‘Grand challenges’ facing students get an airing on Mason president’s podcast

Mason President Gregory Washington will be an occasional guest host on the university's Access to Excellence podcast. Photo by Naomi Fort.

Think about what George Mason University students are dealing with right now, Mason President Gregory Washington said.

There is the ongoing pandemic and the daunting task of searching for a first job.

“But they also have to start thinking about what they want to do with their lives,” Washington said. “I want to be able to give them some feedback. Here are some of the big issues out there that you can solve, that you can attack with your Mason education.”

That feedback will come through interviews and discussions Washington will undertake with Mason faculty each month as a guest host on the university’s “Access to Excellence” podcast, available on platforms such as Apple, Spotify and Stitcher.

Washington’s first podcast, just released, is with Schar School Dean Mark J. Rozell, who talks about the presidential election, how Donald Trump has molded the Republican party in his own image, how to reform the electoral college, and where things go from here politically in this country.

“I’m hoping that a) students will listen, and b) they will use the feedback associated with this podcast to help chart their directions in terms of their majors, in terms of the directions they want to go in their own careers,” Washington said. “That’s the real motivator for me. I’m hoping to give them some clarity.”

Schar School dean Mark J. Rozell explained his ideas about reforming the Electoral College. Photo by Naomi Fort.

“He has a broad reach and he wants to use it,” Rozell said. “The job of the president goes way beyond managing the internal operations of the university. By him being out there publicly, it showcases that we take our responsibility seriously to inform and educate the broader public.”

Washington is thinking big when it comes to the topics he will address—he calls them “grand challenges”—including climate and sustainability, the economy, and the way technology is changing the way we live.

Washington, who established Mason’s Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence, also wants a broad conversation about race, and he doesn’t necessarily want it to be comfortable.

“We’ll touch base on our campus, but I’m looking to get a little more controversial in engaging some people that come to this from a very different perspective from how we’re looking at it,” Washington said. “We should have some good discussions there.”

Rozell called his discussion with Washington engaging, and said he enjoyed how Washington let the conversation dictate the questions.

“I was impressed,” Rozell said. “A good interviewer plays off the interviewee and can pick up where my strengths are, what I know and how to get more out of me. You could tell he was comfortable, which made it work really well.”

For Washington, though, it all comes back to the students.

“A big part of this is encouraging students and motivating them to tackle some of these big looming challenges that are going to be facing the country and the word when they graduate,” he said. “So success for me is that some of them jump into this with both feet and start working with a career associated with one of the challenges we talk about.”