George Mason University

News at Mason

Incoming Mason president ready to take university to new heights

February 27, 2020   /   by Preston Williams

Students, faculty and staff offered new George Mason University President Gregory Washington a standing ovation when he stepped up to the microphone Thursday afternoon to make his first remarks to a Mason audience.

Humbled to see them on their feet, Washington spoke of elevation of another sort.

“Many of you may not realize how unlikely the trajectory and the rise of this institution is,” he told a crowd of nearly 400 packed into Center for the Arts Lobby. “To start off as a two-year commuter program and then to advance to a full-fledged comprehensive Research 1 institution is extremely unlikely. And to do it in a span of less than 50 years is unprecedented.”

Later, he added, “You guys have really propelled this rocket ship into orbit. I’m that little capsule that’s sitting on the top just hoping to take it to the next space.” Hear more.

That is the charge from the Mason’s Board of Visitors, which on Monday announced Washington as Mason’s choice to lead the largest and most diverse public research university in Virginia. The announcement of Mason’s eighth president capped an eight-month comprehensive national search that entailed campus listening sessions, a 19-member search committee with representatives from across the community, and then a final four list of candidates vetted over the weekend.

Washington, who will begin his new post July 1, is the dean of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at University of California, Irvine. The New York native attended high school in North Carolina and earned three degrees, including his doctorate, at North Carolina State as a first-generation college student. “The story of Mason is really my story,” said Washington, Mason’s first African American president.

Washington’s tenure will not officially begin until July 1, but he got the full Mason indoctrination Thursday. A group of eight students opened the program, and the Patriot mascot and five cheerleaders escorted Washington and his wife, Nicole, to the stage, while Green Machine musicians blared. A Starship robot delivered two bags of Mason swag and a bouquet to the Washingtons as they sat on stage.

“We are super excited to have a president that represents many of the diverse identities of our student body,” said sophomore Martin Trompeta, a Patriot Leader, student coordinator in the New Student and Family Programs and director of the Filipino Cultural Association.

Washington will take charge of the university at a time with many major initiatives under way, including the expansion of the Arlington and Science and Technology campuses, a study into launching a medical school and a state-of-the-art academic building opening next year in the heart of the Fairfax Campus.

“He’s smart, he’s resourceful, inspiring…and he’s ready to hit the ground running,” said Mason Rector Tom Davis at the welcome event. “We’re all excited to see where he takes us next.”

“He has a true record of being a collaborative and solutions-oriented leader,” said Vice Rector Jimmy Hazel, who co-chaired the search committee. “And while he’s proud of his engineering success, he also has a clear understanding of the importance of a multidisciplinary approach in all the things that are a part of our university community.”

Faculty Senate chair Shannon Davis, director of graduate studies in sociology and co-chair of the search committee, playfully warned Washington that the relationship with faculty can at times be testy. “Make no mistake, faculty will probably challenge you,” she said as Washington grinned and nodded. “But that’s our job—to pose problems, to work together toward solutions.”

Interim president Anne Holton, who has served in that role since August, received a warm reception for stepping in while the university searched for a permanent replacement. She will return to a faculty position in the fall.

Addressing Washington, she said, “I look forward to handing you a university that is ready to support you and to follow you to its next great chapter.”