Q&A With Larry Czarda, Vice President, Prince William Campus

Posted: February 26, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: This weekly question-and-answer column with George Mason administrators appears every Thursday in the Daily Gazette.

By Patty Snellings

What characteristics are unique to the Prince William Campus in George Mason’s “distributed university” model?

We’re obviously the youngest campus, and we’re just emerging from whole cloth. Quite literally, there was nothing here but open farm fields just a few years ago. George Johnson [former George Mason president] used to say that George Mason is like a teenager, with all the promises and all the problems that come with the teenage years. I think the Prince William Campus is like a precocious toddler–people are beginning to see that something special is happening here, but they’re not quite sure yet what it is.

larry czarda
Larry Czarda
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Second, our multiple foci also are unique. Because we have the life sciences based here, we’re becoming a heavily science- and laboratory-oriented campus. In addition, we’re a community focal point. Not that Fairfax and Arlington Campuses aren’t, but I think we have a bit of a unique role in that the Freedom Center and planning for the performing arts center have really made us the crossroads for our local community.

Our geographic region also is unique. Obviously, a key component of the distributed university concept is to serve a specific geographic region. The Prince William Campus is unique in that we’re serving a rapidly growing area of Northern Virginia–not established neighborhoods, not revitalized neighborhoods, but brand-new development throughout western Fairfax County, all around Prince William County, and into Fauquier and Loudoun Counties.

The campus has seen rapid growth in the number of students and facilities since it opened in 1997. What factors have contributed to this growth?

Growth has been consistent since 1997 but accelerated in the last two years. Many people are surprised to know that not only does the university offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral course work, but we have bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs based at the Prince William Campus. The maturation of many of these programs is part of what is driving the growth.

In addition, we have the laboratories, we have the Freedom Center, and we’re opening Bull Run Hall later this year, so specialized facilities are certainly driving some of that growth. For example, Health, Fitness, and Recreation Resources is a very solid program that has existed for years. Although course work will continue to be offered at other campuses, the majority of its faculty is based at the Prince William Campus because of the Freedom Center, which is probably the best clinical facility that any similar program has in the entire country.

Most important, however, is the dynamic of how the Prince William Campus is emerging. Rather than assuming a specific profile, we’re finding that it’s developing a variety of niches. Originally, it was thought that the campus might become a graduate center for highly specialized programs, which certainly has happened with programs in the School of Computational Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Education, and the School of Management. But broadening that concept has resulted from community needs and requests, as well as the demographics of the area.

There is a larger demand for undergraduate courses in general education because students want to take classes where they live and work. There is also the need to support the Prince William-based undergraduate programs in administration of justice; life sciences; health, fitness, and recreation resources; and information technology. As economic development of the region continues to drive growth, and entities such as ATCC [the American Type Culture Collection], Eli Lilly, and others look at the Prince William area, we’ll need to offer highly specialized graduate programs and solid undergraduate programs as well.

The opening of Bull Run Hall will accommodate expanded academic programming and additional students. As the student population continues to increase, how do you see student life and other student services changing or growing?

They will change considerably in response to enrollment growth. In cooperation with all the appropriate offices within the university, we have established a good working understanding for a certain minimal level of services that need to be provided at the Prince William Campus. These services include academic support, such as registrar and financial aid; university services, including the bookstore, food services, and parking management; and the elements of university life, such as counseling, academic advising, student health services, and being part of things like Welcome Week and Patriots Day, as well as developing Prince William-specific events. Many of these services already are in place, and others will begin with the opening of Bull Run Hall.

Bull Run Hall also will allow us to better serve students who just want to hang out and congregate between classes. It will house three student lounges and, along with the reprogramming that is slated for the Occoquan Building to offer more space for group meetings, the campus will be a much friendlier place for students. It’s important for us to provide that element of campus life.

Our three academic programs at the bachelor’s level–health, fitness, and recreation resources; information technology; and administration of justice–are all very solid, rapidly growing programs. There’s a certain array of services and auxiliary enterprises that needs to be provided to support them. Then there are the master’s and doctoral programs in education, biodefense, bioinformatics, and business administration that require a different set of services. So our challenge is to be able to accommodate the entire spectrum.

Prince William County and the City of Manassas helped pave the way for George Mason to locate a campus in their community, and the three partners continue to be involved in mutually beneficial relationships. How has the campus contributed to the economic development and quality of life in the surrounding community?

We are at the point where this campus is a cornerstone of almost all the economic development activity in the region. Whether it’s expansion of existing businesses or attracting new businesses, the Prince William Campus of George Mason University is part of the package to entice companies to locate here. ATCC, Logistech, the expansion of Micron Technologies, and the Eli Lilly development are certainly examples, but there are many more in the works and coming. In addition, specialized expansions of existing businesses like British Aerospace and Lockheed Martin are very much a part of the pattern that is unfolding because of the Prince William Campus.

In terms of quality of life, by any measure, the Freedom Center is an extraordinary success. It is a fabulous facility for this community. It is clear to all parties involved in the partnership that it is the model of how a community can cooperate to leverage resources to greatly enhance quality of life. The county, the city, and George Mason would still be talking about building such a facility in 25 years had they not banded together and done it. The conversations regarding the proposed performing arts center are different, but are mirroring that same kind of partnership.

Bringing a complete university influence to the community through the Prince William Campus is an important next step. We’ll play a significant role in helping the community do visioning exercises for the future, we’ll help promote unity in the community, and we’ll become part of the fabric of Prince William County and the surrounding region. We’re at the table!

What does your crystal ball show for the future of the Prince William Campus?

Our facilities must form that minimal critical mass. We’re very close now, but expansion of academic programs and student life activities and constructing the performing arts center and new biodefense laboratories–that’s in the crystal ball. These things will shape the campus for the next century. We’re very near critical mass now, but these accomplishments will push us over the edge.

George Mason was the first occupant of Innovation@Prince William, the research park created by Prince William County to be the headquarters of future economic development. Significant additional development at Innovation is a critical component of what this campus is and will become. Innovation remains a hot property. The county continually contacts us because this or that biodefense firm, pharmaceutical company, or information technology corporation is looking at Innovation.

The crystal ball is very clear in revealing the significant new challenges that await the Prince William Campus. Another academic building, the performing arts center, a lab school, biodefense labs, and expansion of the Freedom Center are ambitious undertakings, but all are possible.

We’re very different in that we have the potential of $100 million of additional expansion all funded through partnerships or nongeneral fund sources. When you look at the master plan and see state funding for the Bull Run Hall expansion and the physical plant building, it becomes almost $200 million worth of construction with maybe 20 to 30 percent coming from state funding. Partnership, partnership, partnership is what the Prince William Campus will continue to be about.

The Fairfax Campus is becoming a city unto itself, and the Arlington Campus is part of the core Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. But the Prince William Campus feels like a sophisticated, small-town community, offering a cosmopolitan mix in a specialized, focused environment. The Campus Advisory Board comprises the crossroads of the Prince William/Manassas government, education, and corporate communities, and its members are the leadership forum for the community. The Prince William Campus is a source of promise and pride in the community.

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