Alumni Association Celebrates a Decade of Distinction

Posted: April 21, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jennifer Mitchell and Colleen Kearney Rich

Yesterday, the George Mason University Alumni Association recognized and honored outstanding alumni, students, and faculty members for their achievements and contributions to the university at the 10th annual Celebration of Distinction.

The 2005 Alumnus of the Year Award winner is Edward Newberry, BA Communication ’84 and BS Business Administration ’84. Newberry served as cochair of the Annual Fund Committee and chair of the President’s Circle, the premier recognition society established to honor the university’s most generous annual donors. He also chaired the Alumni Leadership Campaign Steering Committee, helping to engage a significant number of alumni in the university’s first comprehensive fund-raising campaign. Newberry has worked on behalf of Mason in the public arena and has served on the Advisory Board of the National Center for Technology and Law through Mason’s School of Law.

Alan Harbitter, PhD Computer Science ’02, is the recipient of this year’s Alumni Service Award. Harbitter currently serves on the Advisory Council for the School of Information Technology and Engineering (IT&E) at Mason. He also is the chief technology officer, corporate secretary, and director at PEC Solutions, a company he cofounded in 1985. In addition, Harbitter is the founding chair of the Washington Area Chief Technology Officers’ Roundtable; chair of the University of Maryland College of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Physical Sciences Board of Visitors; and treasurer/trustee of the Arc Foundation of Northern Virginia. Harbitter and his family have endowed an undergraduate IT&E scholarship, and a separate undergraduate scholarship was established by PEC Solutions. Mason is also the beneficiary of a charitable lead trust that Harbitter and his wife, Lisa, have established.

This year’s Faculty Member of the Year is Cynthia Lont, communication professor and past Communication Department chair. An integral part of the Mason faculty and community since 1984, Lont has contributed countless hours to the university through her dedication to teaching, mentoring, advising, and leadership. Director of the Student Video Center and past director of the Student Technology Assessment and Resource Center, Lont also has been a faculty advisor to the GMView, the university’s video yearbook, for 14 years. Lont has published three books and written numerous chapters for other publications. The mother of two teenagers, she also finds time for community service through work at the Vienna Women’s Center and presentations or advisory roles to local groups such as Girl Power.

Rysheda McClendon, a legal studies major, has been chosen Senior of the Year. Throughout her time at Mason, McClendon has been an asset to the college community and the Residence Life Program, where she has served as head residence advisor since fall 2004. As a graduate of the Early Identification Program (EIP), she was guaranteed admission into Mason after completing the program. With a passion for academics and leadership, McClendon is a Spirit of King Award nominee, a former Resident Advisor of the Month, and winner of numerous Residence Life Academic Achievement awards. She also received the Vision Leadership Award and several scholarships. In addition to serving as Honor Committee cochair, Judicial Board president, and Citadel Worship Assembly secretary, McClendon has volunteered in food and clothing drives on campus and also works as a tutor and instructional assistant to high school students through EIP.

L. Terrance Polite, a student in the College of Nursing and Health Science, was awarded the John C. Wood Scholarship. Outside of his studies, Polite is an experienced dancer and a member of a hip-hop dance troupe called Culture Shock, which teaches dance to underprivileged young people at numerous recreation centers in the Washington, D.C., area. He also has performed throughout the United States and Europe. His numerous academic awards include the President’s Award for Educational Excellence, Who’s Who of American High School Students, and first place in the Alexandria City science fair. He also was selected to attend the Governor’s School Spanish Academy, chosen first chair bass for the District X Orchestra, and nominated for best male dancer at the regional Cappies Awards for his work in the high school musicals Footloose and Anything Goes. Raised solely by his mother, who is also caring for his grandmother, Polite has never let the financial burden of college hold him back. He plans to continue his studies to complete a medical degree and become an emergency room physician.

The recipient of this year’s John C. and Louise P. Wood Graduate Scholarship is alumnus James Halabuk, BA History ’02, MA American History ’03. Halabuk is enrolled in Mason’s History PhD program, where he works as a graduate research assistant in the Center for History and New Media and the Technology Across the Curriculum Program. Over the years, Halabuk has managed to rise above many challenges and obstacles on his path to academic success. After rupturing three vertebrae on the job, Halabuk was forced to give up electrical contracting and decided to return to school. With a wife and three children to care for, he worked tirelessly through his undergraduate studies and managed to complete his master’s degree in only one year. More recently, he and his wife adopted his late sister’s two young children after she died of a brain tumor. He has won many academic awards and honors, including a graduate fellowship from Mason’s Department of History and Art History, Cambridge International History Summer School First Class Honours, and Mason’s Lifetime Learning Award, among others.

Government and international politics major Dale Van Wagner was awarded the Peter C. Forame Student Leader Scholarship. In his first week at Mason, Van Wagner was selected to be a Mason Ambassador, and one week after that was elected president of the Presidents Park Area Council. He has held numerous other leadership positions during his time on campus, including founding member and head tour guide for the Student Alumni Chapter, vice chair of the Concerts and Weekends Committee for the Program Board, a peer advisor for the Freshman Center, an intramural sports team captain, and member of the President/Provost Student Advisory Council, all while maintaining a 3.20 GPA. In addition to his work on campus, Van Wagner volunteers at the Inova Care Center and the Northern Virginia Training Center. An avid sports fan, he is a team leader and member of the Patriot Platoon and can be seen cheering at every men’s basketball game.

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