Everyday Hero: Robert Vay

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

By Jennifer Mitchell

Name: Robert Vay

Title: Dissertation and Thesis/Electronic Text Coordinator

Years at Mason: 12

What the First Part of His Title Means: Vay works closely with graduate students who are completing their dissertations or theses, and helps them navigate all of the strict formatting rules that apply. “I meet with every single student who is working on a dissertation or thesis and make sure they follow all of the university requirements, such as the kind of paper to use, how to format the pages, how many copies to make, and when it is due. I read every one to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed.”

How Many Dissertations Has He Read?: About 1,000 in his 4 years as coordinator. University Libraries has archived about 3,500 dissertations and theses during the past 30 years, and Mason dissertations and theses are the biggest collection in the University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives Department. “We had 180 in the past spring semester. About 150 [students] came in to get help during the last month. At Mason, the people doing their dissertations are generally older; they are mommies and daddies; they have jobs. They are people who don’t have time to figure out the stuff on their own. Not everyone’s a desktop publisher.”

On Long-Distance Students: Vay says he works with many students who are not nearby, or even in the country, but need to finish their dissertations. “I’ve worked with students, sometimes even over the telephone, from places as far away as Australia, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. This spring, a student doing her dissertation in Romania flew in, did her defense, bought a printer and paper, found a place to put everything together, printed out all three copies, filled out the paperwork, and gave it to me—then turned around and flew back that same night.”

The Best Part of That Job: Being there when the students turn in the final copies of their work. “At the beginning, some of them don’t think they will be able to finish, but we haven’t lost one yet. When they turn in all of their copies to the library, I see the relief on their faces when they realize they are really done. Sometimes it’s not a terribly large paper, but sometimes it’s a Kinko’s box full of printouts because they’ve written a three or four-hundred pager. They hand it over and say, ‘I’m done, right?’ After finally turning in their finished paper, the walk back to their car is the easiest ever.”

What the Second Part of His Title Means: Vay is working to convert many of Mason’s archival materials into an electronic format. “What I try to do is make part of these collections available at your desktop, so people will look at the materials and say, ‘Well gee, maybe I should visit this place and see what else is there.’ What I do in that part of my job is a lot of scanning and web site stuff.”

Bob Vay
Photo by David Smith

About Mason’s Special Collections and Archives: Vay notes that every good university has a special collections department as part of its library to house university-related history and other scholarly archival material, and Mason is no exception. “Many of the materials here are nonbook items such as photos and documents. We have a collection policy at Mason; materials have to support curriculum here at Mason or be related to university history, Northern Virginia, or Fairfax.”

How He Came to Work As an Archivist at Mason: Vay earned two degrees at Mason: a BA in History in 1992, and an MA in American Studies in 1998. After he graduated in 1992, he landed a job at the National Archives Richard Nixon Library. “I started at their office in Alexandria, but in 1993 they decided to move to College Park, Md., which made my commute go from 25 to 55 miles one way. Just as we had begun moving, I found out they were looking for an archivist here at Mason. I thought, well, I’ve done that job, and that’s my school! So I really lucked into this job.”

The Best Part of That Job: Knowing that he can save someone a phone call or a drive. “This job allows me to use technology to reach people from all over and supply them with information right on their computer, whereas years ago, research required a trip to the particular archive or library. Now they have a head start, and that’s really exciting.”

On the Unique Diversity of His Work: “As an archivist, you usually work by yourself a lot, with just bunches of paper and a computer. But working here with the students, I talk to five different people each day, whether it’s planning their dissertation for next spring or what they’re going to turn in tomorrow. I work with students from age 19 to 79, so it’s definitely different.”

How His Jobs Work Together: Vay has been the resident webmaster for Special Collections and Archives for 10 years and loves to use his skills to reach people. “The web presence is kind of our calling card; when you buy an airline ticket these days you go online—you don’t go to the travel agency. We can try and reach as far as we can electronically, to make this a kind of 24-7 nonstop-shop here, whether it’s dissertations or research.”

What He Does after Work: Vay, who recently celebrated his eighth wedding anniversary, is also a proud father. “My favorite thing to do is be with my wife and my little daughter. She’s 16 months going on 16 years old. We also have two Siberian husky dogs that I consider children, so I really have three kids.”

What People Say about Him:

“Bob Vay is truly one of the most helpful people that I have encountered in my 7 years at George Mason. His assistance, to me and my coworkers in the Degree Compliance Office, has been invaluable.”

—David Hendrix, Graduation Processing Manager

“I have been fortunate to have known and worked with Robert Vay since he began his position as dissertation coordinator. He provides an invaluable service to the university. We can credit Bob with the creation of an excellent web site to help with student questions. He also offers workshops to help students with their many dissertation questions. Bob is always cheerful, caring, and willing to go the extra distance to make sure that all procedural steps are completed correctly. Over the years, I have often heard wonderful compliments from our students about Bob.”

—Janet Holmes, Program Manager, PhD in Education Program

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