The Stories They Tell: Class of ’09 Reflects Hard-Working, Ambitious Scholars

Posted: May 11, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: July 10, 2009 at 9:02 am

Graduates walking to Patriot Center
The Class of ’08 processes to the Patriot Center for Commencement exercises. On Saturday, May 16, Mason will graduate its largest class ever — more than 7,000 students at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels.
Photo by Nicolas Tan

The Mason Gazette staff interviewed a small group of the more than 7,000 students who will graduate from Mason on Saturday, May 16. Their stories, although different in the details, bring out the hard-working and ambitious nature of these students, attributes shared by many of their thousands of fellows.

Whether they came to Mason with a specific goal in mind or had their futures shaped as they pursued course work, all of these students who shared their personal journeys found unexpected experiences and opportunities at what is now their alma mater.

Individualized Study Major Explores Ethics and Contracts

By Tara Laskowski

Betty Gatere
Betty Gatere
Photo courtesy of Betty Gatere

Betty Gatere is interested in keeping ethics in the forefront when it comes to business. As a Bachelor of Individualized Studies (BIS) student graduating this May with a concentration in procurement and contract management, Gatere believes that officers in public office have a responsibility to both the government and its citizens — and she hopes to contribute positively to her field.

When Gatere and her family moved to the United States three years ago from Kenya because of a transfer for her husband’s job, Gatere decided to pursue a degree and was attracted to Mason’s BIS Program.

“I was so drawn to it,” she says. “I liked the fact that it was nontraditional in approach and it allowed me to create my own degree.”

Before relocating to the United States, Gatere worked for Kenya’s Central Bank for more than 10 years. Naturally, her experience there influenced her choice of a capstone project for her degree — she wanted to offer relevant and practical solutions to the challenges in her field. She chose to research and write about a particular contract management case in Kenya involving one of the most popular and controversial hotels in the country.

Surrounded by scandal, the Grand Regency Hotel in Kenya was initially owned by a scam artist who conned the government out of huge amounts of money by forging diamond exporting documents. When he was charged, the bank took over management of the hotel and then sold it for what seemed lower than market value, causing public alarm and outrage.

Gatere was interested in analyzing the sale to understand the reasons for the controversy and suggest possible solutions to prevent this kind of situation from occurring in the future.

Though she ultimately discovered the bank’s actions were perfectly legal, there were suggestions of political maneuverings that weren’t exactly ethical.

“Even if a procedure does not violate the law, you still have to consider public perception,” she says. “It might be [legal], but was it ethically right? In every transaction, companies have a responsibility to examine political, social and ethical effects.”

Gatere believes that procurement and contract managers need to bring integrity to the job, and she hopes that when she goes back to her home country, she can help make that happen.

The Kenyan government is in the process of implementing the Procurement and Disposal Act, which would help regulate this field. Gatere says she would enjoy being part of the team that is currently training and professionalizing this work.

Astronomy Program Leads Student to Galaxy Discovery

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Lisa Horne at Arecibo
Lisa Horne at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, with the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope in the background.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Horne

While earning an undergraduate degree, many students discover new things about themselves and the world, but few discover galaxies.

That’s just what astronomy major Lisa Horne did while taking part in the Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA (ALFALFA) Survey.

As a part of this select group of undergraduate students, Horne traveled to Cornell University, where she was trained to analyze data from the world’s largest radio telescope located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

It was just her second day working with the data that Horne made her discovery.

“There was this white blob on my screen. I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was unusual,” she says. “Then a faculty member leaned over my shoulder and said, ‘That’s a galaxy. Congratulations.’”

Named AGC #310842, Horne’s galaxy resides about 500 million light years from Earth.

“The number is based on when it was discovered,” she says. “It is subnamed Lisa H.”

When Horne set off on her field experience, family and friends wished her luck finding a galaxy, but when she called home a few days later, it was a different story. “No one believed me. How ironic is that?”

As part of the ALFALFA team, Horne also traveled to Puerto Rico for hands-on experience with the telescope, which many people will remember from the movie “Contact.” In addition to learning about the instruments on the telescope and the research being performed there, Horne was able to observe the telescope in action.

“My shift was from 2:20 to 3:20 a.m., but I didn’t mind the early hours,” she says. “I was so excited to see the data-taking process.”

Since that time, Horne has continued her research, and most recently she and her research adviser, astronomy professor Jessica Rosenberg, gave a presentation on galaxies, the Doppler Shift, and the expansion of the universe to groups of middle school students at the Sally Ride Festival, hosted at Mason in April.

She has also had her work presented at the American Astronomical Society’s annual conference in Long Beach, Calif., and received a scholarship from the Virginias Collegiate Honors Council for giving the best poster presentation at one of its conferences.

With graduation imminent, Horne is taking time away from studying the night skies to looking at the want ads. “Grad school is in my eventual future, but for now, I’m on the hunt for a job.”

Experienced Marine’s Next Mission: Medical School

By Marjorie Musick

Brian Kim
Brian Kim
Photo courtesy of Brian Kim

When Brian Kim was deployed to Iraq in 2004 as a civil affairs specialist in the U.S. Marine Corps, he didn’t know that he would one day be on the brink of entering medical school.

“Basically, I worked with the local Iraqi population and we did a lot of humanitarian assistance type of work. Although my job wasn’t specifically medical related, I got to see the conditions that people were living in and the lack of health care. I guess my heart just really went out to the people and I wanted to be able to help,” says Kim.

Kim will soon be embarking on training that may one day allow him to help other vulnerable populations as a medical doctor. Graduating in May as a biology major with a minor in history, he is the first Mason student to be accepted into George Washington University School of Medicine’s Early Selection Program — a program that allows sophomores from participating universities to apply for early acceptance into medical school. Applicants are evaluated and are notified of acceptance at the end of their sophomore year. Requirements include overall and science GPAs of 3.60 or higher and a score of 1200 or higher on the SAT.

One of the perks of this highly competitive program is having the flexibility to pursue a more service-oriented series of experiences during the final two undergraduate years. Kim, who served full-time active duty in the Marines for two years prior to starting his undergraduate studies at Mason in 2005, is currently a sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve and has continued to serve his country one weekend out of every month throughout his four years at Mason.

Kim also holds a spot on Mason’s crew team, which requires practicing five times a week and traveling to regattas almost every weekend from March to May.

“I’ve enjoyed my time in the military and they’ve taught me a lot of things. The first two years of medical school are going to be pretty tough, but I think my time overseas and the training that I’ve had in the Marines is really going to help me with that,” says Kim.

Oldest Grad of 2009 Earns Foreign Languages Degree at 82

By Dave Andrews

Ana Reynales
Ana Reynales
Photo by Nicolas Tan

Age was never a factor in Ana Reynales’ pursuit of a college degree. The Colombian native first enrolled at Mason in 2001, and now at 82 years young she has the distinct honor of being the oldest graduate of this year’s class.

Reynales came to the United States when she was 60 years old and immediately registered for English classes at Northern Virginia Community College. She earned multiple associate’s degrees in applied sciences before enrolling at Mason.

With her new BA in foreign languages, Reynales says she’s on her way to achieving her goal of one day becoming a Spanish teacher at the university level.

“I’m very proud of the opportunity I have had to study at George Mason and earn my degree,” Reynales says. “I plan to continue studying for as long as I possibly can.”

But Reynales admits that the path to a degree wasn’t easy. Communicating with classmates and contributing to class discussions were big obstacles, especially in a foreign tongue with people one-quarter her age. But she soon realized what it takes to find academic success.

“The secret is to start everything at the most basic level, learning the main principles before moving on,” Reynales says. “I used to get so frustrated with my studies before I learned to start at the beginning. I had to learn patience before I could learn anything else.”

Though Reynales is well into her “retirement years,” she has no intentions of slowing down. She realizes more schooling lies ahead, but says she’s anxious to begin helping others who want to learn English or Spanish. Her focus will be on assisting illiterate adults to learn to read and write, and eventually help them get back into school.

Reynales wants others to experience the benefits of an education, even later in life. She knows it’s never too late to start learning.

Mason Experience Helps Student Focus on Interests and Prepare for Medical School

By Ryann Doyle

Alex Sims
Alex Sims
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Relaxing and lying on a beach this summer is not in the plans for graduating senior Alex Sims, who majored in anthropology and was also a premedicine student. Instead, Sims is keeping up her momentum and pursuing her interests in women’s health and HIV.

Before Sims starts medical school at George Washington University this fall, she will spend the summer in Boston at Brigham Women’s Hospital, where she will be one of 10 scholars in a research and clinical mentoring program.

“It has always been my plan to go to medical school,” says Sims, an outstanding student who was a finalist for the Truman Scholarship last year.

“My experience in Boston this summer will be a great transition from Mason to medical school. My time here at Mason has really helped me focus in on the things I want to do and stay committed to.”

Sims has been in an apprenticeship with J. DeWitt Webster, professor of global and community health, studying the Afro-Cuban religion, Santeria. Their research focuses on how the followers of Santeria have maintained their inherent culture and language while transitioning from Africa to Cuba, and then from Cuba to the United States. Her interest in the Afro-Cuban culture was sparked when she took a dance class with Professor Jim Lepore and “fell in love” with the Afro-Cuban culture.

Sims has taken full advantage of the unique programs Mason offers. Last summer, along with two other students and Webster, Sims participated in the Multicultural Research and Resource Center’s Building Bridges Project in South Africa.

While in South Africa, Sims lived in the province KwaZulu-Natal. The Zulu culture is the most predominant ethnicity in South Africa. While Sims lived on a college campus in KwaZulu-Natal, she spent one weekend in the rural area Zululand and another weekend in the township to compare the lifestyles of the Zulu people.

While learning about the Zulu culture, including traditional healing practices that are still used today, Sims also researched HIV and worked in HIV clinics.

“Because South Africa is one of the most westernized countries on the continent, western medicine is available and practiced, and people go to the doctor just like we do in the United States,” says Sims. “But people will also consult traditional healers, as well as westernized doctors, to uphold their cultural traditions.”

At the end of her stay in South Africa, Sims wrote a research paper on how western medicine and traditional healing can conflict, complement each other or both, with respect to HIV.

“I got to see how a country that is very westernized still upholds their historical tradition,” says Sims. “The younger generations are still brought up being exposed to their cultural traditions, but they are also growing up in the new millennium, so it was neat to see how people navigated these two cultures.”

Nursing Major Heads to Africa to Help Underserved

By Leah Kerkman Fogarty

Brad Snyder with baby in African clinic
Brad Snyder with a baby in an African clinic.
Photo courtesy of Brad Snyder

When he was five years old and his grandmother’s health was failing, Brad Snyder told his mom that he wanted to grow up and fix other people’s grandmas.

Now, as he earns a BS in nursing, Snyder is on the way to repairing more than just grandparents — sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, moms and dads, too.

Snyder, who’s also the director of campus and community health for Mason’s Student Nurses Association, has taken his love of caring for others and combined it with his passion for learning about other cultures. He’s gearing up for a move to South Africa this fall to put his nursing degree to good use.

“I want to take my training and help the people who need it most,” Snyder says.

It will be his third trip to Africa since 2006. His sophomore year, he traveled to the impoverished country of Lesotho for two weeks. There, he taught leadership conferences and HIV education classes through an international nonprofit organization.

“It was so eye-opening,” Snyder says. “There were so many orphanages filled with kids whose parents had died of AIDS.”

He knew he wanted to go back, so he arranged for a two-month-long journey through Lesotho-Boston Health Alliance (LeBoHA), a program of Boston University’s School of Public Health.

Through LeBoHA, Snyder went into clinics and trained nurses to provide a better standard of care for their patients, teaching them things that are common practice in the United States, such as administering safe and efficient care as well as conducting health assessments.

On his own, he also volunteered in a rural health clinic. “The most advanced thing we had was a pen light,” recalls Snyder.

Yet he saw patients on his own, treating them, most commonly, for minor injuries, chest pain, malnutrition, STD’s and ailments related to HIV/AIDS.

His trips to Africa have focused his career path, too. Snyder hopes to eventually start his own nonprofit that would train community members to become health care providers, with an emphasis on natural, traditional and homeopathic remedies.

“I want to empower them to help themselves,” says Snyder.

Young Adjunct Combines Study, Teaching – and Business Entrepreneurship

By Jennifer Edgerly

Patrick Soleymani
Patrick Soleymani
Photo by Evan Cantwell

He started his own company in 2006, earned a BS in management from Mason in 2007, and officially became an adjunct professor at Mason in 2009. This Saturday, Patrick Soleymani will add another item to his list of accomplishments — MBA graduate.

Motivated by his parents, who are also entrepreneurs, Soleymani started what he intended to be a straightforward global trade firm while attending Mason as an undergraduate student. Along the way, and based on what he was learning in his classes, he began diversifying his organization’s investments. Since 2006, DASA & Soleymani Associates has become a successful holding company, with investments in a restaurant, an IT consulting firm and a global trade organization, amongst other enterprises.

Upon completing his undergraduate studies, Soleymani returned to Mason to pursue an MBA. At the start of the spring 2009 semester, Soleymani, 24, became the youngest person and first MBA student to teach in the School of Management (SOM) as an adjunct professor.

“My experience with my holding company has prepared me to teach on a variety of topics inside the business world and allows me to use examples from different lines of business,” says Soleymani.

“It feels wonderful to be teaching in SOM at such a young age. Teaching in both the management and marketing departments has really given me a new perspective on the academic realm. I hope this opens the door for more Mason students to be selected for adjunct instruction and teaching assistantships.”

Soleymani plans to continue to teach courses in SOM this summer. In the fall, he’ll have a full schedule, balancing teaching and his own course work as a student at the University of Baltimore’s School of Law.

Not only does Soleymani believe that his law degree will complement his business studies, but he hopes to open his own law firm under his current holding company once he receives his JD.

Public Policy Grad Wins Fellowship with Cancer Organization

By James Greif

David Zook
David Zook
Photo courtesy of David Zook

David Zook, who is receiving a master’s degree in public policy with a concentration in governance systems and policy management this week, has been awarded the first Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA) Rhonda Oziel Policy Fellowship.

This one-year fellowship, named after an OCNA founder, was created to give graduate students who have a passion for public policy and health care reform a chance to be on the front lines on Capitol Hill advocating for change.

Zook will work directly with the senior public policy director at OCNA to advance the organization’s policy priorities, including increasing federal funds for ovarian cancer research, improving health care practice and expanding the national ovarian advocacy movement.

Zook received a bachelor’s degree in economics and psychology from McGill University in 2006 and completed the international requirements for a master’s degree at Oxford University in 2007.

At OCNA, Zook will work on a wide range of policy issues within a small policy department. He is currently writing a paper on health care service disparities and tracking national health-related legislation for the organization.

Attending Mason on the recommendation of a friend, Zook says he was impressed with the School of Public Policy’s multidisciplinary approach. He specifically cites the school’s focus on statistics, economics and program analysis as an attraction for him.

Mason’s location near Washington, D.C., was also a draw for Zook, as he met students from a wide variety of backgrounds and careers.

“At Mason, I had the chance to learn with students who worked in the White House as well as with students fresh from undergraduate degrees,” Zook says.

Zook feels that working with a variety of students on group projects prepared him for the coalition building and advocacy work he will be performing at OCNA. He also believes that studying at Mason improved his analytical and communication skills and the quality of his writing.

“I am thrilled to be able to help advance OCNA’s policy objectives while learning about the intricate relationship between advocates and Capitol Hill policy makers,” says Zook. “To receive the first Rhonda Oziel Policy Fellowship is an extraordinary honor.”

After the fellowship is completed, Zook would like to continue working in the field of health care policy.

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