Etched in Stone
The Legacy of Alan Merten
Live and Act with Integrity
Catch the Mason Spirit
â€œThank you Dr. and Mrs. Merten for inspiring us every day!â€? -University Life
Show You Care
Pursue Lifelong Learning
Foster Student Success
Embrace our Differences
Contents Page 6
Personal Account: Dan Walsch
Just Around the Corner
Q&A with Allyson Bowers
A Leader Among Leaders
Two Institutions, One Mission
A Spirited Leader
Q&A with Jim Larranaga
Creating a Family Culture
Personal Account: Ted Arnn
Personal Account: Lloyd GrifďŹ ths
More Than a Workplace
Meet the G4
Memorable Merten Moments Creative Services
Personal Account: John Mason Etched in Stone
Thank you for building the sense of community, diversity and innovation that Mason has today â€“ in the Student Centers, and throughout the University!
Dr. Merten, Thank you for your continued support. The Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study
4 â€˘ Etched in Stone
Letter from the
nyone who knows Alan Merten has heard him say the following: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” But it’s not just something he says. It’s something he lives by. Through his actions and accomplishments over the past 16 years, President Merten has shown that he deeply cares about George Mason University. When I took on the task of putting together this magazine, I thought it would be interesting to learn about how he has moved the university forward. But it was not until after I spent days scouring old issues of Broadside and weeks interviewing countless individuals that I realized truly how fortunate Mason has been to have Dr. Merten at the helm. It was flattering how many people came forward to share a story about him—be it the student who has only met him once or the administrator that interacts with him on a regular basis. I also quickly learned that the
presidency has not just been about Alan Merten; it’s been about Alan and Sally Merten. The love that the president and first lady share for each other as well as for the entire Mason family is incredibly heartwarming. I feel honored to have had a small part in paying tribute to the Mertens. It really became the highlight of my final semester at the university. Though this magazine only scratches the surface of the various aspects of President Merten’s leadership and the myriad memories he leaves behind with so many people, I hope it will help the Mason community better understand and appreciate what a remarkable leader he has been. Thanks to everyone, including President and Mrs. Merten, who helped make this magazine possible. Go Mason!
Monika Joshi Editor-in-Chief
Staff Monika Joshi Editor-in-Chief Erin Powell Managing Editor Mahogany M. Murray Art & Design Director Kathryn Mangus Student Media Director David Carroll Student Media Associate Director
Special Thanks To: Stephen Kline Jake McLernon Dan Waxman Aram Zucker-Scharff Jacques Mouyal Katalin Mouyal Dan Walsch Sharon Cullen Suzanne Lago Arthur Creative Services WGMU Broadside Connect2Mason
Etched in Stone
TRANSFORMATIV An Oral History of the Merten Presidency (1996 - 2012)
6 â€˘ Etched in Stone
Stephen Kline| Broadside
LEADERSHIP by Monika Joshi
Etched in Stone
eorge Mason University has come a long way since 1996— from a little-known commuter school, it has expanded and matured into an institution of national and international recognition. A key player in the university’s success has been its president, Alan Merten. As his 16-year term comes to an end, Merten is leaving an indelible mark. 1995-96 — A New Era On Sept. 20, 1995, George Mason University’s fourth President, George Johnson, announced his retirement. “[Mason] is now poised to become a preeminent institution within the next 10 to 15 years,” he said. “It’s time to begin planning for an inevitable transition.” A search committee was created, consisting of the 16-member Board of Visitors, 3 faculty members, 2 students and an executive search firm.
Larry Czarda, then chief of staff and senior administrator in search committee: There was a lot of tension on campus. While Mason to this day continues to develop, we were really stretched at that time. We were growing very quickly and there were a lot of big things going on. Dr. Johnson was kind of a larger than life figure, and there was a lot of concern about the next president. In addition, the board itself had some very interesting dynamics at that time. Jenna Van Hook, then BOV student representative: It was a bit hard to envision Mason without Johnson at first. The committee got busy developing a long wish list for our next president and it seemed as though it might be difficult to find the right fit. What started as a pool of hundreds of candidates soon became the top 15, 10, eight and finally four candidates. Alan Merten, dean of the Johnson Graduate
8 • Etched in Stone
School of Management at Cornell University, was one of these candidates, who were each invited to Mason for a two-day visit.
Czarda: Although all four candidates were outstanding, Merten really stood out. He was so comfortable in the environment at Mason. He mingled and he looked people in the eye. He also made a point to interact not only with the more senior people he met from the outside, but with staff—whether it was office staff, the campus police or secretarial staff. Jack Censer, then faculty member in search committee: I think what drew people to him is that he’d been at the University of Florida, where he’d been dean; he’d also been at Cornell, and he was a computer scientist, which was important because at that time we were trying to build up our commitment to the technology community. I think what really put him over the top was when he
met the faculty and staff in Dewberry Hall. There were about 800 seats, and I remember almost all of them being filled. He gave a totally memorable performance. He had the ability to make every single person believe that, though there were 799 other people in the room, he was talking with you. After that there really was no doubt and things moved very quickly. I don’t remember any disagreement among the committee that Alan was the guy. Van Hook: Dr. Merten listened carefully and answered thoughtfully [during a session with students]. At one point, he pulled out a pen and paper and started taking notes. This made students feel that he was genuinely interested in what we had to say. He didn’t always say what the students wanted to hear, but by the end of the session, there was a lot of enthusiasm and support for Dr. Merten. Czarda: I was in the Johnson Center with the search committee when the decision was made. The votes were cast, Dr. Merten was chosen, and I called him. I put him on speaker phone and when he accepted the offer, there was just an immediate sense that this was exactly the right fit. In his first address to the university on Sept. 4, 1996, Merten said: “GMU is tribal in nature. There are too many little tribes working by themselves as opposed to working together for a common goal.” Immediately following his appointment, he busied himself with filling positions and better organizing departments.
Czarda: George Johnson was a master at temporarily reorganizing the administration to get things done. But over time, it had become a bit unwieldy. We had separate schools for undergraduate and graduate business programs, and we had the C3I institute. There were a lot of those interesting things that we needed to change, and Alan was focused on getting that done quickly. And he did. In the first 18 months, he transformed the university. He hired two vice presidents, five deans, the president of the foundation and two head coaches.
He also did some things in the senior administration in terms of clarifying roles. By ’96, Mason was in a position where we could attract people like Peter Stearns, Jim Larranaga and Lloyd Giffiths. Not too many years before, we just weren’t wellknown and attractive enough to hire people like that, but Alan convinced them to come and that’s part of what changed the university.
1998 — World Congress on Information Technology The conference attracted approximately 1,900 people from over 150 countries and featured high-profile speakers.
Alan Merten, university president: When I came to Mason in 1996, I was told that we were going to be the first university to host the World Congress on Information Technology. I thought that was great because I had a chance to put both Mason and Northern Virginia on the technology map. And that’s what turned out to be the case. The planning in ‘96 was intensive and the decision was made to try and get the top people in the world to speak. It was something like 30 to 40 speakers, and it was interesting because there were no noshows. It’s still talked about as the beginning of the world’s knowledge of Northern Virginia as an information technology hub. Edwin Meese, then BOV rector: This was an example of Alan’s desire to make the university a show place and take on projects that hadn’t been done before. I think his particular interest in information technology came in part from his own experience.
Etched in Stone
1999 — “Fall for the Book” Festival Begins This collaboration between the City of Fairfax and Mason begin as a two-day festival and has grown into a week-long festival that attracts thousands of readers from all over the Washington area.
Bill Miller, executive director of Fall for the Book: In late 1998, we started with a study group that was looking at the possibility of doing the first literary festival here. We roped in Sally Merten, so she’s one of the original people. She half volunteered, half got drafted to be on that study group and that group, starting in spring of ‘99, very quickly decided we would do the first festival that fall. Sally Merten, first lady: This was an idea that a former rector of BOV, Ranny Church, had. He was a graduate of UVA, and UVA has had this book festival for many, many years. So he looked around one day and said, “Northern Virginia has all these highly educated people that are all readers, why don’t we have a book festival with Mason?’” 2000 — Merten Looks South In April, Merten was candidates vying to be University of Florida at the selection in May, retracted his interest.
one of six final president of the Gainsville. Before however, Merten
Czarda: He was in Richmond [for a legislative session] one evening and we were recounting what had to happen the next day when he told me he was being nominated for the position in Florida. I believed he was never seriously in the job market to leave. However, the University of Florida is one of the great universities in the world. And he had been there as the dean of the school of business. But it wasn’t a comfortable search for President Merten to be in. Yes, he was a finalist. Yes, he could have been president, but there were a lot of politics involved and he was doing very well at Mason. So the fact that he ended up withdrawing was not a surprise.
10 • Etched in Stone
Merten: At one level or another, I’ve had probably 50 to 75 serious inquiries. Why I didn’t go [to Florida], or let people pursue the other 50 to 70 or so, was that I felt Mason was the right place at the right time, and it kept becoming that. 2002 — Vernon Smith Wins Nobel Prize With this recognition, Mason’s economics program became, and still is, the only one
in the world with two Nobel Laureates. The first was James Buchanan in 1986.
Merten: Being president of a university where you have a faculty member winning the Nobel Prize is overwhelming. I remember I was in my car going out to Prince William, and one of our economics faculty members called me and asked how I was doing. I said, “fine,” and he said, “Vernon Smith just won the Nobel Prize in economics.” And my comment was, “I’m even better now.” Daniel Houser, chair of the department of economics: The atmosphere was electric and there were celebrations in every corner of our university. Aided by the bright light of the Nobel Prize and leveraging the already world-class ranking of Mason’s economics department, the experimental economics program quickly garnered world-wide attention. It was Merten’s vision and confidence in Mason’s economics department that made this
A Personal Account
scholarly contribution to Mason possible. Meese: Alan had the good sense to make it possible for Vernon Smith and his team to come to Mason, and the fact that Vernon and his group won the Nobel Prize certainly validated Alan’s judgment. It was another step in putting Mason on the map as an outstanding university. 2004 — Growing Larger Mason enrollment reached a state-high 28,000 and remains the highest even today.
Andrew Flagel, then dean of admissions: Becoming the largest in Virginia was an effect of the trajectory of the institution. More significant was the incredible increase in interest in Mason. At the same time, the academic profile of freshmen applicants made a dramatic shift, with average GPA’s moving from 3.1 to 3.6. Maintaining Mason’s incredible diversity while making such enormous shifts is distinctive across higher education institutions in the last decade. Mason moved to be a national and international destination for incredible students. Dan Walsch, press secretary: It was never one of Mason’s specific goals to become the state’s largest. Our goal was to respond to the high number of high school graduates that would be looking to further their education. Institutions were having monies cut [due to] a revenue shortfall in Virginia. The fact that Mason continued to grow during such a time reinforced that we were on the rise. This says much about Dr. Merten’s vision which was two-fold: Keep one eye on addressing the current challenges without compromising academic integrity, and keep the other eye on anticipating the future needs of the state and its people. 2005 — Merten is named “Washingtonian of the Year” He became the second Mason president to be recognized by the magazine, after President Johnson.
Leslie Milk, Washingtonian lifestyle editor: Dr. Merten’s innovative leadership
Photo Courtesy of Matthew Lee
was an undergraduate student at GMU from 1994 to 1998 and worked at Broadside for most of my time there. George W. Johnson was president of GMU from 1978, so when he stepped down in 1996, it was, of course, a big story.
The search for the next president was easily the biggest story I covered to that point. Many administrators and professors I interviewed at the time said that the school was coming of age and needed the next president to lead the university into adulthood. The Board of Visitors created a search committee and did their best to keep their deliberations and list of potential candidates quiet. Predictably, this made us pursue the story harder. The Board eventually brought four finalists to campus for public interviews. Dr. Merten was the last of four candidates to visit and there was little doubt from the people I spoke to at the time he was the favorite. Many
cited his background leading Cornell’s business school as his biggest asset. The one thing I heard repeatedly during the selection process and from Dr. Merten, was the need for GMU to take its fundraising to the next level. In one of my first interviews with Dr. Merten in April 1996, he told me: “GMU will not become a great university based on money from Richmond,” and that he needed to embrace the alumni and businesses in the private sector for support. Despite the tremendous demands on his time during his first year, I don’t ever remember being denied access to Dr. Merten. He was always generous with his time and measured and thoughtful with his responses. I was always treated seriously and with respect by Dr. Merten. As a young journalism student poking his nose into the university’s business, that was greatly appreciated, both then and now, looking back at it a decade and a half later. Matthew Lee graduated from Mason in 1998 with a B.A. in Communication. He currently works as a senior editor for NFL and College Sports blogs at ESPN.com.
Etched in Stone
of GMU and his contributions to Northern Virginia embraced far more than students and faculty. He made this a better place for all Washingtonians. Walsch: One of the roles Dr. Merten saw for himself was to be highly visible. This choice was not ego-driven. He always used his public outings as venues to tell “the Mason story.” It got to a point where Merten and Mason were almost one-and-the-same. So this honor proved also to be an honor for the university. First Capital Fundraising Campaign Launched in 2002, the effort raised $142 million from about 45,000 donors.
Peter Stearns, provost: This was very much [Merten’s] idea. My understanding is there had been a failed effort before he became president, so he decided to launch a genuine campaign and hired appropriate development people to carry it out. It was a success. I think the main achievement really was less the money that was raised. The main success was in establishing that Mason was in the business of development and that we were going to be able to expand our resources through philanthropy. Loudoun Campus Opens This became Mason’s fourth campus, after Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William.
Tom Calhoun, vice president for facilities: This was to better enable Mason in meeting its regional charter of providing access to education to the entire Northern Virginia region. Dr. Merten established the requirement and the timeline and then allowed us to execute the plan.
Broadside File Photo
12 • Etched in Stone
An International Campus in the United Arab Emirates The opening of this campus in Ras Al-Khaimah was the first by an American university. It later closed in 2009.
Stearns: This was a collaboration in the Emirates between a large company and the government of the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah. They wanted to set up an American university, and we signed an agreement with them to be that university. They provided us some subsidies and we ran it for three years. In the fourth year, as the economic downturn began, our partners became increasingly concerned that we were still requiring subsidies, that enrollment hadn’t grown as much as expected. They began insisting on changes that, in our judgment, fundamentally threatened the quality standards of the operation, so I decided we had to close it down. We brought most of the students over here, and many of them have already graduated. 2006 — A Spot in the NCAA Final Four The unforgettable run that changed Mason forever
Merten: It’s one of the four greatest things that ever happened to the university in terms of visibility. It may happen again, but it’ll never happen again for the first time—it made the experience so dramatic. There were days when there were five TV satellite trucks out in front of Mason Hall and reporters everywhere. We were at another level now. We had to make decisions we had never been involved in before. Maurice Scherrens, senior vice president: We had greater visibility and we marketed the university more than we had ever before. Applications sky-rocketed, and we’ve been able to retain that in terms of that high level of students that wanted to come to Mason. There’s probably no event in the last 10 years that’s done more for Mason’s reputation. People are still talking about it in 2012. Tom Hennessey, chief of staff: The wave built without anything that Dr. Merten did. He could have body surfed it or just ridden the wave out. But the fact that he was able to surf it—to get up on a board, stand up and use it as a platform—is the manner in which he capitalized best on what Mason did in its run. He could have just talked about how great it was to go to the Final Four, but he took it to the next level, explaining who George Mason was,
why he was he important and how the university ties in with the man. 2008 — U.S. News and World Report names Mason #1 Up and Coming School The university remains number two on the list.
Merten: When you get identified as entrepreneurial and up and coming, it says something about you, particularly when you’re identified that by your peers. It was just an emotional thing. At the dedication of Founders Hall [this March], CIA Director Gen. David Patraeus was the speaker. He said, ‘You’re no longer up and coming, you’ve come.’ I said, that’s true, but I like up and coming. It keeps us on our toes. It says that however good we are, we’ve got to get better. Walsch: In a nutshell, it reinforced our upward trajectory that started back in the late 1970s. 2009 — The Construction of Masonvale A residential community of townhouses and apartments for faculty, staff and students
Scherrens: The deans and the faculty said that the greatest obstacle to bringing in outstanding faculty was that prospective new faculty members would say, ‘We can’t afford to come to Mason.’ So what the faculty said was, ‘Is there any way for us to provide on-campus housing?’ That’s what Masonvale was, and it’s made a huge difference. It’s 100 percent fully occupied and been a hit since day one. Calhoun: The original concept was for construction of units that would be sold to faculty. Later this idea was changed to provide rental units instead. Merten was always good about making sure the project team was focused on the overall goals of the effort. 2010 — Opening of The Mason Inn Mason builds a world-class conference center and 148-room hotel on campus
Scherrens: This is probably the facility that Alan takes the most pride in. We had a need and the community had a need for the same thing, so we pulled the trigger. Alan was involved in most everything. He and Sally had their thoughts about the way it was designed. That’s why it’s got a lot of the flavor of being specific to Mason. He wanted it to be
seamless so that the faculty and staff used it as much as the outside community used it. Calhoun: He was the singular driver throughout the entire process. He participated actively in solidifying design concepts and then later approved many of the finishes, and championed the project in the local community. The end result has been an immediate positive impact on the image of the university and community. Merten: We did it so right. We put it at the right place, made it the right size and did it at the right time. We didn’t build it for 2012. We built it for the next 50 to 100 years. 2011 — West Campus Connector Begins Expected to be complete by 2013, the road will link West Campus to the main campus and help alleviate congestion.
John Cook, Braddock District supervisor: Dr. Merten worked with Delegate Tim Hugo and others to secure the funding despite a lot of competition for limited funds. Further, Dr. Merten’s willingness to seek out and incorporate public input was essential in securing community buy-in and support. The project’s neighbors and the broader community were able to have their concerns heard, and often addressed in a very constructive manner. None of that would have been possible without Dr. Merten’s support. Josh Cantor, director of parking and transportation: The soon-to-be-constructed Campus Drive may turn out to be the most transformative project when people look back at this time period of Mason’s history. Cathy Wolfe, director of campus planning: The project will provide much needed pedestrian safety and traffic flow improvements between the East and West sectors of the Fairfax Campus, as well as future opportunities for continued development on West Campus. Merten receives Earle C. Williams Lifetime Achievement Award The Northern Virginia Technology Council recognizes Merten’s impact on the area’s technology community.
Bobbie Kilberg, president and CEO of NVTC: NVTC honored Dr. Merten with this award in recognition of his leadership at Mason, his service on the NVTC Board of Directors, his advocacy for collaboration between the university and the technology community and his contributions to educating the region’s technology workforce.
Etched in Stone
Walsch: As the years of his tenure progressed, President Merten began taking on the role of elder statesman. This ’tag‘ was well-deserved. Serving as president as long as Dr. Merten had up to that point is no small thing. People looked at the great advancements our institution had made and began to appreciate deeply the richness of his leadership. Mason is officially named a “primarily residential” campus A spike in campus living prompts reclassification by Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Walsch: Becoming officially classified as a residential institution proved to be a liberating moment because it freed Mason from the shackles of an unfair and inaccurate [description as a commuter school]. It also solidified the great growth of the institution and the notion that we are a center of much activity. Denise Taylor, executive director of housing and residence life: Dr. Merten has been a catalyst for the explosive growth in residential living and current and future Mason students will benefit from his commitment to our community. Merten announces retirement The BOV accepts Merten’s retirement request for June 2012, a year earlier than the end of his contract.
14 • Etched in Stone
Ernst Volgeanu, BOV rector: [Our first reaction was], what are we going to do for his successor? How are we going to find someone that can carry on Alan Merten’s excellent work? Sally: It’s a very exciting time, but it’s also very nostalgic for me. President Merten: We have no regrets that we made this decision. We knew that whenever it occurred it would be hard on us, hard on the university and hard on the community, in terms of the number of things that have to be dealt with. We’ve been referring to this last period as a victory lap. We have the opportunity to talk about Mason, ourselves and the interaction multiple nights a week, multiple times a day. I think the most enjoyable part of it is that it’s been giving people a chance, in the process of thanking us, to celebrate the way Mason has changed. Angel Cabrera, incoming president: It is humbling to follow in the footsteps of a leader that has done so much for Mason. If my presidency is half as productive as Dr. Merten’s, Mason will have a bright future.
A Personal Account Creative Services
eorge Mason University is not easy. In fact, if one were to take a step back and attempt to digest this entire multi-layered entity of ours, they would be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. Our institution is comprised of over 34,000 students, over 6,000 employees, has an total budget of nearly $900 million, maintains nearly 170 buildings and three fully functioning campuses, houses over 6,000 students, boasts over ten academic colleges, schools and institutes, and hosts more than three million visitors each year. As impressive as those numbers might be, they only scratch the surface of the institution’s great complexity. The numbers do not begin to address the dynamics within each of Mason’s major academic and administrative units, the work of the faculty, the range of responsibility of the staff, and the many outside forces that interact with the university on a daily basis. Any person who sits in the driver’s seat of such an amalgamation to ensure it does not collapses under its own weight but actually advances in a logical, responsible and forward-thinking way deserves high praise, admiration and strong support. For the past 16 years, Alan Merten, surpassed this great challenge and, in doing so, earned the respect, affection and regard of so many people. I know during those years Dr. Merten had days and times that were difficult and frustrating. But I also know, particularly
during those times, that he never let any of that compromise his priority of doing what he felt was best for the entire Mason community.
From the very beginning, Dr. Merten saw his appointment as Mason’s president as a gift. In fact, he once said, “It places me in a unique position to foster positive change in the lives of so many people in a way that benefits not only the individuals, but the well being of our region and perhaps the nation.” Perhaps one of the best characteristics of Dr. Merten is what I can only call his innate modesty. He is a man with a strong sense of self, yet respectful, even humble, in his interactions with others, no matter their station in life. The warmth he exudes is the same whether he is with students, parents, fellow presidents, high-ranking scholars, or the president of the United States. It is who he is. Actually, it is part of who he is. The other part is a man of depth, conviction, fairness, unshakable loyalty, and, above all, heart. Sixteen years ago he stepped into a difficult job at a very challenging institution and made it better. Dr. Merten’s legacy of significant success will forever endure. Dan Walsch is the university press secretary and an adjunct professor in the Department of Communication. Walsch has been on GMU’s media relations staff for over 20 years and also writes articles for the Mason Spirit and Mason Gazette.
Etched in Stone
16 â€˘ Etched in Stone
Just Around the Corner Approachability, visibilty on campus made Merten a student favorite by Colleen Wilson
uring his self-guided tour of campus, then senior in high school Mark Mansdoerfer and his parents rounded the corner behind the Johnson Center and stumbled upon a man in a yellow Mason T-shirt with the word “President” custom stitched into it. Still undecided on the school, Mansdoerfer and his parents walked over and introduced themselves to Alan Merten, the university’s president. “We expected a couple minutes of chit-chat, but it turned into lengthy conversation,” said Mansdoerfer, who is n ow a junior. “He completely changed my perspective of the school.” Merten ended up inviting Mansdoerfer along on a walk to President’s Park. He pointed out important buildings and talked to Mansdoerfer about his intended major, stopping frequently to highfive other students along the way. Merten led the informal tour group up the stairs into the buildings of President’s Park and asked students to open their doors to show off their rooms to the perspective student. “He sold the school for me,” Mansdoerfer said. “The whole thing was completely by chance.” Merten’s traditional president shirt and informal tours are a
staple at freshmen move-in day each year, a tradition that has solidified his status as an engaging and approachable university president. “Every year one of his favorite things, if not the favorite thing, is to go to move-in day,” said Dan Walsch, university press secretary. “He realizes the bond created when parents are helping move in their son or daughter and the president says, ‘Welcome, I’m glad you’re here.’ It’s one of those things you can’t define. It creates a certain feeling of warmth towards, not just him, but what he represents.” As the university grows in size and stature, Merten has done his best to make it to as many major events as he can. “From my experience at undergrad, grad and the institution I worked at before Mason, Merten is a very unique president for a large school,” said Lauren Long, director of the Office of Student Involvement.
“Usually, the president is very external. His actions help make Mason feel like a small school even though we’re large. It’s one of the great qualities that helps attract people to our school.” Etched in Stone
A common staple at basketball games, International Week and dance competitions, Merten has also been spotted playing corn hole with Phi Sigma Kappa, sitting in the dunk tank during Welcome Week and attending shows at the Patriot Center.
“President Merten has been a driving force in improving campus life,”
18 • Etched in Stone
Broadside File Photos
said Sandy Scherrens, vice president of University Life. “He has spoken to hundreds of students, engaging them with his wonderful stories and experiences. Best of all, he has the longest line at the dunk tank during Welcome Week.” Each year, Merten works closely with the Leadership Office to sponsor an annual leadership lunch at the president’s residence. This gives student leaders a chance to meet personally with the president. “I mean, you’ve got the guy who runs the entire university, the biggest institution in Virginia, inviting you over to his house,” said Emily Sharrer, alumna and former
Broadside editor-in-chief. “It was really neat.” At least once a semester, Merten also speaks to student leaders on campus about his family and career during a leadership dialogue. “It felt like [he was] a grandfather. It was very comfortable, like family. He’s always smiling and just seems to be happy,” said Jeff Fusco, a junior and member of the head team for Orientation and Family Programs. Once a year, Merten stops in to talk to the Student Ambassadors and give them an encouraging speech on the positive impact the organization has on the school. Set to graduate this spring, Mansdoerfer has spent much of his time at Mason working as a student ambassador, giving tours to prospective students like he once was. “If he sees us giving a tour, he’ll pop in,” Mansdoerfer said. “He’ll slide in the back and then when we stop we feel obligated to introduce him. It’s funny, it makes it a little awkward for us but it makes the tour so much better. It shows
parents how out in the open he is.” Each year, Merten and his wife Sally sponsor the university holiday party to which all university members are invited. The couple sits in front of Dewberry Hall to shake hands and greet their guests. “It speaks to Merten’s message that the department is called University Life instead of Student Affairs,” Long said. “Everyone matters.” As Merten retires this June, he leaves behind a legacy of friendly interaction with the student body. “He has a real easy demeanor about him,” Walsch said. “He makes you feel like you can talk to him. That’s not something that you can necessarily teach someone. It’s just who he is as a person.”
Student Body President Reﬂects on Merten’s Legacy
What is your relationship to President Merten? Do you interact often?
We usually meet with President Merten at the beginning of every term. We tell him what our platform was and what we’re looking to do throughout the year. He gives us feedback and gives a speech about being a student leader and making sure you graduate on time. He was very intent on saying, “Remember, you’re a student first.” Go to your classes, get good grades, kind of like a fatherly figure.
Would you say you can relate to Merten as student body president?
I really got a grasp of what being a president means when I was on the search committee last semester. It was an incredible process and an incredible experience and I wouldn’t replace it for anything. I think it was definitely the highlight of my term by far. In those few months, you really learn what a president does, because you have to find those qualifications in another person. The thing that was interesting was President Merten has done a lot since he’s been here. Trying to find someone that had that same spark and energy that he came in with was something that we really needed to look for. Being student body president is kind of the same way, you really have to find the person who has that motivation and drive and can hit the ground running. In college you don’t really have a lot of time while you’re
at the institution. You have a small amount of time to make a big impact. I can definitely understand from his perspective – when he came in Mason was on the rise and he had to keep the ball rolling. That was the same way with the past student body presidents before me, when I came in I had to make sure [the position] was propelled in the right direction. You feel the pressure, but it’s nothing close to what he experiences on a daily basis.
Do you remember the first time you interacted with Merten?
I think it was either my freshman or sophomore year. He made an appearance at one of our student government banquets and said a few short words. His personality is very bright and it definitely helps to brighten a room and that was something that I initially felt from him. Because he’s a busy man, you don’t really get the opportunity to meet with him. It’s really that one time that you get to sit and talk with him and really get his feel for what you’re doing. Because he’s made such a huge impact on the institution, it was something I was really nervous about. He came out to be more of a fatherly figure than the president of one of the largest public institutions.
How do you think President Merten exemplifies the qualities of leader throughout the university and the George Mason community?
He always talks about how he came in and did a lot of things that weren’t popular and did a lot of things that people hesitated on. He took risks for a fact, and that’s something as a leader that you have to do. You have to be willing to take risks. You have to be willing to be bold in your actions, especially as a university president. Most of the decisions that he made have helped propel our university into the right direction. He really stands by ‘where innovation is tradition’ because he has very innovative thought and the process which he goes through things is very nontraditional. We’re not bound to the same guidelines or restrictions that other institutions are.
What do you think was the biggest change or improvement that President Merten made to the university?
Generally speaking, from my understanding, George Mason was not on the map at all. People didn’t know where it was. People didn’t know it existed. Throughout his term, he made us known. Not only did he make us known, but he made us a nationally and internationally ranked institution. When I go out into the workforce in five or 10 years, I know that saying ‘I’m a graduate of George Mason University’ is going to mean a lot more than it does right now. And I know that’s because of the things that President Merten did while he was here.
Etched in Stone
A Leader Among Leaders by Colleen Wilson
resident Alan Merten’s influence has extended far beyond the campus boundaries of Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington. In collaboration with several groups that foster discussion between local university presidents, he has worked to discuss budgets, state regulation and funding, athletic conferences and other issues. Linwood H. Rose, president of James Madison University for the last 14 years, has experienced many of the same challenges as Merten during his tenure. Rose, who says he considers Merten a good friend and a counterpart, will also be retiring on June 30. The two served together on the Council of Presidents, which consists of Virginia university presidents. Created in the early ‘90s, the council meets monthly to discuss issues like funding, policy. “The universities and colleges are all competing, no one gets everything they want,” said Dan Walsch, university
20 • Etched in Stone
press secretary. “They have to dip into same pot to get money for any projects they can justify. It’s a fairly convoluted process.” Leadership on the Council of Presidents rotates. Rose and Merten have each served as President of Chair of the presidents twice. The goal of the council is to work on issues pertinent to all Virginia schools, including declining financial support from the state, athletic issues and safety and health policies. “It’s interesting,” Merten said. “We compete with each other in athletics, in academics, in students and faculty, but then we also cooperate.
“So Monday and Tuesday you’re trying to steal a faculty member or student and then Wednesday you’re planning some event with them.”
Rose considers the relationship between JMU and Mason to be unique in relation to other four-year institutions due to the similarities in growth at both universities. “Both of us were preceded by presidents, two leaders, who were perceived as being larger than life figures. People who were very charismatic,” Rose said. “Sometimes you have situations where you’re not sure if the people who come after will be able to continue the legacy, or if it was a one time thing. Both of our institutions have blossomed and improved, becoming larger and better.”
One Mission by Colleen Wilson
Transfers from NVCC 1,800 1,600 1,400
# of Students
n a continuation of the work by former presidents, Alan Merten and NVCC’s current president Robert Templin have helped create the most unique interaction between a two-year community college and a four-year institution. Merten has worked closely with NVCC to create several programs and initiatives to improve college access and acceptance into four-year institutions. “[Templin’s] school is the biggest in the state with 70,000 students. People sometimes lose sight of what an enormous operation it is,” said Dan Walsch, university press secretary. “Together, [Mason and NVCC] represent Northern Virginia.” At least twice a year, senior staff from both schools meet to go over items of mutual interest. Mason and NVCC have a guaranteed admission agreement that allows students who complete an associate degree at NVCC with a certain grade point average to transfer to Mason as a third year student. “That was long before it was a common practice elsewhere,” Templin said. “It became a model that other Virginia universities and colleges have used.” In reaction to an increase in demand for Mason admission, the two schools recently decided to increase the guaranteed admission grade point average to 2.75, which Templin says is still very favorable toward NVCC students. In 2005, Merten and Templin created the Pathway to the Baccalaureate Program, which works with local high school students from low income, immigrant or minority backgrounds to help prepare them for college. The program guarantees admission to Mason through NVCC and has approximately 6,500 students this year. The two institutions, in liaison with other colleges and universities, have also developed a strategy to help produce more registered nurses for the region. Mason has concentrated
1,200 1,000 800 600 400 200 0 '00
specifically on growing a new generation of faculty in nursing for NVCC and other higher institutions. Templin said. The partnership is beneficial for students at both colleges. NVCC students are welcome to Mason campus libraries, and encouraged to attend basketball games and other campus events. On the other hand, Mason students who are unable to find their ideal classes at the university often turn to NVCC, especially during summer sessions. “I think our students have a lot of confidence in the two institutions,” Templin said. “If they work with us they won’t be wasting time or credit because of uncertainty in our relationship. Those are big items when families are looking at ways to save money or are worried about losing credits.” Templin hopes that the future leadership of Mason, as well as the local communities and businesses, will continue to strengthen the legacy he has helped to foster with Merten. “I think we’ve become so used to working together that people take it for granted now,” he said. “We are two great institutions that have done a lot for the students and the region.”
Etched in Stone
e File P hoto
22 â€˘ Etched in Stone
A Spirited Leader Merten stands tall for Mason athletics by Cody Norman
tudents piled into the arena, stacking all the way to the rafters in anticipation for the Patriots’ Homecoming matchup against a conference rival. But the game could wait. President Alan Merten marched up the stairs of the Patriot Center, shaking hands and exchanging smiles with each and every student in his path, and made his way toward the terrace of Section 124. He peered over the sea of green and gold, raising both arms in appreciation as he acknowledged the chants that echoed throughout the Patriot Platoon. “Al-an Mer-ten. Al-an Mer-ten.” For nearly 16 years, those two words have rung throughout the Patriots’ home arena, students and fans standing to recognize the man who has made the biggest impact on George Mason University since its birth in 1957. They chant his name in order to reciprocate the love and affection that Merten and his wife, Sally, have shown all students, staff and fans since they arrived in Fairfax in July 1996.
“When the students at basketball games chant my name,” Merten said, “I get a lump in my throat.” When the Mertens took office as president and first lady of Mason, they inherited a commuter university that schooled just 24,000 students. Using athletics as the front door, they played a major role in morphing the university into the fastest growing institution in Virginia, eclipsing the 30,000-student mark and being recognized as one of the nation’s top up-and-coming universities. “This is a very special place and a very special university,” Merten said. “It has meant a lot to Sally and me to be able to play a role in making this a better university. To see what we’ve created, particularly what we’ve created in respect to the enthusiasm from the student body, it’s just been incredible.” Along with all of their other responsibilities, the Mertens have noticeably attended nearly every home basketball game. Second to none, they have become the most
Etched in Stone
Ready, Aim, Fire!
Jake McLernon | Connect2Mason
24 • Etched in Stone
dive program before there was a facility,” Merten said.“Then a facility comes along and enhances the program. Quickly, the Aquatic and Fitness Center became the place where lots of tournaments are and it’s used by the community.” Much like a majority of the Mason community, the Mertens have served as the centerpiece to athletic
everyone remembers it. This year he did the same exact thing and hit the scoreboard again. I think that’s one thing that’s very important – his support for our men’s basketball team. It really helped to bring out the school’s spirit.” At the Fairfax Campus Farewell Tribute which gave students, faculty and staff a chance to thank the Mertens for their involvement, President Merten was even presented with an honorary T-shirt gun to take home. Although the T-shirt gun was retired at the Tribute, the Mason community will always sport fond memories of the president and his light-hearted spirit at basketball games. —
success in Fairfax. And for his efforts, it is at every home basketball game that Merten is recognized on the grandest stage – from the flood of loving chants to each moment when he rises from his seat, points the air-powered gun into the stands and sends a T-shirt into the hands of one lucky fan – President Merten is George Mason.
John Powell | Freelance Photographer
passionate fans and can oftentimes be seen exhibiting as much emotion as seniors Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison. But their love does not end with men’s or women’s basketball. It reaches all Mason sports. “As far as athletics are concerned, all the programs are important,” Sally said. “We’re really proud of all of these kids. They really spend a lot of time and a lot of effort on their sports.” In the final home men’s basketball game of the season, President Merten and Sally were recognized at mid-court with a representative from each Mason team. “We did that because they have meant so much to each of the teams,” said Tom O’Connor, vice president and director of athletics. “I don’t know if there will be another venue with that many people to give him a standing ovation.” Recently completing its twelfth season of competition, the Patriots’ swim and dive team began under the Mertens’ watch and won the championship in each of its first three seasons. “We sort of created the swim and
For anyone who’s ever been to a George Mason University men’s basketball game in the Patriot Center, they know that President Alan Merten can shoot all the way up to Section 124 without breaking a sweat. Shoot a T-shirt out of the famed T-shirt gun, that is. What started as a simple ploy to rile up fans quickly turned into a tradition that students and Mason community members alike looked forward to at games. “He’s always hilarious with the T-shirt gun,” said Allyson Bowers, a senior government and international politics major and Mason student body president. “I remember he always talks about how one time a few years ago he hit the scoreboard. Everyone was at that game and
Former Men’s Basketball Head Coach Reﬂects on Merten’s Legacy
Jim Larranaga Q:
What was your relationship like with President Merten during your time at Mason?
Dr. Merten and his wife Sally are very good friends of mine and my wife Liz. That friendship developed in May of 1997 when President Merten and Sally invited Liz and me to the Business Hall of Fame in downtown Washington, D.C. It was a black tie affair with all the very successful businessmen in the greater Washington, D.C. area. I went out and rented a tuxedo for the occasion, but after the event was over, Dr. Merten asked me if I rented a tuxedo. When I said yes, he said you better go buy one because we’re going to be doing this pretty regularly. That was the first time in my coaching career where a president and his wife had extended a friendly opportunity for my wife and I to get to know them. We just started doing a lot of things together. We went to a number of black tie affairs. We would have brunch on Sundays and my wife and Sally would play bridge together. It just became something—when the four of us had free time we would get together.
What did you think of President and Mrs.
Merten’s presence at many of the men’s basketball games?
One of the things that President Merten told me during the interview process when I first met him was that he felt the men’s basketball program was very important for the vision that he had for the university and it’s growth. He used the expression that the men’s basketball program could be the marketing arm of the university and he explained that by saying if your basketball team does very well, there can be a lot of very positive spin-offs to having a successful basketball program. So I knew even before I took the job that the men’s basketball program was important to him. It was wonderful having President and Mrs. Merten sitting courtside at all of our home games and being very supportive of the program. In fact, twice a year, President Merten would come by and talk with our team. Once before the season began to wish us luck, and once at the end of the season to thank us for the role we played in creating a positive image for the university.
What was your reaction to President Merten’s decision to step down from his position?
When he decided to step down and retire, he called me before the announcement to make me aware of it, and of course I was a little bit shocked and surprised because he still had so much energy and so much to offer the university. I wasn’t expecting that to come so soon. I knew that day would come at some point, but I expected it to be many years in the future.
What impact do you think President Merten has made at the university?
I think President Merten was able to accomplish all of the things that he told me during my interview process. He told me that his vision for the university was to become the best university in the state of Virginia and he wanted the university to grow in every aspect in terms of its academic reputation, in terms of its physical plan and in terms of its capital improvements. He was able to accomplish all those things. His handprint is all over the university. He was a great role model for senior administrators, faculty, staff and anybody that was associated with Mason, including alumni, fans of the university and the Fairfax community.
Etched in Stone
Leaving A Mark Although the Mertens have made a definite impact with their actions in the past during their time spent at George Mason University, their legacy will continue with one last good deed for students. In honor of President and Mrs. Merten, a new $5 million fundraising campaign is progressing to provide scholarship support to students at Mason. $4 million of the funds will be used for scholarship and university priorities, while $1 million will endow an annual scholarship named the Merten Scholars, which will give one qualified student a full ride to the university. “My hope is that this scholarship will create an opportunity for someone who wouldn’t have had it,” said Anthony Hoefer, director of the University Scholars program. “[The Mertens] came up with this as something that will be a part of their legacy.” In addition to the Merten Scholars award, the Otto Scholarship was endowed in 2009, named after Sally Merten’s mother. The scholarship provides a Master’s of Fine Arts student with a fellowship in the area of creative writing. “Alan and I have endowed a scholarship in the Master’s of Fine Arts in the writing program, in the honor of my mother, who is the reason I’m such a big reader, because she was always reading,” Sally Merten said. Even at Family Weekend, the Mertens have managed to extend their outreach. The Alan and Sally Merten Family of the Year Award is given annually to a student and their family as a way to celebrate the Mertens’ continuous dedication and enthusiasm for including families in all aspects of the university experience. In total, the Mertens have endowed five scholarships during their tenure at Mason, expressing their commitment to university academia and the goals of future students. — Erin Powell
Creating a Family Culture Mertens broke barriers, started traditions during 16-year tenure by Monika Joshi
riving along Rt. 66 one evening, Sally Merten looked out the window and pointed out to her husband a sign for George Mason University. “Oh, George Mason!” she said. “You know, its reputation is getting better and they’re more wellregarded now. Maybe you could get a job as a professor there, and if you’re good enough, maybe they’ll even make you a chair professor.” It was the fall of 1994, and the couple was in Fairfax for a 3-month leave that Alan had received from Cornell University, where he was a dean. With Alan having previously worked at the Pentagon and White House and the couple having been married in Franconia, Va., they had a strong connection with the area. In the back of their minds, they knew they would one day come back. A year later, the Mertens learned about the Mason presidency being open, and several months after that, they were named president and first lady of the university. “Alan says that I had a crystal ball,” Sally said. “But it was just a little foggy.”
Two for the Price of One On their first visit to Mason during the presidential search in January of ‘96, the Mertens were shown the George Mason statue on the main
26 • Etched in Stone
campus. The statue, which had just been dedicated the previous spring, was surrounded by a barricade that prevented anyone from getting close to it. Almost immediately, Alan turned to his wife and said, “Well, that’s not going to last.” And indeed, in his first few months as president, Alan had the barricade removed. But this wasn’t the only barrier he removed. At the time of his arrival, Mason lacked a sense of unity in some areas, according to Maurice Scherrens, senior vice president since 1996. President Merten also worked to tear down walls that were up among faculty and administrators. “I think what means the most to him is he has had a positive effect on building that feeling of family throughout the organization,” Scherrens said. And people who know the Mertens know the feeling of family begins with the two of them.
Stephen Kline | Broadside
Etched in Stone
The “Merten Burger”
ore than just a sports bar, Brion’s Grille is something of a tradition. Located across the street from George Mason University, the restaurant has been around for more than two decades and has become an integral part of the Mason community. Mason memorabilia adorns the walls, and with a close look at the menu, you’ll find that some menu items are named after Mason community members. Among these is the Alan Merten burger. “When I first opened and George Johnson was president at Mason, I had what was called ‘the big cheese,’” said Brion’s Grille owner Brion Sumser. “That’s what started the naming [of the burgers]. When Dr. Merten came in as president we decided to name one after him. We want to say to the community that we’re a George Mason place, not a sports bar.” Featuring sautéed mushrooms and Monterey jack cheese, Sumser thinks the Merten burger is a hit. President Merten has even tasted the burger himself. “I’m going to say he loves it,” said Sumser. “He and Sally come in here probably three to four times a year.” As for whether or not the Merten burger will remain on the menu after President Merten’s departure from the university, Sumser said he has yet to decide. — Erin Powell
“I think Alan would say the same thing—he wouldn’t be nearly the president he was if it weren’t for Sally Merten,” Scherrens said. “She’s his rock.” From the start of his presidency, Merten said he knew he wanted Sally to play a key role as first lady—a role that would not only enhance their lives but also the university’s activities. And it did not take very long to establish what that role would be. Having been at the older universities of Michigan, Florida and Cornell, Sally noted a lack of traditions at the young Mason during her very first visit. She instituted a tradition on this visit by suggesting that students could rub the Mason statue’s toe for good luck. Not long after, she also helped create presidential robes for Alan’s inauguration and pushed for the green robes that are worn at graduation.
ideas and encouraging attitude. “Often when you work with people of her stature, they are more of a figurehead,” said Patrice Winter, who helped start Wellness by Mason and has known Sally for 10 years. “They’ll kind of just show up, but she does a lot more than that. She’s always involved.”
Patriots for Life The Mertens said they know the upcoming transition period will be hard, as the university is no longer the simple place it once was. However, they are confident that incoming president Angel Cabrera will find his way of doing things, just as they did. “People are going to have to have patience, but he can’t have patience,” President Merten said. “If you wait for there to be order and wait for it all to make sense, you’re in for a long wait.” President Merten will stay involved at the university and teach classes in leadership and technology as early as next spring. The couple said they also hope to continue representing Mason in the community. “We’ve created a culture that some people say has never been done before,” President Merten said. “I just hope that everyone continues contributing to it. Just keep making it better every day.”
“We just had to start instilling a sense of belonging and tradition,” Sally said. “The entrepreneurial spirit didn’t die. It’s still here. It’s just that you add a little bit to it.” Sally has also been involved with several initiatives at the university including the Fall for the Book festival and Wellness by Mason. She is known across the university for contributing well thought-out
28 • Etched in Stone
Broadside File Photo
Mertens emphasized alumni relationships by Erin Powell
student’s ties with a university don’t simply end after graduation. More often than not, university alumni are an integral part of keeping the community connected in the future and help to push the success of the university as it thrives. “The alumni are the one permanent citizen of the university,” said Chris Clark-Talley, associate vice president of Alumni Affairs. “They are the embodiment of what the university produces.
It’s very important to embrace them.” President Alan Merten was quick to recognize this unique connection between alumni and the university and took charge upon his arrival at George Mason University. He has articulated in the past that Mason could be a good university, but it could not be great without its alumni. “We made a commitment right away in the summer of ‘96 that we both had to draw upon our alumni at Mason more than we ever did Etched in Stone
and we had to contribute to our alumni more than we ever did,” Merten said. During Merten’s time at the university, there has been a significant raise in visibility of the alumni community to the university. The Alumni Association and Alumni Affairs have reached new heights in their ability to reach out and connect with the university while fostering continued relationships with alumni.
“President Merten has consistently said that we cannot be a great university without the support of and without the supporting alumni,” Clark-Talley said. “It’s hard to talk about Dr. Merten’s impact on the Alumni Association without talking about [first lady] Sally because they really came at it as a team.” As a result of Merten’s personal involvement with alumni activities, more and more former Mason students have had the opportunity to return to the university for networking and togetherness. “George Mason was and still is young,” President Merten said. “We would do alumni events where we had seven or eight people sometimes. Now, we have events where we have 350 people. So we made the commitment that we were going to build a strong Alumni Association and that we were going to be physically involved with it.” George Mason’s annual Alumni Weekend event is one example of how far the alumni division of the university has come over the past few years by
Alumni by the Numbers: Total living alumni.....................................................138,489 Alumni Alumni Alumni Alumni Alumni
residing within the United States..................128,007 residing internationally......................................1,233 residing in Virginia...............................................91,387 faculty and staff working on campus............665 couples....................................................................2,455
Information courtesy of Alumni Association
30 • Etched in Stone
expanding the outreach of the university. The Mertens have showed consistent enthusiasm at major events, never hesitating to interact with alumni and making sure to reinforce the importance of the alumni community to the university. “We launched our Alumni Weekend [event] under Dr. Merten’s tenure,” said Tennille Parker, president of the Alumni Association. “Each year we have more alumni registering and they’re bringing guests. It’s a really great opportunity to bring alumni back. Folks really like knowing that when they come back they have a home at George Mason because a lot has changed. Knowing they have a place to gather with alumni during signature events is great.” Perhaps what is the most recognized out of the Mertens’ legacy at the university is the sense of pride and dignity that they have instilled in members of the Mason community. President Merten’s legacy has expanded beyond the walls of the university and has become something of a trademark in the Northern Virginia area. He often recalls having people come up to him in public, noting that he’s the Mason president and stating that he’s increased the value of their degree. “Alumni take pride in being an alumnus and they take pride in being involved at the university,” Sally said. “You look at the variety of advisory boards that have been established by the various colleges and units on campus, and they have no trouble recruiting people that are alumns to come and serve as recruits on those boards because they want to make the university even better than it is. And that pride is very, very special.”
A Personal Account Photo Courtesy of Ted Arnn
university can be good without it’s alumni, but a university can only be great with it’s alumni. I have paraphrased this statement made by Dr. Alan Merten when he arrived at George Mason University. What alumni did not know at the time he said this was just how much Alan Merten meant it. In 1996, I, like many other alumni at the time, had little involvement with George Mason despite living in Northern Virginia. Alan Merten was about to change all of that. The presidency of Dr. Merten has been characterized by his vision for the university to be “world class”. This was quite an ambitious goal for a university that had only been independent for 24 years and had only been in existence for 39 years at his arrival. During its adolescence, the university had grown immensely and become known as a young institution on a path for prominence. Alan Merten; however, put Mason on “fast forward” – a slogan later used in our first capital campaign to describe the Mason charge ahead. Alan’s entrepreneurial spirit became infused in everything we did and George Mason began its meteoric rise. As an alumnus, I was proud of my school and had great respect for the education I received, but Alan Merten had to find a way to get me and my fellow alumni reconnected with the university. Dr. Merten invested in the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Alumni Association early in his tenure. As new and innovative ways for alumni to re-connect with Mason emerged, Alan and his wife Sally were there every step of
the way. Both Mertens are so engaging and enthusiastic, it becomes contagious. Mason was fortunate to have a president who not only had a tremendous vision with the acumen to make it happen, but to have a President who actively participated in every aspect of both student and alumni life. It’s hard to imagine not having Alan and Sally Merten courtside-center cheering on the men’s basketball team and “helping” the referees make the right call. Mason alumni could not avoid it. The Mertens made George Mason a place we all wanted to be. Within five years of Dr. Merten’s arrival, I was serving on the Alumni Association Board of Directors and went on to work with Alan as president of the Alumni Association. George Mason has emerged from adolescence into adulthood and we are not done yet. Alan and Sally Merten have established a legacy that will be emulated and admired for generations to come. It was a great honor to serve as the Alumni Association president during a portion of Alan Merten’s term. Alan and Sally, thank you for all you have done for us. You have left a mark greater than you may ever know and accomplished the ultimate in stewardship. You do not simply leave Mason better than you found it, you leave it evolved into a university we will forever love and cherish, as we do you. I wish you all the best and hope to see you continue as active members of the Mason community during your retirement. Ted Arnn was president of the Alumni Association from 2008 to 2010. He graduated from Mason in 1993 with a B.S. in Law Enforcement.
Etched in Stone
A Personal Account Photo Courtesy of Lloyd Griﬃths
have had the pleasure of working with Alan Merten since July, 1997. He hired me as dean one year after he had assumed leadership of George Mason University. I had been working as Chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It is a beautiful place to live and I enjoyed working at CU. However, in early 1997, a good friend of mine from the Boston area called to tell me that the engineering dean’s job was open at George Mason. My reaction was immediate. I asked, “George Mason, isn’t that the private university with the faculty member who recently won the Nobel prize?” My friend said I was partly right — yes on the Nobel and no on the private university. Mason is a public university. My second reaction was to thank him but to tell him that I was not interested. I had a fine job and was quite happy. He then told me that I should strongly consider two facts. First, Mason had just hired a new president, Alan Merten, who had a computer science degree from Stanford and who had been dean of the business school at both Cornell and Florida. Second, he had heard that the primary focus of the engineering school at Mason under President Merten’s leadership would be to develop strong connections between the school and the local information-technology industry. He recommended that I apply to learn more. My friend knew that I have had long-term strong interests in the relationship between technology and business. He also knew of my belief that IT would have significant business impact. I took his advice, applied for the job and was hired a few months later. Applying for the dean’s position at Mason was one of the best decisions I have made.
32 • Etched in Stone
He is a man of vision who has the ability to focus on the key issues in any situation. The best example I can give is his decision to decentralize the academic management at George Mason.
“Working here has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. I give full credit for this to Alan.” When I interviewed, he explained that he was moving to a system in which the academic deans would have significant authority over their school and college budgets and would have full responsibility for developing their academic programs to a level of national prominence. He also underscored the importance of developing strong ties with the corporations in Northern Virginia. Both decisions were major factors in the successes that our Volgenau School of Engineering has achieved. Alan helped in another very important way. In the year that he had been here prior to my arrival, he had met many important corporate leaders. President Merten arranged for me to meet these leaders and introduced me to the Northern Virginia Technology Council, which had recently been formed. The short story is that he made my job easy. NVTC turned out to be an incredibly valuable conduit to local industry. I met dozens of key corporate leaders in a very short period of time. The rest was easy. Thank you Alan! I owe you a lot. Lloyd Grifﬁths is the dean of the Volgenau School of Engineering. He currently sits on the board of directors for three privately-held companies and has been recognized with the IEEE Browder J. Thompson paper prize award.
Alan G. Merten Dr. Merten,
Leadership Integrity Visionary
On behalf of the many graduates, students, families, and staff of the Early Identification Program (EIP) we say thank you for always supporting the dreams of first-generation college bound students. You know firsthand how the experience of attaining a college degree can change oneâ€™s life. Your belief in the work of EIP has led to the transformation of many lives. Your leadership and love for Mason and will continue to provide hope for future generations. We wish you the best!!! The EIP Family!
4350 Staffordshire Lane, Fairfax, VA 22030 (703) 865-4870 | www.masonvale.com
Thank you for your stellar leadership at Mason and best wishes on your next adventure. From your friends at the Mercatus Center
Etched in Stone
More Than a
Workplace by Monika Joshi
nervous Brenda Mueller walked into the president’s suite in Mason Hall and was greeted by a warm handshake from President Merten, who led her into his office. The room was crammed with over 70 well-wishers, including Mueller’s family, friends and coworkers, who congratulated her.
34 • Etched in Stone
To Mueller, an employee in the College of Education and Human Development, the feeling was like winning an academy award and lottery simultaneously. In a monthly tradition started by Merten, one of George Mason University’s nearly 7,000 employees is recognized as Employee of the Month and given a reception in Merten’s office. “It may not seem like a lot, but it means a lot to an employee that gets nominated,” said Janice Lee-Beverly of the College of Health and Human Services, who had her first personal interaction with Merten when she received the award in February. “It’s a good, uplifting part of working at Mason, and I think it’s something that definitely needs to continue.” During the celebration, which lasts about 20 minutes, President Merten reads aloud highlighted portions of the employee’s nomination letters, which he has gone through beforehand. The employee is then
presented with a framed certificate and several gifts, including free parking, tickets for Patriot Center events and a cash bonus. But it’s not just about the individual employee. Merten takes it a step further by recognizing the role that the employee’s department plays and how it contributes to the overall success of the university. “I find it hard to believe that over 16 years, he’s attended almost 200 Employee of the Month ceremonies, and he hosts them all in his office,” said Maurice Scherrens, senior vice president. “A president spending that kind of time is unheard of.” The Employee of the Month program is one of the numerous ways in which President Merten reinforces positive relationships at all levels of the university. He makes it a point to attend other recognition and reward ceremonies as well, showing that he believes in and appreciates the employees, Scherrens said.
“As you leave his ofﬁce, you feel proud to be a part of the Mason family,” Mueller said. “To say that he is an inspiration to us all is an understatement.”
MEET THE G4 Mason’s top-level leadership is commonly referred to as the G4, or the Group of Four. Headed by President Alan Merten, the group typically meets on a weekly basis to discuss issues of importance.
Dr. Alan Merten President
Tom Hennessey Chief of Staff
Peter Stearns Provost
Maurice Scherrens Senior Vice President
Advises and assists the president to ensure effective management of all university operations
Oversees academic administration and plays a major role in the academic portion of the budget. “I think [Merten] would agree that after I was hired, he spent most of his time focusing on other aspects of the university. So I hope I kept him adequately informed about what was going on on the academic side.”
Responsible for non-academic affairs, including athletics, budget, campus police and regional campuses. “If it’s not in the area of academic affairs, then he and I will usually have a conversation about it. But over the years, he’s become much more a friend than a boss. President first, mentor for sure and one of my best friends.”
“Every chief of staff has a distinct relationship with his president, and I think ours has evolved for the years. That evolution has tended to be one that emphasizes my responsibility to make sure that a number of things get accomplished without having to go to the president and getting his permission or personal approval.”
The Executive Council The G4, augmented with four vice presidents and the director for equity and diversity, forms the nine-member Executive Council, which meets every Monday at 10 a.m. to discuss current happenings around the university.
The President’s Council A third group, called the President’s Council, consists of the Executive Council as well as all deans— who Merten proudly calls “bucking broncos” for their tendency to push forward with new approaches— and several other vice presidents. The council holds a three-hour meeting every six to seven weeks where, in a format instituted by Merten, each of its 30-40 members are given two minutes to provide an update on their area of responsibility. “Of all the things I’ve done as a leader and manager, that’s what I look back [on] as the thing that I’m most pleased with,” Merten said. “Everybody learns what’s going on in the university with that.” Compiled by Monika Joshi, Photos Courtesy of Creative Services
36 â€˘ Etched in Stone
Moments... “His smile after the VCU game on Valentine’s day.”
“He gave me a hug and well wishes at my graduation.”
- John Tackeff, Sophomore
- Gabrielle Styles, Alumnus
“When I was a cheerleader, my place on the court was literally in front of President Merten. During my senior year in 2007, I noticed he was wearing his Final Four ring. I asked if I could look at it and he said, “Tarren, just try it on” with a smile as he handed me the ring. Seriously the best college experience ever.”
“I bumped into President Merten on a Sunday my freshman year. He was walking his grandchildren around campus. ”
- Tarren Smarr, Alumnus
- Edward Chalkley, Senior
He visited the Organic Garden Association for its grand opening. We are a small yet committed group, and he helped us plant our first tomatoes in the ground.”
“I have attended multiple Presidential Dialogues and visited President Merten in his home. Every time I see him and hear him speak about Mason, I fall in love with the school all over again”
- Charles Coats, Junior
- Sara El-Ashaal, Senior
“I caught a T-shirt that he launched.” - Josh Knox, Alumnus
“I tried getting a picture with him at the Patriot Center, but the camera refused to work for an awkwardly long time. President Merten was cool about it, though, and genuinely disappointed. So, I gave him a hug.”
“When he told me how much he was moved by the display of the AIDS quilt in the Johnson Center on World AIDS Day in 2010. ” - Gary Kreps, Faculty
- Joe Little, Alumnus “When he first arrived at Mason, he went around my department (at that time I was in Facilities) and met us all. He asked us if we had any concerns and he listened to them, providing us with a staff senate.”
“President Merten is a member at the Country Club of Fairfax where I work as a server. I wait on him and his wife regularly, and they are always so friendly and inquisitive about my schoolwork and experiences at Mason. ” - Sarah Murphy, Senior
- Lori Petterson, Staff Etched in Stone
A Personal Account Photo Courtesy of John Mason
bit over a half-century ago, our forefathers in the then Town of Fairfax had the visionary foresight to conceive of a university adjacent to the town. They bought the initial 150 acres that initially led to the creation of a branch of the University of Virginia. In the first decade of the 21st Century, we have nationally ranked George Mason University on our doorstep, an intellectual, cultural, and economic boom far beyond what might have been envisioned 50 years ago. Incredible growth of a university in its first half-century doesn’t just happen. It takes leadership. President Merten took over the helm in 1996. His first community act was participation in our traditional July 4th parade, a fitting start to a very successful “town and gown” relationship. Throughout his tenure, President Merten has ensured that the University was engaged in a positive relationship with its neighbor. The Old Town Hall lecture series shared Mason intellectual talent with the community. The continued partnership between the City of Fairfax and Mason in the annual Fairfax Spotlight on the Arts festival is illustrative of his support for Mason and the City of Fairfax sponsored a twoday book festival, “Fall for the Book,” which has grown over the
38 • Etched in Stone
last 13 years into one of the best nationally recognized programs that promotes literature, writing, and publishing. The event brings world-class authors to the campus and venues throughout our City for readings and book-signings. Mason was positioned both geographically and in its place in time to leverage the changing demographics of the Fairfax community. Alan Merten recognized, sooner than most, that new growth in Northern Virginia would be based on a “human-capital” economy.
Dr. Merten positioned GMU to receive the inﬂux of people from around the world, attracting faculty of international renown and developing cutting-edge, forwardfocused curriculum at the graduate and undergraduate levels. The City of Fairfax has benefited immensely by having a new generation of residents affiliated with the University, who have become involved in many aspects of our civic affairs and contribute significantly to improving the
quality of life of our community. Dr. Merten led George Mason into a new relationship with the City. As the university’s physical campus changed dramatically, we partnered with the University to create George Mason Boulevard as a new entrance to both the campus and the City. The City and Mason collaborated to create a new park at the former end of University Drive, greatly improving the residential character of the Green Acres neighborhood adjacent to the campus. Under Dr. Merten’s leadership, the City and Mason hold quarterly community outreach meetings, known as the University and Community Forum, where University officials, elected leaders from the City and County, and local citizens meet to discuss issues of mutual interest. The City of Fairfax and Mason continue to collaborate on a wide range of initiatives, such as advancing environmental sustainability, helping start small businesses in the City, and giving students internship opportunities with the City government. President Merten has made a difference at Mason and with the City of Fairfax. His legacy will be remembered with appreciation. John Mason was mayor of the City of Fairfax from 1990 to 2002 and currently serves as President and CEO of the Lorton Arts Foundation.
George Mason University
Child Development Center The Center for the Study of Chronic Illness and Disability Wishes to Thank You President Merten Good Luck and Good Health!! www.gmu.edu/departments/chhs/ccid
Celebrating Diversity Everyday! 4402 University Drive, Fairfax VA www.gmu.edu/depts/cdc/
Etched in Stone
The best is what is to come. We are not stopping for anything. - Alan Merten
Etched in Stone
is a Student Media Publication. Visit us on the web at EtchedinStone.onmason.com
Published on May 19, 2012