Mason Bids Farewell to University Relations Vice President

Posted: March 23, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Rey Banks

When Helen Cooke was a little girl growing up on a farm in Western Australia, she wanted to be a groom. Discouraged by her mother from a career in animal husbandry, she set off to university to study English. And that is how Helen Ackerman’s career, culminating as vice president of University Relations (UR), began at George Mason.

Ackerman is retiring after 27 years of service to George Mason, effective April 8. During her tenure she oversaw Community Relations, Creative Services, Events Management, Information Services, and Media Relations. The university is hosting a farewell for her tomorrow from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall Lobby. The George Mason community is invited to attend.

It is with university-wide sadness that those who have worked with and known Ackerman since her early days as a part-time writer and up through the ranks of UR to vice-president, bid her farewell. “The entire George Mason community is deeply indebted to Helen for all that she has done for the university,” says President Alan Merten. “I know that I could not have accomplished what I have without her dedication, competence, and commitment.”

Highlights of Ackerman’s achievements at Mason range from managing an unprecedented onslaught of international media attention in 1986 at the time Professor James Buchanan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics to leading and coordinating a statewide effort in 1992 to promote and help pass Virginia’s first higher education bond referendum. More recently, she helped revamp University Relations to ensure that it provide the entire campus community with greater and more efficient service.

Under her guidance, the university has facilitated millions of visitors to its three campuses, generated thousands of national media placements, and incorporated a new logo that has helped give Mason the beginning of a dynamic new image.

Though she has played a significant role in many triumphs at Mason, she refuses to take credit, saying only, “The people who work at Mason are the reason for its success.” Even when pressed to identify her greatest accomplishment as VP, Ackerman praises her staff: “University Relations serves the goals of the university. To the extent it has done that, I’m proud to be part of it.”

Others aren’t as reticent. “Helen Ackerman has been an outstanding mentor to me over the years,” says Traci Claar, director of Community Relations. “I admire her ability to advance and excel in a fast-changing environment. She has been an inspiration.”

“In all my years here, I can think of no one else who has loved George Mason more,” says Daniel Walsch, executive director of Media Relations. “Not a day has gone by when this dedication and loyalty haven’t been apparent for all to see.” Walsch should know. He has worked for Ackerman for more than 16 years. “On a personal note,” he continues, “I will always be grateful for having had a front row seat to watching a caring professional do her job in such an inspiring way. She will be missed.”

“Not to worry,” advises Ackerman. “I plan to be around.” Not as an administrator, but as a student. Choosing a less formal path, Ackerman plans to study subjects that interest her, such as philosophy and psychology. She may purse a formal degree later.

Ackerman does have some parting words for the person who will take over the reigns of UR. “Have fun,” she advises her yet-to-be-named replacement. “Enjoy this vibrant, stimulating community. Take the opportunity to build upon the already sturdy foundation that is UR and guide it to another level.”

As for her immediate plans, Ackerman is looking forward to catching some late-night television and sleeping in.

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