Graduate students emphasize importance of participation and getting to know professors

Here’s a look at some of the Patriots receiving graduate degrees at winter graduation.

Janice Rojas, a first-generation student whose family is from Bolivia, has been a regular at George Mason University since participating in the Early Identification Program in high school. The Arlington, Va., resident, who is graduating with a master’s degree in forensic science, also participated in the Student Transition Empowerment Program, was an office assistant for Student Involvement and was in the Hispanic Student Association and the Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc. She plans to pursue a career as a medicolegal death investigator or a homicide detective.

“Being involved on campus as a student leader has definitely created amazing memories during my time at Mason,” Rojas said. She urges students to network and go to Career Services workshops. She also encourages Patriots to get involved in academic and student organizations, meetings for cultural and social organizations. “Take a chance,” she added. “It will help give you a sense of belonging on campus.”

She also suggests attending school spirit events sponsored by the Patriots Activities Council or Student Government.

“All these can help you shape your time at Mason and your academic career, exponentially. I am a proud Mason Patriot and am thankful for all the memories and friendships I have gained.”

Texas native and former competitive livestock judge Caleb Crosswhite graduated from Texas Tech University in 2011 with a BS in animal science before coming to Mason’s School of Law for his JD. In February, Crosswhite, who was on The Hill’s 2014 list of “50 Most Beautiful” government staffers, will take the Texas bar exam. He will continue his current tenure with the House Committee on Agriculture and transition into a counsel position.

“My best memory of Mason is taking a regulatory law class under Hester Peirce. She’s brilliant,” he said.

“My advice for incoming students is to find a study buddy you can count on! I was lost until I found [former Securities and Exchange Commission economist] Samantha Grunberg.”

Megan Merchant is getting comfortable in her new role as an arts manager, a promotion she says she received as a direct result of experience gained through Mason's Arts Management Program. She is the education and community programs manager for Washington Performing Arts, an organization that connects community and artists in the nation’s capital.

"I am implementing the ideas and concepts learned in class and applying them to modify my arts education programs," she said. "Long term, I am seeking an opportunity in an arts leadership capacity in the areas of community engagement and public policy."

Merchant, a Washington, D.C., native who's graduating this week, said studying abroad in London is her best memory at Mason. 

"The experiences not only formed my understanding of arts management but helped shape me into a stronger person," she said. 

New college students shouldn't be afraid to let university life mold them, Merchant added. 

“Soak it all in. Don't be afraid to talk to leaders in your field to ask for advice and open yourself up to new experiences,” she said. 

Joseph DiPietro, who earned his PhD in education with a concentration in learning technologies design research, will continue his job with the Department of Defense, supporting the Defense Acquisition University with the development and revision of learning assets. But he is thrilled he is finally done with school because he gets to spend more time with his wife and daughter in their Vienna, Va., home.

“My advice for incoming students would be twofold, and this is focused more keenly on graduate students. First, find an advisor or dissertation director who has a research agenda that aligns with where you want to be, with what you want to do or with where you want to go professionally,” he said. “Secondly, once you’ve found your ideal advisor, pick a specific area in your field you want to learn more about or one that can be furthered through your contributions. Remember that your work will never be perfect and that your advisor and committee are there to make you better.”

DiPietro has many fond memories of Mason, “but my best memory is my dissertation defense,” he said. “Once my committee told me I had passed, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Just knowing I had made my committee proud and that I had demonstrated mastery of study made all the late nights and hard work worth it.”

For his research into shark fisheries in Costa Rica, Jason R. O'Bryhim interviewed market sellers and fishermen about the trade; genetically identified species, finding several threatened species being caught and sold; and looked at mercury levels, finding that most shark meat was above safe levels.

O’Bryhim, who grew up in Northern Virginia, wrote his PhD dissertation in environmental science as a stay-at-home dad with a new baby, allowing his wife, a captain in the Army, to continue to serve.

He’s working on publishing his dissertation research, applying for postdoctoral and teaching positions and continuing his research on shark conservation in Costa Rica. He’s been an undergraduate advisor, taught classes at Mason in marine ecology and oceanography, and has been a teaching assistant for general biology and ecology. Plus, he’s taught study-abroad courses to Costa Rica in conservation biology.

“My best memory has to be the first study-abroad trip I ever took as an undergraduate at Mason. It was a natural history course in Costa Rica where we spent the winter break traveling around the country,” he said. “I have found that as a student and instructor of study-abroad courses, they are incredibly rewarding because they let students actually experience what they’re learning about and they get to interact with their professors in a whole new way. That first study-abroad trip is also important to me because it is where I met my wife, Jen.”

O'Bryhim’s best advice for incoming students is to not just attend classes, but be engaged in them.

“What I mean is, ask questions, particularly in class. As a scientist, you should always be formulating questions about what you are studying. Even if you think you fully understand a subject, you should be asking yourself, ‘What does this mean? What’s next?’”

He also stressed the importance of getting to know your professors.

“Do not just be a face in the crowd. For anyone that wants to go on to graduate school, these are the people that will write your letters of recommendation. Get to know them and let them get to know you so they can present you as you are, and not just a grade on a sheet of paper.”


Compiled by Michele McDonald, with Damian Cristodero,  Buzz McClain and Jamie Rogers