Mason Speakers Take the University to the Community

Posted: September 27, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Doris Bitler has two cats and more than 80 orchids at her home. So it is no surprise that “Feline Attraction: Magic, Myth and Mummies” and “Orchids for Everyone” are two of the topics she addresses as part of the Mason Speakers.

Bitler, an associate professor of psychology, notes that all of her presentations for Mason Speakers, except the one on orchids, are dealt with in some way in one of her university courses. Some of her other presentations include “Cannibalism and Human Nature,” “Freaks and the American Sideshow,” “Halloween: From Haunts to Hershey Bars” and “Toil and Trouble: A Witchy History.”

Bitler is one of 150 professors, researchers, administrators and alumni volunteers from the university who provide lectures, workshops and guest presentations to organizations and businesses at no cost. There are several hundred topics listed on the registry, and more than 1,000 requests for speakers have been made since the program began in 1993.

The bureau recently revamped its web site, and Mason Speakers coordinator Sarah Gallagher adds she has been proactive in reaching out to the community to find appropriate venues to showcase Mason experts. Mason Speakers requires that at least 10 people attend the presentation.

“I am impressed with how generous professors are with their time,” says Gallagher, who became the coordinator in January. “A major goal of the program is to serve the public. They pay taxes that support the university. This is a community service.”

Gallagher adds that another goal of Mason Speakers is to keep the community informed about the university, the faculty and the research being done at Mason. Each speaker begins their talk with an introduction about their relationship to the university.

Some of the presentations dealing with research and business include:

  • “Brain Research and Learning: What Parents Need to Know,” by Barbara Given, the co-director, with James Olds, of the Adolescent and Adult Learning Research Center at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study
  • “Why a Research University Is Important to Northern Virginia,” by Matthew Kluger, Mason’s vice president for research and economic development
  • “Entrepreneurship and Regional Economic Development” and “Northern Virginia and the National Capital Region Economy: Forecasting Our Future,” by Roger Stough, Northern Virginia Endowed Chair, eminent scholar and professor of public policy; director of the Mason Enterprise Center; associate dean for research and external affairs in the School of Public Policy; and director of the National Center for Intelligent Transportation Systems Deployment Research
  • “Which Business Entity Should You Form for Your New Business?” by Leslie Woodruff, an adjunct faculty member at the School of Law

A frequent speaker is Robert Rogowsky, an adjunct professor in the School of Public Policy.

“I appreciate that George Mason is reaching out to the community. I think that is an important mission for the university,” says Rogowsky, who is also director of operations for the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. “I really enjoy reaching out to the groups. I get a real charge out of it.”

One of his most requested topics is “Getting to Happy: Seven Practical Steps to a Happier and More Contented Life.”

Speaker Fred Schack coordinates the Outdoor Adventure, Recreation and Sports Program for the School of Recreation, Health and Tourism. Schack came to Mason in 1975 and has been part of Mason Speakers for more than 10 years.

Schack says his most popular requests are for “Exercise, Nutrition and Environmental Affects on Disease and Aging,” “Alternative Health Care” and “Exercise and Chronic Disease.”

He says he speaks to older adult groups, women’s groups, service organizations and school groups. Schack says he feels good “to see the face of the people when the light goes on. Their reaction is: ‘I didn’t know that.’ I think the speakers bureau program is a great service for the area, for information that you wouldn’t get otherwise,” says Schack.

Bitler, who is also the associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, says it is important to adjust her presentations according to the audience.

For instance, she presented “Freaks and the American Sideshow” to a group of students at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., last spring. She spoke on the same topic in July at an assisted living facility in Reston, Va.

Bitler says several of the seniors had seen freak shows many years ago when they were younger, so she informed them of more modern shows. But with her teenage audience, she talked about shows from a bygone era.

She will speak, along with Mason colleague Walter Rankin, to the Optimists Club of Fairfax about Halloween traditions in October. She notes that the date could not be more ideal: Friday, the 13th.

For more information on Mason Speakers, contact Gallagher at 703-993-8761 or Sgallag5@gmu.edu.

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