Class of 2019: Making the most of the Mason experience

George Mason student Youstina Abdelmalak. Photo by Lathan Goumas/Strategic Communications

Originally from Egypt, Youstina Abdelmalak moved with her family to Virginia in 2010 to pursue more education and career opportunities. The way things worked out, “it was meant to be that we stayed here,” Abdelmalak said.

In May 2017, Abdelmalak completed her undergraduate degree in civil and infrastructure engineering at Mason, receiving several scholarships along the way, including the Michael J. Casey Endowed Scholarship. She interned with Mason Facilities and landed full-time employment there immediately after her graduation.

Abdelmalak now works at Mason as a construction project engineer, managing renovation and construction projects on campus. In her spare time, she completed her master’s degree in civil and infrastructure engineering with a focus on construction project management, also at Mason.

“It was a real-world example of what I was about to see [at my internship and at work],” Abdelmalak said of her classes. She appreciates learning from experienced Volgenau School of Engineering professors like Laura Kosoglu and Michael Loulakis, who are like mentors to Abdelmalak “and who really care about the generations they are teaching,” she said. 

“Youstina has been a high achiever in her classes and beyond,” said Kosoglu. “I have full confidence that she will continue to be successful in her future career, as well as her plans to become a professional engineer.”

- Mariam Aburdeineh


Tejon Anthony. Photo by Art Pittman.

As a high school senior in Baltimore, Tejon Anthony viewed George Mason University as a land of opportunity.

Given Mason’s proximity to Washington, D.C., Anthony figured it was a great place to begin growing his career. He also saw an up-and-coming wrestling team he wanted to help build. As Anthony prepares to graduate on May 17 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, he has succeeded on both counts.

Anthony said if things fall right, he’ll be working as a software engineer after graduation. And he punctuated his wrestling career at Mason with an Eastern Wrestling League Championships win at 149 pounds.

“Absolutely,” he said when asked if coming to Mason was the right choice. “I don’t regret it at all.”

“We’ll miss everything he’s done from an athletic standpoint,” Mason wrestling coach Frank Beasley said. “But what we’re really going to miss is his leadership.”

Anthony, a team captain, had a 31-11 record last season and finished his Mason career with 94 wins, including two at the NCAA championship. He said he prided himself on how he presented himself as an athlete and student.

“Being a leader puts pressure on you, good pressure, to do the right things, work hard, so you can show everybody how it’s done, how you’re supposed to carry yourself as a good person, a good friend,” Anthony said.

That sensibility benefitted him as well.

“I had guys who showed me what it took to be successful as a Division I athlete,” Anthony said. “That’s one of the things I can carry over into my work life, the work it takes to be successful.”

—Damian Cristodero


Michaela Dodge. Photo provided

Originally from the Czech Republic, Michaela Dodge first became interested in missile defense as a college student. Her home country was considering hosting a U.S. missile defense site at the time, she said, and she became fascinated with debates surrounding the topic.

She moved to the United States to complete her master’s degree in defense and strategic studies at Missouri State University, and she stayed to pursue her PhD in political science and government with the Schar School of Policy and Government at Mason, where she researched the U.S.-Czech missile defense and factors that make their alliance stronger or more difficult.

“I had a great experience at Mason,” Dodge said. “I would highlight the world-class faculty and professors who are willing to help students and make time for them—I really appreciated that.”

Mason’s location was also ideal for Dodge, who was able to take advantage of opportunities near the nation’s capital.

Dodge worked at the Heritage Foundation and in the U.S. Senate as then-Arizona Senator Jon Kyl’s senior defense policy advisor during her studies. She returned to the Heritage Foundation in February as a research fellow for missile defense and nuclear deterrence.

“What I enjoy most is the ability to contribute to advancing national security policies,” Dodge said.

- Mariam Aburdeineh


Milo Pilgrim in Seville, Spain. Photo provided

When Milo Pilgrim attended middle school in Oklahoma, they (Pilgrim identifies as nonbinary) skipped the seventh grade to pursue opportunities to do more advanced classwork. That allowed Pilgrim to graduate from high school a year early.

At George Mason University, aggressive degree planning and strenuous course loads allowed Pilgrim, who is graduating on May 17, to finish a bachelor’s degree in art history at age 19.

“People at Mason are more than willing to help you if you show commitment to your work,” Pilgrim said. “Mason was good to me—especially the Art History Department. I spent a lot of time brainstorming with the great minds of Mason. I found professors who had similar research styles to me, and they pushed me forward.”

Pilgrim, a member of Mason’s Honors College and a co-winner of the Academic Excellence in Art History award, given to the graduating art history major with the highest cumulative and major GPA, has always pushed forward.

Pilgrim said they came to Mason, in part, because of the university’s proximity to Washington, D.C., and the variety of courses in the Honors College. Pilgrim spent three semesters abroad in Spain and Montenegro, focusing on language, architecture, art and culture. Pilgrim speaks Spanish, French, Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin and Bosnian.

They are also an alternate for a Fulbright award, which offers students opportunities to undertake international graduate study.

After graduation, Pilgrim said they are returning to Montenegro as part of a language and culture exchange program through the University of Pittsburgh. When they return, they plan to earn their master’s degree in a yet-to-be-determined field.

- Hannah Harmison


George Mason University senior Jared Palacios. Photo by Lathan Goumas/Strategic Communications

Jared Palacios wants people to pay attention to how they treat each other.

Growing up in Hawaii, Palacious encountered many different people from all over the world visiting the islands. He said he was taken aback by some of the racial discrimination he saw.

“I want to shed a new light on how to view immigrants in America,” said Palacios, who is graduating with a degree in film and video studies. “It is not meant to sway people to think differently politically, but just to open their minds.”

He recently premiered his documentary “How to Get There,” a success story about Justin Gudiel and his journey that began when he came to America as an immigrant to becoming an executive chef at a successful Italian restaurant. Palacios, who moved to Northern Virginia from Hawaii when he was in high school, met Gudiel in the restaurant where he works at as a server.

“[The film] tackles the discrimination and setbacks that immigrants face, and hopefully inspires others to not give up on their goals and dreams,” Palacios said .

After he graduates in May, Palacios plans to stay in the D.C. area for a year before making his way to California or New York to pursue his dream of becoming a renowned documentary filmmaker.

- Mary Lee Clark