Students Receive Alumni Association Scholarships

Posted: April 18, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Christina Mennella and Ken Budd, BA ’88, MA ‘97

Each year, the George Mason University Alumni Association recognizes and honors outstanding alumni, students and faculty members for their achievements and contributions to the university during its Celebration of Distinction, held this year on April 16. The association also announces the names of its scholarship winners.

Megan Alissa Fowler

The John C. and Louise P. Wood Undergraduate Scholarship

Megan Alissa Fowler arrived at Mason wondering whether she had made the right choice attending a school so far from home. “Instead of succumbing to homesickness, I focused on academics and joined student activities,” she says.

Megan Fowler
Megan Fowler

Fowler took a risk, bringing more with her to Mason than her sharp intellect and giving heart. She suffers with vasovagal syncope, a condition that results in fainting.

“My condition is a quirky trait, something I will live with all my life, but it is not a handicap or an excuse; quite the opposite, I believe my condition has made me stronger in many ways.”

During her time at Mason, Fowler has thrown herself into volunteer work. In addition to tutoring middle school and high school students in Mason’s Early Identification Program, Fowler began working with the University Scholars and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in September on a service project titled Never Forget, a series of events to educate the public about the Holocaust.

“The greater D.C. area holds myriad possibilities for students, and I certainly want to take advantage of them,” she says. Currently, Fowler is interning at the Folger Theater in Washington, D.C., where she is a part-time house manager. Majoring in history and theater, she has made the Dean’s List every semester.

“I have discovered a community at Mason that accepts my eagerness for knowledge and my compassion for all,” Fowler says. “Homesickness is a thing of the past. When I began to call Mason ‘home,’ I knew I made the right decision.”

Naliyah Kaya

The John C. and Louise P. Wood Graduate Scholarship

For Naliyah Kaya, learning has always been her passion. “From an early age, my dream was to become a college graduate — the first in my family — and eventually become a college professor.”

Naliyah Kaya
Naliyah Kaya

And she is well on her way toward that goal. Kaya came to Mason after earning a BA in sociology from Hampton University in 2006 with a 3.92 GPA and graduating with honors. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in sociology and working as a teaching assistant for the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

“I am extremely appreciative of Mason’s investment in me; without the teaching assistantship, I would not have been able to attend graduate school,” she says.

Beyond the classroom, Kaya still finds time to share her passion for learning with others. She participates in Mason’s Dream Catchers, a mentorship program designed to help students enrolled in alternative education programs become future Mason students.

While at Hampton, she was a mentor in a similar program, Sister II Sister, which reached out to at-risk teenage girls. She has also tutored elementary school children and helped adults prepare to take their GED.

Before coming to Mason, she shared her love of writing poetry with inmates at the Washington State Reformatory, where she taught poetry workshops. The culmination of this work, something Kaya considers one of her greatest accomplishments, led to the creation of the Food for the Soul Monroe Poetry Project, a multidimensional presentation of the inmates’ poetry, “designed to bring their voices to the greater community.”

Steven Dunn

The Peter C. Forame Student Leadership Scholarship

The young woman had drifted far from shore at New Jersey’s Wildwood Beach when Steven Dunn and his fellow lifeguards launched the boat that would save her life.

Steven Dunn
Steven Dunn

“We rowed out to her — she was caught in a strong rip current about 150 meters offshore,” says Dunn, a government and international politics major. “I was sitting on the stern of the boat and pulled her in. I’ll never forget it.”

At the age of 20, Dunn, a sophomore, has already saved more than 20 lives. His knack for thriving under pressure and serving others are just two of the reasons why he is this year’s scholarship winner.

The president of Mason’s chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS), Dunn came to Mason to run track but gave it up in 2007 after a series of injuries and illnesses.

“I decided I couldn’t stay healthy long enough to make the enormous commitment to competing at a Division I level,” says Dunn, formerly a distance runner. “I had built my life around running, made my college choice partly because of running, and then had to walk away from it.”

And yet Dunn soon realized that disappointment can breed opportunities. Without track, he devoted more of his time to campus activities, serving as secretary of the Alpha Lambda Delta Freshman Honor Society and leading NSCS charity efforts, all while maintaining a 3.90 GPA.

“I believe I have always possessed leadership qualities,” says Dunn, “but they have grown since I’ve come to Mason.”

Luis Alberto Contreras

The George Mason University Alumni Association Service Scholarship

Luis Alberto Contreras chooses not to brag of his achievements; instead, he dedicates his time to practicing humility and helping others.

Luis Alberto Contreras
Luis Alberto Contreras
Creative Services photos

“What matters most to me at the end of the day is who I help. I am the student leader and representative for the shelter [Lamb Center] and ask students to come along every Friday,” he says.

Dedicated to community service and serving those in need, Contreras, a global affairs major with a minor in business, has found time in his busy class schedule and resident advisor responsibilities to volunteer for multiple organizations, including the Fairfax County Juvenile Detention Center and the New Orleans Relief Workers Aid, where he helped rebuild parts of Louisiana destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Working with Mason’s Catholic Campus Ministry is one of his top priorities, and he sets aside time each week to help the homeless at the Lamb Center. It was there that he took a special interest in one particular shelter resident named Omar.

“We spoke about our lives, our families and even our problems,” he says. “Over the course of the semester, I would look for jobs for Omar and give him a ride to places he needed to go, write him letters, all the while offering him words of encouragement to help him have faith. Omar now has a steady job and is working toward getting an apartment.”

“If someone asked me what my greatest accomplishment through service was, I would simply say, ‘You can call him Omar.’”

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