Mason CIO Recognized for Career Achievements

Posted: August 10, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

Joy Hughes
Joy Hughes

For a woman who didn’t start college until after she had three children, Joy Hughes has come a long way and quickly. She earned her PhD in 1990 and joined George Mason in 1997 as the top IT executive for a university destined to become the largest in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Hughes, CIO and vice president for information technology, got her start at Rider University on a math scholarship. Recently, Hughes’ alma mater recognized her career achievements by inducting her into the university’s new “Science Stairway of Fame.” Hughes was chosen as one of six alumni to be honored in the inaugural group.

Even more surprising than her late start in higher education is that fact that growing up, Hughes never knew anyone who had gone to college. But as a self-described “activist,” she took the trailblazing path because she wanted to become a substitute teacher.

Hughes never expected to be a math major. She just wanted a bachelor’s degree. But her professors at the New Jersey community college where she began taking courses saw her promise and recommended her for the scholarship to Rider. The university, which was just beginning to transform itself from being primarily a business school into a full-fledged university, was looking for students like Hughes. In particular, “They needed math majors to fill up the program,” Hughes chuckles.

Her decision to attend Rider, and indeed, to major in math, changed her life.

Now her portrait, laser-etched on a silver plaque, hangs in a glass-enclosed stairwell that is a key part of the new, architecturally acclaimed wing of the school’s Science and Technology Center.

“It was quite an exciting day,” Hughes says of the ceremony where she and the other honorees were celebrated. It was Hughes’ first return visit to the campus since graduating.

Receiving the honor inspired Hughes to reflect on her career path and to notice similarities between her alma mater and George Mason. She compares Rider’s transformation into a university to George Mason’s transformation from a branch of the University of Virginia to its status as a major university today. “I’m comfortable here at Mason because of my background at Rider,” she says.

In particular, Hughes likes change, and she’s had plenty of it in her academic and professional careers. Some of it she helped to create. At Rider, she was active in extracurricular activities, serving as the student representative to the Board of Trustees, editing an underground newspaper and working on behalf of students’ civil rights. She also got her start as an activist: She was frustrated with the course registration process at the university and worked to get it streamlined.

Hughes graduated summa cum laude and moved on to Rutgers University, where she earned her MS in math, supported by a fellowship. Once more, she saw an issue and pursued it, helping to get a process instituted for student evaluation of professors.

Her pattern of activism continued after she joined the workforce. She took a job as a measurement and evaluation specialist at Burlington County College; her exasperation with the college’s computer center led her to take courses at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where she eventually earned an MS in computer science.

“At the computer center, they were always telling me, ‘You can’t do this, and you can’t do that.’ I decided to figure out for myself what you could and couldn’t do,” Hughes explains. “I was a frustrated customer. One thing that has always stayed with me is that if you don’t satisfy your customer base, it will go elsewhere.”

Hughes is proud of the fact that she has always been willing to pitch in to solve problems. “I still complain,” she says, “but I don’t take potshots.”

In fact, Hughes says that what attracted her to Mason was the opportunity to help solve problems, even those outside her Information Technology Unit (ITU). “When I came here, President [Alan] Merten said I could get involved in anything I wanted to get involved with. For example, I can weigh in on all kinds of Executive Council and budget group issues.”

Hughes is also involved in activities outside the university, such as co-chairing the Educause/Internet2 Computer and Network Security Task Force and Microsoft’s Higher Education Advisory Group.

At Mason, the mission of ITU is to advance the strategic goals of the university. “So we have to know the goals and change with them,” says Hughes. “When I first came to Mason, we weren’t a global university. Now we are. My unit changed, enabling the change of strategic goals.”

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