Mason Is Number One for Gates Millennium Scholar

Posted: May 9, 2013 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: May 13, 2013 at 9:01 am

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By Michele McDonald

Victoria Mason. Photo courtesy of Victoria Mason

Victoria Mason. Photo courtesy of Victoria Mason

A small-college atmosphere combined with the resources of a large university made George Mason University’s Honors College the number one choice for Gates Millennium Scholar Victoria Mason.

“It seemed like a close-knit community,” says Mason, 18, about why she chose the Honors College, which attracts academically talented students and is known for its small class sizes. “I felt I could make friendships that could last a lifetime. It felt like home. I didn’t feel that way anywhere else.”

The Potomac High School (Md.) senior won the coveted “good through graduation” Gates scholarship and could go to school anywhere in the country. Mason wants to become a doctor and plans to major in chemistry this fall.

The United Negro College Fund administers the scholarship, which was created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1999 with a $1 billion grant. This year 1,000 minority students won the national scholarship that has helped more than 16,000 students go to college.

George Mason wasn’t even on her list because she thought she wouldn’t find a home in such a big school, says the Prince George’s County student.

That is until she met George Mason’s admissions counselor Gerica Goodman last fall at her high school’s college fair. “Without her, I don’t think I would have applied,” Mason says of meeting Goodman.

“When I speak to students I often highlight the diversity at Mason,” Goodman says. “As an alum, being immersed in a learning environment surrounded by students from across the country and all over the world definitely had a huge impact on me. I tell them that the innovative spirit of our community is unparalleled and I encourage them to visit the campus to experience it for themselves.”

Mason applied to the Honors College the next morning. A tour of the Honors College and meeting George Mason students confirmed what Goodman had said.

“After I visited, I realized George Mason University wasn’t like what I thought it was,” says Mason, who is from Oxon Hill, Md. “It is a community. There are small class sizes. It is like a family.”

Plus, George Mason can offer her internships, networking and research opportunities that other schools could not, Mason says.

Individualized advising is a hallmark of the Honors College, says Zofia Burr, dean of the college. Professors get to know their students so they can guide them to internships, research and other opportunities that are best suited to each student. “We put some students in labs in the first year,” she says.

And students learn from each other.

“Victoria will also be surrounded by other very motivated students,” Burr says. “The students have developed a wonderful system of support. They bond together.”

Honors College students work across disciplines — a skill increasingly essential in today’s changing workplace. Although Mason will be focused on chemistry, she’ll work with students and professors in such fields as the arts, engineering and psychology.

The Honors College has made a concerted effort to draw more students east of the Potomac River. Burr, who has a sixth grader in D.C. public schools, welcomes the opportunity to attract more D.C.-area students to George Mason. “I take Victoria as a wonderful sign,” she says.

While still maintaining the small college approach, the Honors College is growing as it attracts more students. The college expanded to more than 350 students for the upcoming fall semester, up from 300 last year, Burr says.

“All my work had paid off,” Mason says of her reaction when she read the letter from the Gates Foundation. “It was really a blessing for me and my family.”

Mason’s family is proud of her. “I am overjoyed right now,” says her mother, Joanne Mason, on her way to pick up her daughter’s prom dress. “Victoria has worked hard all of her life. She knew was going to college since she was in kindergarten. She’s always been a self-starter.”

Mason says she looks forward to school days. “I just love school,” she says, adding she also enjoys music, technology and dancing at her church. “Going to school was one of the highlights of my childhood.”

The Honors College will move her closer to becoming a doctor, a long-held dream. “I love to take care of people,” Mason says. “I have the drive and the compassion to work in the health care field.”

Write to Michele McDonald at mmcdon15@gmu.edu

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