Celebration of Distinction

Honoring the Best and the Brightest

Each spring, the George Mason University Alumni Association recognizes and honors outstanding alumni, students, and faculty members for their achievements and contributions to the university.

Photo of honorees. Caption is below.

Front Row (L to R): Roger Wilkins, Victor Mendez, Kennedy Keenan, Lisa Lustig, Latoya Banks

Middle: Maneshka Eliatamby, Susan Hassmiller, Rodger Smith, Jenny Mason, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Mariann Johnson, Karen Reedy, Kate Trygstad

Top: Christopher McGowan, Craig Young, Mike Short, Tracey Short, Andrés Maldonado, Dennis Pereira, Nelson Feliciano, Bruce Johnson, Matthew Salter, Oliver Schluemer, J. Lee Hill Jr., David Farris

Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

Alumna of the Year

Poet Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda spent 31 years working with Fairfax County Public Schools before retiring to a waterfront home in Middlesex County with her husband, Patricio. For years, she taught at West Springfield High School while taking courses at Mason part time. “They kept adding new courses and degree programs, and I kept taking them,” she says. As a result, Kreiter-Foronda holds three graduate degrees from Mason: MEd ’73, MA English ’79, and PhD ’83. Her doctoral degree was the very first awarded by Mason through its first doctoral program.

While she is still tickled by the fact that she shares this milestone with her alma mater, she is even more thrilled by the fact that in her retirement she finally found her dream job. In 2006, Governor Timothy Kaine appointed her Virginia Poet Laureate, allowing her to combine her two loves: poetry and teaching. “I see this appointment as an invaluable opportunity to promote poetry on a large scale,” she says. “I love teaching, and I feel fortunate to be able to talk about the things I love.”

She has published four books of poetry, Contrary Visions, Gathering Light, Death Comes Riding, and Greatest Hits, and her work has appeared widely in magazines and journals, including Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, and Antioch Review. She also is an accomplished painter and sculptor. She has begun conducting art-inspired writing workshops for teachers and the general public in such venues as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Phillips Collection.

Photo of Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

Bruce and Mariann Johnson

The Alumni Service Award

Drs. Bruce and Mariann Johnson fell in love with Mason just as they were falling in love with each other. A pair of budding biology majors, they met on the then-tiny campus in the school’s early days—he earned his BS in 1970, she received hers in 1971—watching Mason basketball games at nearby W. T. Woodson High School with a handful of fans in the stands.

“Back then Mason only had about a hundred students,” says Bruce, who has a medical practice in Richmond, “so we knew pretty much everyone.” It seems like they still do.

The Johnsons, winners of this year’s Alumni Service Award, have tirelessly supported the university—financially, spiritually, and intellectually—for more than 35 years, from Bruce’s work as a trustee with the George Mason University Foundation to Mariann’s efforts with the Mason Scholars. Along the way, they’ve learned hard truths about sacrifice and strength. In 1993, Mariann was injured pulling a woman from an overturned car at an accident scene and suffered permanent nerve damage in her back during surgery. The injury ended her medical career, but not their service to the university. Their most gratifying achievement has been helping several students attend Mason, including Barbara Parker Granieri, BFA ’98, then a dance student, now the director of operations and artist initiatives for the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.

“Bruce and Mariann shared their love of Mason with me, and it changed my life,” says Granieri. “And with each person they touch with the Mason spirit, they change the life of George Mason University.”

—Ken Budd, BA '88, MA '97

Photo of Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

Roger Wilkins

Robinson Professor of History and American Culture

Faculty Member of the Year

Roger Wilkins, LHD ’04, is a living history lesson. He could instruct the many students who vie for admittance into his classes without the aid of books or research tools. He could simply sit and recount the many exciting experiences that have made up his life. The names of historical giants roll off his tongue: Martin, Jesse, Colin, Julian, and Ramsey (Attorney General Clark to most of us). But to Wilkins, they are simply friends and contemporaries. From birth, he was part of the civil rights movement. His mother was a lifelong civil rights crusader and the first African American woman to head the national YWCA. His father was a business manager of an early black newspaper, the Kansas City Call. Wilkins’s subsequent jobs added to the historical context he received from his civic-minded family. Starting with his service in the Johnson administration as assistant attorney general, he fought to win passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While working on the editorial page staff of the Washington Post, he earned a shared Pulitzer Prize with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and cartoonist Herb Block. He also was the first black columnist at the New York Times and an associate editor at the Washington Star. His highly acclaimed autobiography, A Man’s Life, was published in 1982, and his book Jefferson’s Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism (2001) won the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Book Award. He is publisher of NAACP’s journal Crisis and has served on the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia and on the District of Columbia Board of Education.

—Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA '95, and Rey Banks

Photo of Roger Wilkins

Andrés Maldonado

Senior of the Year

Andrés Maldonado set big goals for the Hispanic Student Association (HSA) when he became its president at the beginning of his junior year. “I definitely wanted to educate, empower, and unite the Hispanic population here on campus and also educate others about our culture,” he says. He served as president again this academic year. He is also a member of the President/Provost Student Advisory Council, the Student Athlete Advisory Council, and the Mason track team.

The HSA has indeed prospered under Maldonado, who is majoring in management. The group had about 15 to 25 loyal members before he became president. It now attracts 50 to 70 students to its meetings and has about 350 people on its listserv.

Through the HSA, Maldonado facilitated participation in the Adopt-a-Highway program at Mason, and the group maintains a stretch of Route 123 near the Fairfax Campus. He also helped the HSA start a web site.

After working at a camp this summer, Maldonado plans to join the Peace Corps in the fall. He plans to return to Mason for graduate study once his term is complete. Maldonado’s parents were born in Guatemala, and his two brothers are also Mason graduates.

What was Maldonado’s reaction when he learned about the Alumni Association honor? “I was speechless. To win was a shock for me. I was amazed. The first thing I did was call my parents,” he says.

—David Driver

Photo of Andres Maldonado

Lisa Lustig

The Peter C. Forame Student Leadership Scholarship

Ask Lisa Lustig to name a leader she admires and the answer—Oprah Winfrey—may surprise you. But Lustig shares a number of qualities with America’s daytime TV titan: a compassionate spirit, a driving ambition, and a philanthropic zeal. Lustig is the winner of the 2007 Forame Leadership Scholarship, though until she arrived at Mason, she never saw herself as a leader.

“In high school I didn’t think I was qualified to take on leadership positions,” says Lustig, an integrative studies major in the New Century College. “But I decided I wasn’t going to let a fear of failure hold me back. Mason gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself.”

How’s this for a makeover? The once-reluctant leader became senior peer advisor at Mason’s Freshman Center in 2006, managing and evaluating 30 advisors (who act as mentors to first-year students). She’s also chapter president of the Alpha Phi sorority—and a fund-raising dynamo. The Mason chapter raises money each semester for the Alpha Phi Foundation in Support of Cardiac Care, and Lustig realized that for her sisters to become goodhearted go-getters, they had to first feel connected to the cause. After hearing stories from a sister-turned-nurse who works in a local hospital’s cardiac wing, the chapter members raised more than $10,000 in two years, its biggest totals ever.

Lustig has been on the Dean’s List every semester during her time at Mason—her GPA is 3.75—and when she graduates in 2008, she wants to work for a nonprofit. Her mission? “Helping people grow and become stronger individuals.”

—Ken Budd, BA '88, MA '97

Photo of Lisa Lustig

Victor Mendez

The John C. and Louise P. Wood Undergraduate Scholarship

Victor M. Mendez is feeling the pressure—not just the pressure that comes with being an electrical engineering major maintaining GPA of 3.76, but the responsibility of being an example. Mendez is the first person in his family to seek a college education. “I need to set a model for my siblings,” he says, “that shows that making it to college is not enough, you must strive to be among the best.”

Mendez is used to facing challenges. When he came to the United States from El Salvador at age 11, he needed to learn English. Since then, he has gone on to assist others with their language acquisition, helping Latino children improve their Spanish reading and writing skills.

He also credits his participation in Mason’s Early Identification Program (EIP) since the seventh grade for some of his successes thus far. “Thanks to EIP I learned that college was within my grasp.” Since being admitted to Mason he has had the opportunity to give back to EIP, serving as a tutor and mentor for the program in 2005 and 2006. He is also a member of Mason’s Hispanic Student Association and has held a number of part-time jobs, all while maintaining his place on the Dean’s List. This scholarship will provide some of the financial support Mendez needs to concentrate on his studies. He expects to graduate in May 2009.

—Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA '95

Photo of Victor Mendez

Nelson Feliciano

The John C. and Louise P. Wood Graduate Scholarship

Nelson Feliciano lived in a tough neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, until the start of third grade, when his family moved to a new, more challenging neighborhood. “I hated school. I associated school with harassment and bullying. I spent most of the day watching the clock,” says Feliciano.

In high school, a counselor told him not to spend a lot of time filling out college applications. Despite this, Feliciano applied to and attended Rutgers University, graduating with a BA in anthropology and English.

In 2005, Feliciano enrolled at Mason; he plans to graduate in December with an MA in anthropology. Feliciano has been a resident advisor at Mason, working with students on the Passport Learning Community floor and tutoring Chinese students enrolled in the university’s 1-2-1 program.

He has also worked as a teaching assistant to anthropology professor Susan Trencher. Last summer, he traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand, to assist in research on the effect of global warming in urban areas. “The research helped me better understand how such things as flooding and violent winds are getting worse due to global warming and that the impact it will have on heavily populated areas will be as catastrophic, if not worse, as the tragedies that came to pass during Hurricane Katrina,” he says.

The Wood scholarship will provide Feliciano the support and time he needs to finish his thesis. “If you can prove you have the drive and skills, there are organizations out there to help you,” he says. Feliciano hopes to one day teach at the university level.

—David Driver

Nelson Feliciano

Kennedy Keenan

The George Mason University Alumni Association Service Scholarship

At the age of 14, a time when many teens struggle just to survive their own awkwardness (let alone gym class), Kennedy Keenan set a world record. The year was 2001, and Keenan teamed with two friends at her school in Delmar, Delaware, to organize the world’s largest hug. The goal: to promote antiviolence awareness in schools on the anniversary of the Columbine shootings. The record lasted all of four days—a corporation broke it by organizing a hug around Giants Stadium—but the undeterred Keenan simply embraced new challenges, a big reason why she’s the winner of the 2007 Alumni Association Service Scholarship.

Despite balancing classes and jobs, this former team captain in four different high school sports has committed herself to aiding others, whether organizing an event to help soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center or fulfilling a dream for a struggling young leukemia patient who wanted to meet Mason’s men’s basketball team. Keenan, now 20, learned much about compassion while volunteering at a nursing home in Delmar; from “crushing up Mrs. Kathy’s ice the way she likes it” and “filling up the bird feeder outside of blind Mr. Nate’s window so he can hear the birds singing in the morning.” It’s a sense of commitment that will only grow once she graduates. A government and international affairs major, she hopes to lead a nonprofit such as the Red Cross or Special Olympics, maybe even become the governor of Delaware.

“No matter what,” she says, “I just want to help people and give back to my country all it’s given to me.”

—Ken Budd, BA '88, MA '97

Photo of Kennedy Keenan

Additional awards given at the Celebration of Distinction:

Student award winners included Maneshka Eliatamby, a master’s candidate at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR), receiving the Mary Lynn Boland Award for Outstanding Student Service; Latoya Banks, an English major, receiving the Black Alumni Commitment to Diversity Book Award; Oliver Schluemer, a senior majoring in finance, receiving the Emerging Business Leader Undergraduate Award; and David A. Farris, an MBA student, receiving the Emerging Business Leader Graduate Award.

Detailed biographies of all award and scholarship recipients are available online at www.gmu.edu/alumni.

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Roger Wilkins, Faculty Member of the Year

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Anne and John Wood, benefactors of the John C. and Louise P. Wood Scholarships

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JoLynn Bailey-Page of the CVPA Alumni Chapter with award recipient Karen Reedy