George Mason University


News at Mason

Mason Speakers reaches out to local community with virtual lectures and presentations

July 10, 2020   /   by Anna Stolley Persky

Don Boileau

In the spring of 2020, Sarah Gallagher, associate director in the Office of Community and Local Government Relations at George Mason University, was busy scheduling 21 events. Gallagher runs the Mason Speakers program, which matches Mason faculty and staff with local organizations in need of presenters on a wide range of topics, such as economic development, law enforcement, history and nutrition.

It looked like a typically busy spring lineup of speakers. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the Washington, D.C., area began sheltering in place.

At first, organizations canceled their events. Then Mason Speakers pivoted to virtual presentations in an attempt to reengage with community groups. Gallagher sent out emails to see if there was interest in speakers discussing topics in a virtual environment.

“We got a great response,” Gallagher said. “By that time, many people had figured out how to use Zoom.”

Gallagher is now lining up speakers to make virtual presentations this fall.

Amira Roess

“By providing speakers online, we are expanding our outreach,” Gallagher said. “More people can be at an online event than might have ventured out if it were held in-person.”

Mason Speakers has a database of nearly 100 faculty and staff willing to volunteer their time at local events. Since 1993, Mason Speakers has provided thousands of presenters to talk about a wide range of topics at places such as libraries, rotary clubs and senior centers. Discussion topics have included emerging infectious diseases, aging in place, and technology’s most severe challenges.

Since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the university, Mason Speakers has had 12 virtual engagements, with five more scheduled for late summer and early fall, Gallagher said.

In the spring, Don Boileau, emeritus faculty from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, agreed to present “Your Neighbor Next Door: How Intercultural Communication Helps One Understand Differences” to Fairfax County’s Department of Family Services. Because of the level of interest in the topic and the ease of attending an online presentation, almost 200 social workers, directors, managers and other department employees participated in the discussion.

Jennifer Victo

“People can’t always travel to another building in another location, sometimes clear across the county to attend training, so more people could come to this virtual opportunity than might have been able to attend if it had been in person,” said Mary Hager, workforce engagement and enrichment coordinator for the Fairfax County Department of Family Services. “It was interesting and very helpful, a good experience for everybody.”

In August, College of Health and Human Services professor Amira Roess is scheduled to talk about emerging infectious diseases, and Schar School of Policy and Government professor Jennifer Victor is scheduled to discuss how face masks became a partisan symbol.

As Gallagher books virtual engagements for the fall, she hopes to line up even more faculty and staff as speakers.

“It’s a great way to share the information we have here on campus with the community,” said Gallagher.

The link for faculty and staff who wish to participate in the Mason Speakers program can be found here: