What’s in a Name?

Sometimes a simple name change can be the start of something wonderful

These days you need a scorecard to keep up with the name changes taking place at George Mason University—and this is just the beginning. As new buildings come on line and the university continues to grow, many of your favorite campus spots or units may take on a new identity.

GMU to Mason

One of the changes is the move over the years away from the acronym “GMU” to the word “Mason.” Since President Alan Merten joined the university in 1996, the campus community has been encouraged to make “Mason” part of their lexicon.

What’s wrong with the acronym “GMU”? Well, nothing really. It’s just a little too close to the acronym for James Madison University, which is “JMU,” which led to a lot of confusion. It isn’t unusual for people to misspeak and confuse their g’s and j’s.

And “Mason” is preferred over “George Mason.” This preference actually plays a part in the issue of branding the university. Mason sits in an area crowded with “Georges”: George Washington University and Georgetown University, to name a few. So, the use of “Mason” is a way of separating ourselves.

Leading the way in this initiative has been the Office of Admissions, and if you talk to one of our current students, there is a good chance he or she will refer to the university as Mason.

Moving from an acronym to a name is a subtle, but important, change. Other name changes, particularly for buildings, are to honor people, such as the George W. Johnson Center. But namings can do more than honor people. Sometimes, a name change can mark a change in direction or the beginning of something new and wonderful.

Hazel Hall

John Hazel

In November, the Arlington Campus building that houses the School of Law became John T. Hazel Jr. Hall in his honor. Hazel, a prominent attorney and real estate developer, led the effort to help Mason acquire a law school in 1979. A longtime university supporter and visionary advocate for Northern Virginia, Hazel served as a member of Mason’s advisory board in 1963 and was active in the formation of the George Mason University Foundation in 1966.

Hazel was appointed a member of the university’s first Board of Visitors (BOV), serving from 1972 to 1983 and serving as its rector from 1976 to 1978 and 1982 to 1983. He also served on the Board of Trustees of the George Mason University Foundation for 32 years, including 6 as chair. He is now a trustee emeritus.

“Til fought hard for the acquisition and accreditation of the law school in the face of considerable opposition throughout the state,” says Sidney Dewberry, current BOV rector. “Over the years, he has worked diligently in support of higher education. His influence among business leaders has resulted in a boon for Mason and all of Virginia.”

The Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering

When the School of Information Technology and Engineering (IT&E) commemorated its 20th anniversary in October, it also celebrated a $10 million gift from Ernst and Sara Volgenau, the largest individual contribution in the university’s history.

With this gift, the school kicked off a $20 million fund-raising campaign and took on a new name: The Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering. The Volgenaus’ gift enables the school to make strategic investments in critical areas of study, such as biotechnology, knowledge management, and information security. The additional funds raised during the campaign will help finance the construction of a building that will house all of the school’s academic and research programs. This facility is scheduled to open in fall 2009.

“Adding the Volgenau name to our school brings us significant honor and recognition,” says Lloyd Griffiths, IT&E dean. “I am most pleased that Ernst and his wife, Sara, have chosen to invest in the future of our school. Their gift will help establish our school in a position of national and international leadership.”

“Because of the number of technology companies in this region, Northern Virginia needs a first-class teaching and research university in the study of science and engineering,” says Volgenau. “Sara and I decided to invest in Mason’s School of IT&E because we believe President Merten, Dean Griffiths, and other capable Mason faculty and administrators are creating that first-class learning environment. We are honored to be a part of this effort.”

Volgenau is a distinguished professor of information technology and engineering in IT&E and the chair of SRA, a leading provider of information technology services to clients in national security, civil government, and health care and public health organizations.

College of Health and Human Services

Since Shirley Travis, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Science, joined Mason in January 2005, things have been changing rapidly and have included a reorganization and a name change. Effective July 1, the college will be known as the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS). The reorganization will occur in phases, beginning in fall 2006 and continuing through 2011.

Gerontology and international health will be among the primary focuses for CHHS. The reorganized college will focus on an expanded multidisciplinary approach to meeting the health and human services needs of Northern Virginia. Other offerings will include health administration, health policy, health information systems, health services research, nursing, nutrition, rehabilitation science, senior living, and social work. With the reorganization and new growth, the number of students enrolled in CHHS is anticipated to double to more than 2,800 by 2011.

“As the largest public university in Northern Virginia, Mason is proud of our role in providing for the higher education needs of the regional workforce,” says Merten. “Our focus on addressing current and emerging health and human services educational needs is a prime example of our collaborations with the community, including regional health systems and Northern Virginia Community College.”

The restructuring and name change were based on findings from a 22-member health commission appointed by Provost Peter Stearns in December 2004. The commission represented Mason faculty, stakeholders in the Northern Virginia region, and the Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources.

“We are confident that our expanded college will only strengthen our current programs in nursing and health science, already known for their high quality and rich academic traditions,” says Travis. “The School of Nursing will continue its role as a leading force in educating our region’s nursing workforce. The new multidisciplinary environment in an expanded college will allow us to develop compelling research and educational collaborations between faculty in our existing programs and faculty in our new health and human services programs.”

In the Future

With new programs, new buildings, and new campuses, more new names are surely on the horizon.

“We consider it significant any time a decision is made to attach the name of an individual to a building or program. Taking this step not only recognizes the contributions this person has made to Mason, but it also serves as an acknowledgement that our institution’s reputation in the eyes of our region and the nation continues to grow,” says Merten. “We anticipate more of these important milestones, particularly as we continue to integrate our institution’s strengths with priorities set forward by the private sector and the state and federal government.”

Colleen Kearney Rich (MFA ’95), Catherine Graham, Lori Jennings, and Rey Banks contributed to this article.

Hazel Hall

Ernst and Sara Volgenau with Dean Lloyd Griffiths