Mason’s Largest Graduating Class Filled with Goal-Driven Achievers

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

new graduates
Nearly 7,000 students, the largest class in Mason history, will graduate in Commencement ceremonies on May 17.
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When George Mason University honors the largest graduating class in its history at the 41st Commencement on Saturday, May 17, many of those in the caps and gowns will already have a long list of achievements in hand and definite plans for the next phase of their lives.

As Commencement draws near, the Gazette staff interviewed a few of the thousands of students who have distinguished themselves during their careers at Mason: a serial scholarship applicant; a Virginia State Bar award winner; a teacher-turned-principal; a beauty pageant winner; an inventor; a statistics whiz who dances; a flight designer who landed a job with Microsoft Games; and a geography major whose map has been published in National Geographic.

A total of 6,988 students will receive their degrees on Saturday. With this ceremony, Mason will have graduated more than 122,000 students in its history.

Of the graduating class, 4,025 are receiving undergraduate degrees, 2,500 are receiving master’s degrees, 239 will be receiving doctorates, and 224 will be receiving law degrees.

Senior of the Year Known for Prestigious Scholarship Honors

By Dave Andrews

Malkit Singh
Mona Singh
Photo courtesy of Mona Singh

Malkit (Mona) Singh may have been the only person surprised to find out that she was to be honored as Senior of the Year by the Alumni Association. During her undergraduate years at Mason, Singh, a sociology major, became well known for her community involvement and academic achievements.

A class representative of the University Scholars program, a Mason ambassador and president of the student chapter of the American Society for Microbiology, Singh is likely best known for her scholarship honors. In early 2007, she won a Truman Scholarship, was named a Marshall Scholarship finalist and became Mason’s first Rhodes Scholarship finalist.

“I never thought that I would be able to apply for all of those scholarships, let alone apply to medical school and get interviewed,” she says. “But because of the many educators who have helped me here at Mason – people like Deirdre Maloney, Eric Perry, Roger Wilkins – they believed in me and encouraged me.”

Singh says coming to Mason was the best decision she ever made. “I don’t think I could have gotten this kind of experience anywhere else. My one regret is being involved with so many things that I had very little free time to just hang out with friends. But so far, the sacrifice has been worth it because I enjoy being busy and making the most of every moment.”

Singh also served as a research assistant for the Center for Neural Dynamics in Mason’s Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study and was awarded the C.R. Walter Award for Outstanding Performance in Organic Chemistry. But Singh says the honor she values most didn’t come with a plaque.

“I feel like my greatest achievement here at Mason has been helping motivate other students to realize that even here at a large, state school, they can go on to do great things,” Singh says.

Before entering medical school in the fall, Singh will work this summer with Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington as an intern helping the homeless population find employment.

“Bite-Sized” Pro Bono Work Earns Law Grad Virginia State Bar Award

By Ryann Doyle

Ashley Brott
Ashley Brott
Photo courtesy of Virginia State Bar

Law student Ashley Brott is the first Mason student to be honored with the Virginia State Bar’s 2008 Oliver White Hill Student Pro Bono Award.

Brott developed LSNV-GMU Intake Initiative, a student-led program that helps Legal Services of Northern Virginia conduct intake interviews of applicants seeking legal assistance. LSNV-GMU operates 30 hours a week interviewing potential clients about issues related to family, consumer, bankruptcy and housing laws.

“I am so very grateful for the award because, of course, it feels great to be recognized for my work. At the same time, I wish there was a way for me to share it with the volunteers who have helped me turn my ideas into reality,” says Brott. “Without the support of Legal Services of Northern Virginia and the 50-plus student volunteers, very little would have come from my efforts.”

Brott came up with the idea of “bite-sized” pro bono — using lots of volunteers who contribute a manageable amount of time — and put in the hours to create the structure and processes. She also focused on recruiting and training volunteers, supervised their work and publicized the program. About 30 students pledged to commit 35 hours each to pro bono during the 2007-08 school year.

Brott said she is eternally frustrated because she always feels there’s more she could have or should have done, and that is why she chose the motto, “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something,” for LSNV-GMU.

“But I recognize that the award is about the effect my efforts have had on fostering an ongoing commitment to public service by students at George Mason University School of Law, and for that I am very proud,” she says.

After taking the Virginia Bar exam this summer, Brott plans to travel. She came to law school out of an interest in conflict resolution and would like to explore her options for working internationally, perhaps for a nonprofit focusing on democracy-building or legal reform.

“Whether I stay in Arlington or move abroad, my ultimate goal is to find a way to use my law degree to increase access to justice for those in need,” she says.

Originally from Santa Fe, N.M., Brott earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she majored in Spanish literature and minored in French.

Brott will receive the Hill award during the VSB’s Pro Bono and Access to Justice Conference on May 22, at the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Va.

Education Leadership Graduate Helps Revise School Discipline Program

By Jennifer Edgerly

Jason Davis
Jason Davis
Photo courtesy of Jason Davis

Jason Davis didn’t grow up thinking he wanted to be a teacher or that he would one day become a school administrator. However, when his dream of a career as a park ranger fell through, he started substitute teaching and quickly realized how much he enjoyed working with students, especially those with special needs.

While teaching special education at Prospect Heights Middle School in Orange County, Va., Davis decided to pursue a second master’s degree in education leadership at Mason. Davis’ first master’s degree is in special education.

An integral part of the education program at Mason is an internship requirement for all students. In Davis’ case, that internship involved redesigning a major portion of his school’s discipline system. Davis and his principal felt that students were spending too much time in in-school suspension and wanted to find a way to give students the time out they needed without missing out on valuable instruction time.

After spending part of their summer working out a realistic solution, Davis and the committee assigned to the task devised a plan whereby students would spend only 15 minutes in in-school suspension. During those 15 minutes, the students would talk about their behavior with a teacher and discuss what behavior is appropriate for the classroom and how they could re-enter it.

“We were very pleased with not only how receptive the faculty was to this new system, but also how well the kids responded to it,” says Davis. “The 15-minute time-out worked well for most students and was particularly effective for those students with emotional issues or who are easily frustrated. It provided them with what they really needed, which was a chance to take a deep breath and calm down before going back to class.”

Since beginning the education leadership master’s program at Mason, Davis has been hired as an assistant principal at Nathanial Green Elementary School in Green County, Va.

Graduate Uses Pageants as Preparation for a Life of Service

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Melissa Bradby, Miss Black Virginia, and friends
Melissa Bradby and friends
Photo courtesy of Melissa Bradby

At the tender age of 3, Mason graduate student Melissa Bradby won her first beauty pageant title. Since then, the former Wee Miss Tidewater has gone on to win many more pageants and is currently the reigning Miss Black Virginia.

“When you are little, you are drawn to the crown and the pretty dresses,” says Bradby, who graduates this month with a master’s degree in political science. Now she says the titles provide her with the opportunity to work with people, particularly young people.

Her platform is promoting civic education and encouraging young people, such as the middle school students she works with on a weekly basis, to engage in their community.

A facilitator in a Fairfax County Public Schools afterschool program, she has helped the “tweens” she works with start a community service club and led them through projects such as making get-well cards for children at St. Jude’s Hospital.

Young people are one reason why she is rarely seen wearing her crown except for formal occasions. “I let the girls wear it,” she says of her public appearances. “I try to be as down to earth as possible. I want them to be able to relate to me.”

Bradby earned a BA in Communication from Mason in 2004 and currently serves as the president of the Black Alumni Chapter of the university’s Alumni Association. She is also a graduate assistant for student governance in Mason’s Student Activities Office.

When not dividing time between classes and work, Bradby is preparing for her next competition. In June she will take her world-class tap routine (at age 16 she placed seventh in the world as part of the U.S. Tap Team) to Las Vegas to compete for Miss Black USA.

In the fall Bradby will teach in the Washington, D.C., public schools as a part of Teach for America, a national program that puts outstanding recent graduates into schools in needy communities. Her goal is to become a high school principal.

Scientist Creates His Own Brand of “Star Trek”

By Jennifer Edgerly

Sid Sundaresan
Sid Sundaresan
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Ever since he first watched the TV show “Star Trek” as a child growing up in India, Siddarth Sundaresan knew he wanted to be a scientist. He credits the show with setting up his fascination with science, but says it was his professors at Mason who really made the difference and ultimately led him to pursue a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in India, Sundaresan came to Mason to continue his studies and earn a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.

It was during his time as a graduate student that Sundaresan began experimenting with microwave heating. His work really took off when, as part of his master’s thesis, he was involved in the creation of a miniature microwave that could analyze DNA and provide results in less than one hour.

With Rao Mulpuri, professor of electrical and computer engineering, as his doctoral advisor, Sundaresan expanded his focus to work with silicon carbide. Because of its ability to withstand very high temperatures and to block ultrahigh voltages, research is currently under way to create electronic devices out of silicon carbide instead of the more commonly used silicon. Sundaresan also began experimenting with using microwave heating to create nanowires (wires with a microscopic diameter) out of silicon carbide, a process he is patenting through George Mason University.

“We found that by using microwave heating, we can create nanowires much faster, more cheaply and easier,” said Sundaresan. “We also looked at how nanowires can be used. Because of their heightened sensitivity, they are excellent gas sensors and also can detect diseases such as cancer at very early stages.”

Sundaresan has been hired by GeneSiC Semiconductor in Dulles, Va., as a device scientist. And to be clear, the “SiC” in the company’s name is the molecular formula for silicon carbide, their area of expertise.

Mason Graduate Combines Dance Performance and Mathematics

By Catherine Ferraro

Jenna Krall
Jenna Krall
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A typical day for Jenna Krall might involve rehearsing with choreographer Mark Morris for a Mason Dance Company performance and then studying the newspaper to determine how responsible the media is when reporting statistics. When she graduates, Krall’s diploma will show unlikely dual degrees in dance and mathematics.

As a dance major, she has performed in 18 Mason Dance Company performances, including the work of guest artists such as Kevin Campbell, Daniel Ezralow and Mark Morris.

“Being able to work with some of the most accomplished choreographers has been an incredible experience,” says Krall. “I am very thankful that the stellar faculty in the Dance Department have been able to provide students with such a great opportunity.”

In 2007, Friends of Dance named Krall the recipient of the Harriet Mattusch Special Recognition Award for her contributions as the Mason Dance Company president. As president, Krall organized fund-raising events, helped with auditions and hosted new and prospective students in the Dance Department.

Although Krall has had an extensive and rewarding performing career during her four years at Mason, her true passion has always been for mathematics and statistics.

In May 2007, Krall began an apprenticeship with Rebecca Goldin, associate professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences and director of research for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Statistical Assessment Service (STATS). Krall’s responsibilities for the media watchdog group, which is facilitated by Mason’s Communication Department, included reading the newspaper and watching television news programs to determine if the media were correctly using statistics. This semester, Krall has been working more closely with Goldin to analyze this content.

Since October 2006, Krall has also worked on a project titled “Predicting Baseball Winners Using Just Noticeable Differences” with Patrick McKnight, assistant professor of psychology, and David Cades, a doctoral student in psychology. Krall presented the project in April at the Colonial Academic Alliance undergraduate research conference in Boston.

“Although I have never had the opportunity to see Jenna perform on stage, I have witnessed her performance in the lab and she works harder and more efficiently than most of my graduate students,” says McKnight. “I enjoyed working with her and hope to continue our collaboration while she pursues her interests in graduate school.”

After graduation, Krall plans to attend Johns Hopkins University to pursue a master’s degree in biostatistics. Although she is keeping her options open, Krall ultimately hopes to earn a PhD and do biostatistics research.

Sky’s the Limit for Pilot-Training Graduate

By Tara Laskowski

Carl Smith in aircraft simulator
Carl Smith works in a flight simulator
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Now that Carl “Mac” Smith is graduating this spring with his PhD in Psychology, Psychology Department chair Deborah Boehm-Davis will have to find someone else to step into the cockpit of the university’s flight simulator. For the past several years, Smith has been one of the main students in the Arch Lab using the simulator for research in pilot training devices.

Smith trained both experienced and novice pilots on a new flight display design to see what design was most efficient for pilots. As an applied psychologist, Smith helps designers of pilot training programs understand how to design displays in the most efficient and safe way.

This type of work is also applicable to devices such as automobile GPS systems or cell phone interfaces.

Smith says his favorite part of his research was interacting with professional pilots from the area that he brought in to fly on the flight simulator.

“Their comments allowed me insight into the differences between flight in a laboratory and what many pilots were experiencing in the air,” says Smith.

Now that Smith has completed his degree, he is taking his skills to Seattle to continue working with flight design. He has landed a job as a user research engineer with Microsoft Games, working on the new release of the Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Mapping Out His Career

By Tara Laskowski

Justin Procopio
Justin Procopio
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When a summer internship provides you with the opportunity to publish your work in one of the world’s most prestigious magazines, you know you’ve landed a great job.

For Justin Procopio, that opportunity came last summer when he interned at National Geographic in the Map Department.

Graduating this year with his BA in Geography, Procopio is a mapmaker at heart. He is the treasurer of Gamma Theta Upsilon, the Geography Honor Society at Mason, and recently presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers.

But his greatest success so far is the publication of a full-color map, titled “Beyond the Han,” that traces the minority populations of China. It was featured in the May 2008 issue of National Geographic magazine.

“I must’ve gone through about 50 drafts,” he says. “It’s the proudest achievement of my life,” adds Procopio.

Procopio also worked on several other research projects while he was an intern and got to experience the publication business from the inside.

“The best thing about the internship was getting to watch some of the best designers in the world work day to day. I was lucky to get that kind of exposure.”

After graduation, Procopio hopes to pursue a job as a cartographer — maybe someday at National Geographic.

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