have been temporarily located in the former Higher Colleges of Technology for Men, located in the Al Zahara area of RAK.

One of the first challenges for the new campus was to find a compatible work week. The work week in RAK runs Saturday through Wednesday, with the weekend being on Thursday and Friday. For the campus, they compromised and the weekend will be Friday and Saturday.

As a result, when Rossell visits the RAK campus, he ends up working every day of the week, dividing his time between the campuses and doing double duty. With an 8-hour time difference, things are just coming to life stateside as he completes his work day in RAK. At the end of a typical day, Rossell typically grabs a bite to eat and then begins answering e-mails and making phone calls back to Fairfax. “It keeps a person very busy,” he says.

In addition, Rossell has been conducting plenty of faculty interviews. While many of the faculty candidates come from that part of the world, Rossell sees faculty and student exchanges with the American campuses as part of the RAK Campus’ future. “It is a great opportunity for students and faculty to learn more about the Middle East, break down any barriers, and get to know that part of the world better,” Rossell says.

Rossell has also been conducting open houses for potential students and their parents. “People are very excited about being involved with an American university. There is an awful lot of potential there. People are very friendly, and the location along the Persian Gulf is simply beautiful.”

Although summer temperatures in RAK can reach 120 degrees, Rossell is looking forward to his June trip because his wife, Susan, MA Teaching ’00 and a teacher in Fauquier County Public Schools, will be joining him. “It will be an opportunity to have some fun and enjoy the country.”

Photo (Caption Below)

Photo (Caption Below)

David Rossell with current students (top), and with Provost Peter Stearns, and the RAK Campus.

Photo (Caption Above)