Everyday Hero: Alissa Karton

Posted: July 20, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

This occasional Mason Gazette feature profiles key people at Mason who “make it happen.”

Alissa Karton
Alissa Karton says the basketball team’s run up to the Final Four was one of the highlights of her Mason career.
Creative Services photo

Years at Mason: 10.5

Current Position: Assistant to Sandy Hubler, vice president for University Life

What She Really Does: Karton recently supervised two assistant directors who schedule much of the student programming that takes place on the Fairfax Campus. She also oversees the University Life Programming Committee, which allocates grant money to support faculty initiatives outside of the classroom, and chairs the university Traditions Committee. As Johnson Center/University Life Programs merges with Student Activities, Karton’s role is evolving. “It’s exciting,” she says. “There is going to be a lot more collaboration as we work closely with Athletics and Housing. More partnerships, more connections made.”

First Job at Mason: She handled community standards for Housing and Residence Life. Karton came on board right after the university contracted with its first third-party vendor to provide housing services. She worked for the contractor briefly before joining the University Life staff.

Her Life before Mason: She was a hall director at the University of Arizona. She received her BA in psychology and her MA in higher education counseling and student affairs from the University of Rochester.

What You Might Not Know about Her: While in college, Karton was the grand prize winner on MTV’s “Remote Control.” She took home $10,000 worth of prizes, including a Les Paul guitar and a trip to Aruba, and got to be on MTV. “We still use the video camera I won,” she says. “It is a huge old thing, but it works great.”

What She Likes Best about Her Job: “Every day is different and there are exciting challenges,” she says. “It is a very special time to be here. I really do believe that I get to make a difference.”

Her Best Memory So Far: The Final Four craziness, especially being in the Johnson Center for the watch party for the Sweet Sixteen men’s basketball game. “It was absolutely amazing,” she says. “I was so glad to be here for that and to experience it with the Mason community.” After working for years to build a sense of community and increase student involvement as a part of University Life, she got to watch success unfold that night in the Johnson Center. “I thought, ‘This is it. This is what we have been working for.’”

Strangest Thing That Has Happened on the Job: Karton’s most unusual experience also happened during the Final Four craziness. It was Karton who organized the bus caravan to Indianapolis for the Final Four. “It was impossible to get buses,” she says. “It was spring break and cherry blossom time in D.C. There just weren’t buses to be had on such short notice.” When she finally found a bus company that agreed to provide the transportation, she was amazed at the hodgepodge of vehicles that arrived, from brand-new tour buses to ones that had logged thousands of miles on the highway. Karton began boarding the buses to introduce herself and provide the drivers with toll money. Then one of the drivers asked, “We are going to Philly, right?” It turned out that the bus designated to take the softball team to its game against Drexel University in Philadelphia had somehow joined her caravan. Karton was able to get the situation sorted out, but the missing bus never showed up.

Greatest Accomplishment to Date: Having the best of both worlds. “I have a job that I love and a life outside of work.” She credits her “super” supportive colleagues and her incredibly supportive family for helping her to make it work.

Her Personal Motto: “No regrets. And I try to learn from my mistakes. I also believe everything happens for a reason.”

On Being a Mason Family: Karton’s sons, seven-year-old Jake and five-year-old Brody, practically grew up here, attending the Child Development Center on campus. “It is so wonderful to have a preschool here on campus, especially after 9/11. I really valued having them so close to me.” Now that the boys are both school age, she has begun commuting alone for the first time in five years. “It is really quiet,” she says of the drive.

What She Does for Fun: She and her husband, journalist Gary Karton, coach Little League. She also enjoys playing with her kids, practicing yoga and running. Since her job involves almost nonstop programming here on campus, she admits that often “the couch and TV are very welcoming” when the kids go to bed.

Her Aspirations: When Karton was a child, she wanted to grow up to be the first woman on the Supreme Court or the first female commissioner of baseball. Sandra Day O’Connor beat her to the first job, but she hasn’t given up on being the queen of baseball. “I love all sports, but I do feel more connected to baseball.”

What People Say about Her:

“Alissa is continually looking for ways to improve the student experience. She works tirelessly in collaborating with other departments to sponsor programs and other initiatives that create a dynamic campus environment and build community spirit. Much of the increased weekend and evening programming can be credited to her hard work.”

―Sandy Hubler, vice president, University Life

“Alissa is the ‘body and soul’ of University Life. I can’t think of enough superlatives to describe her. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and all of us in University Life marvel at her creativity and ‘can-do’ spirit. She is the person behind every successful program and activity. During the NCAA finals, she was in 10 places at one time, making things happen. It was a fortunate day for Mason 10 years ago when she walked through the door! Those of us who are lucky enough to work with her thank our lucky stars that this superstar is part of our division!”

―Nancy Murphy, administrative assistant, University Life

“Alissa’s intellectual and administrative contributions to University Life are invaluable. She embodies the spirit and pride of George Mason. If Alissa is leading a project, you can bet on lively planning meetings (with candy), quick action and successful outcomes. She refuses to take the fun out of work, no matter what the task.”

―Rose Pascarell, associate dean, University Life

“I have known Alissa for my nine years at Mason. When I arrived at Mason, Alissa befriended me and guided me through the processes and practices of University Life folks at the university, particularly in the areas of campus life. So, needless to say, she has been a lifeline for me at Mason and made a positive and profound impact on my experience. Without her, we would not be where we are today.”

―Amy Snyder, assistant dean, University Life

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