Mason faculty and students honored with Jack Wood town-gown relations awards

George Mason University faculty and students, along with a collaborative mentor community service program, are being honored this week the 2020 John C. “Jack” Wood Awards for Town-Gown Relations.

Award recipients include Mason student Katie Russell, professor Cynthia Lum, the Athletics Adopt-a-School Program and Mason Observatory Director Harold Geller.

Mason seniors Rachel Picon and Maricza Hinnah are also being honored for their innovation in creating a Facebook group to help people during the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, Danette Nguyen of the City of Fairfax Economic Development Office is being honored for her work to increase the positive relations between Mason and the City of Fairfax.

The Jack Wood Award for Town-Gown Relations is a university and community-wide annual program to recognize individuals, businesses, groups and not-for-profits demonstrating leadership in fostering a positive relationship between Mason and the community. The award winners were recognized by Mason’s Board of Visitors during their May 20 meeting.

The award is named for the mayor of the Town of Fairfax from 1953 to 1964. Wood was the driving force for arranging a campus to be located on land adjacent to the town and deeding it to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the university.


Mason senior Katie Russell is a passionate environmentalist who worked with City of Fairfax Councilwoman Jennifer E. Passey to encourage the Fairfax City Council to adopt a new composting program. The program, which began in 2018, continues to grow. Russell is attributed with having played a key role in its success. Russell is graduating this week with a degree in environmental and sustainable studies.


Cynthia Lum, a professor of criminology, law and society in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, volunteers her time teaching at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. (OLLI) Lum offers classes in criminology, evidence-based policing, crime theory and public safety to OLLI’s 1,200 members of older adults in the Northern Virginia community. Lum also helps recruit criminology experts to fulfill the institute’s programming needs.


Danette Nguyen works in the City of Fairfax Economic Development Office where she has made a concerted effort to partner with Mason on a variety of projects. Nguyen collaborated with Mason for a Homecoming Week that featured bringing city businesses to campus. Nguyen was instrumental in working with the Economic Development Office, the city’s Communications and Marketing Department and Mason to develop the Patriots in the City video series showcasing Mason students exploring off campus. Nguyen also works with Mason’s Welcome Week initiatives for students to receive information and discounts to local businesses.

Partnership Category

Athletics’ Adopt-A-School Program is an initiative created between Mason’s athletics teams and Fairfax County, City of Fairfax and Alexandria City Public Schools. Under the program, Mason teams are paired with schools and Mason student-athletes mentor students by engaging them at lunch and recess, in classrooms and during special events. In addition, the school was invited to support the Mason team by attending a home game or match.

Legacy Category

Harold Geller, director of the Mason Observatory and an associate professor in the College of Science is being honored for his long-time leadership in advancing town-gown relations. Geller has engaged the local community for over a decade with bi-weekly “Evening Under the Stars” lectures, fostering ties with the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club and through frequent private tours of the Observatory for local groups. Geller has also ensured community access to astronomer, researcher and educator speakers at the Observatory.

Innovation Category

Mason seniors Rachel Picon and Maricza Hinnah are being honored for their innovation in creating a Facebook group, “Northern VA COVID-19 Craziness Supply Exchange,” during the coronavirus epidemic. The page is a clearinghouse for finding, exchanging or selling supplies at cost, as well as a place to post for those who are immunocompromised and in need of help. Both students are graduating this week with degrees in social work. Picon and Hinnah said they created the Facebook page to make a difference. The innovation category is a new award this year and specifies that it is aimed at individuals who create a short-term town-gown program to meet a timely need.