Go, Green! Go, Gold! Class of 2011 Gets Set to Graduate

Posted: May 16, 2011 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: May 19, 2011 at 9:39 am

More than 7,000 graduates … more than 7,000 wonderful stories of proud achievers. With Mason’s 44th Commencement set for Saturday, May 21, the University News staff checked in on some members of the Class of 2011 to find out about their educational journey and their plans for the future.

English Major Represents College Students at the State Level

By Aisha Jamil

Blake Silver

Blake Silver chaired the Student Advisory Committee for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Creative Services photo

Each year, Mason selects a student to represent the university at the state level to discuss higher education issues. This year, that student was Blake Silver.

Silver also competed against other student representatives to become the elected chair of the Student Advisory Committee for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

“I ran for chair of the Student Advisory Committee because I have a passion for higher education, and I can’t imagine a better way to serve my peers,” says Silver, a senior majoring in English with a concentration in folklore, mythology and literature. “This is my opportunity to make sure they are represented at the state level.”

SCHEV is a state agency that makes policy recommendations on higher education to the governor and General Assembly in such areas as capital and operating budget planning, enrollment, technology needs and student financial aid.

“This year, our committee lobbied to support several key bills in the General Assembly that impacted public institutions in Virginia,” says Silver, who also serves as a peer advisor for freshman transition courses. “I was thrilled because this was a chance for me to use my passion for higher education to benefit students across the state.”

Silver, who is a University Scholar, also founded Mason’s club running team and helped revive the Golden Key International Honor Society campus chapter.

“I have been fortunate to meet so many friends and mentors who have truly shaped my time at Mason,” Silver says.

One such mentor is Todd Rose, associate dean of University Life who appointed Silver to the SCHEV panel.

“Blake was an easy pick for me,” Rose says. “He’s smart and can quickly get up to speed on the issues that are relevant to the role on SCHEV. He is also someone who works extremely well with others while advocating for a position, and would represent Mason extremely well. In short, people like working with Blake.”

As for the future, Silver is planning to pursue a master’s degree in higher education at George Washington University in the fall. He hopes to work in student affairs for a university after graduation.

Based on his experience, Silver has some advice to students who will be starting their own journey at Mason.

“Get involved in service and leadership right away during your freshman year,” he says, “because it adds a great deal of experience that has the potential to impact you as much, if not more, than your academic course work.”

Mariana Cruz Is Senior of the Year

By Jason Jacks

Mariana Cruz

Mariana Cruz, a scholarship student, has maintained at least a 3.5 GPA each semester at Mason. Photo by Evan Cantwell

As a prolific volunteer, global learner, and founding president of a minority student group, Mariana Cruz, a civil and infrastructure engineering major, is proof that the pursuit of excellence doesn’t stop when class lets out.

Since she arrived at Mason in 2007, Cruz has excelled. A recipient of the Volgenau School of Engineering’s William and Susan Eddy Soza Distinguished Scholarship, Cruz has earned at least a 3.50 GPA each semester, while maintaining a demanding load of courses and extracurricular activities.

“I guess, early on, I learned how to manage my time,” Cruz says of keeping a busy schedule.

In April Cruz was recognized as Senior of the Year by the Mason Alumni Association at its annual Celebration of Distinction. She was nominated by Volgenau’s alumni chapter.

Cruz’s work with the new student group Engineers Without Borders was among the accomplishments the alumni chapter praised her for. Last summer, Cruz, a native of Peru, spent two weeks in her homeland helping to evaluate irrigation and drinking water strategies for a small village. “It was an opportunity for me to give back to my country,” she says.

She also participates in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, which helps increase the number of minority students involved in math, science, and technology programs. Cruz is also the founding president of a complementary student program called Mason-AMP.

“Mariana is a multitalented individual with broad interests,” says E. Bernard White, an associate dean at the Volgenau School and a principal investigator in the LSAMP program. “She has devised new programs and services whenever she senses an unmet need.”

Cruz is also regularly called on by the Volgenau School to help in student recruitment and new student orientation events. She also is a peer advisor for the school and a tutor for the athletics department, jobs that inspire her to become a professor someday.

Leaving Mason, she says, will be bittersweet.

“I am closing a really happy chapter of my life,” she says. “But graduation is a time to look to the future.”

Iraq War Veteran Transitioned from Soldier to Scholar

By Aisha Jamil

Jeremiah Foxwell

Iraq War veteran Jeremiah Foxwell will study Arabic on a Critical Language Scholarship this summer. Creative Services photo

Jeremiah Foxwell already has a lot on his plate this summer.

Foxwell, who served two tours in Iraq for the Navy as a petty officer second class in a bomb disposal unit, will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Individualized Study (BIS) degree focusing on Middle Eastern and North African studies, Arabic and national security.

Soon after, he will travel to the Middle East as a winner of a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. State Department.

Foxwell will study Arabic at the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) in Amman, Jordan, for about eight weeks.

LaNitra Berger, who has coached Foxwell throughout his time at Mason, is proud of the work he has done.

“Jeremiah is one of Mason’s most promising students of the Arabic language,” says Berger, who directs Mason’s fellowship and undergraduate apprenticeship program.

“What I enjoyed most about working with Jeremiah on his fellowship applications,” Berger continues, “was his determination to use his research to improve the lives of both soldiers and those who live in war-torn communities.”

Explaining his decision to attend Mason, Foxwell says, “Leaving the military, I wanted to transition from soldier to scholar. I wanted to take my experiences from Iraq and base my education on what I learned in the military. The BIS program is the bridge for veterans like myself who want to utilize their experiences in their education.”

Foxwell is appreciative of other helpful mentors he has had at Mason, including Alan More, an adjunct professor for BIS, and Omar Salawdeh, an Arabic professor. And he says that simply being at a school like Mason has been helpful to his career.

“The multicultural diversity this school has allowed me to connect with a lot of different nationalities and communities,” he says. “I wish that Mason had a graduate-level Arabic program so I could further my studies here.”

As for his future plans, Foxwell would like to become a national security professional.

“I hope to reshape our foreign policies and methods and focus on the human causes of conflict,” Foxwell says. “Instead of arming the young men and women with weapons, I want to arm them with the education and knowledge of what it means to be a citizen.”

Environmental Issues Draw Couple Together

By Aisha Jamil


Smriti and Sameer Bhattarai have shared and supported one another in their environmental science studies. Creative Services photo

First they earned bachelor’s degrees together, then master’s degrees. Now Sameer and Smriti Bhattarai are both getting PhDs in environmental science and policy.

The Bhattarais, who have been married for almost 10 years, are proud to have pursued their education together this far.

“It feels good to have studied together,” says Smriti, whose focus of study is environmental molecular biology. “We could always have someone to share and support whatever — good or bad — came along during this educational journey.”

The two completed bachelor’s degrees in environmental science at the Tribhuvan University in Nepal, where they also met back in 1999. They married three years later and moved to Alabama, where they received their master’s degrees in environmental analysis and management from Troy University.

“While doing our master’s in the United States, we became interested in pursuing PhD degrees in environmental science so that we could understand more about the linkage between humans and the environment,” says Sameer, whose focus of study is water resource management. “Mason had a research program that matched both of our interests, so Mason it was.”

Both Sameer and Smriti had graduate teaching and research assistantships at Mason. Sameer also received research grants from the Cosmos Club Foundation Young Scholars Program and Mason’s Office of the Provost.

“The research opportunities we received at Mason have enabled us to grow both academically and personally,” Smriti says. “We both have had the opportunity to work with people that are experts in their respective fields.”

Smriti worked with Patrick Gillevet, who is an expert in molecular and microbial ecology, while Sameer worked with Chris Jones, who has worked in the field of freshwater ecosystems for about 30 years.

“Sameer is a very dedicated and conscientious graduate student,” says Jones, a professor and director of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center. “He has helped me on numerous research projects as well as in lab and field classes in freshwater ecology. He is always well prepared for teaching and has a lot of patience when working with students.”

For her dissertation research, Smriti investigated the sources of fecal pollution in urban streams and characterized stream microbial communities using molecular techniques.

“Smriti is an independent student that has done great work in the field of molecular ecology,” says Gillevet, a professor in the Environmental Science and Policy department and director of the MicroBiome Analysis Center. “She combined many different aspects of microbiology, and her work tied everything together very nicely.”

Sameer’s dissertation research investigated the response of streams to land use and urban best management practices (BMPs).

“My study found interesting connections between urbanization, BMPs and stream quality, which I believe will have important implications for urban stormwater management,” Sameer says.

As for the couple’s future plans, both are interested in continuing researching and teaching others about environmental science and policy.

“Environmental issues are the biggest concerns of our time, and we hope to make a small contribution in making our world a better place by addressing them,” Smriti says.

Champion Speaker Will Give Student Commencement Address

By Tara Laskowski

Quincey Smith

As a member and co-captain of Mason's Forensics Team, Quincey Smith earned national champion honors at the American Forensic Association National Individual Events Tournament. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Mason has the best young speaker in the nation giving the student Commencement address on May 21.

Quincey Smith, a graduating communication major, was recently named the national champion at the 2011 American Forensic Association National Individual Events Tournament.

Smith has been the co-captain of the nationally acclaimed George Mason Forensics Team for the past two years, working closely with the team’s director, Peter Pober.

Smith won the national championship in Communication Analysis, placed fourth in both Informative and Persuasive Speaking, and was a quarterfinalist in Poetry and Prose.

“I’ve always been into performing arts, and this led naturally to an interest in public speech,” says Smith.

In his Commencement address, Smith says he’s going to “celebrate the achievements of both students and the university. I am so proud to be associated with George Mason University and so proud to be a part of the Class of 2011. I am so honored and thankful to get to speak at the Commencement ceremony.”

Smith, who is also a Dean’s Challenge Award scholar, says Mason’s Forensics Team really made a difference in his college career.

“Being part of the Forensics Team has transformed my life,” says Smith. “I’m blessed with wonderful teammates and coaches, and thrilled to be at a university that supports forensics.”

Smith, who has a minor in legal studies, spent much of his college career working in a variety of capacities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. As a member of the university Honors Program, Smith wrote his thesis on transgender student inclusion in health services on campus. In 2010, he interned at the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization working to achieve equality for LGBT individuals. He also created a new campus publication called Outloud Magazine that celebrates the LGBT community at Mason.

After graduation, Smith is moving to New York City, where he hopes to work for a nonprofit that advocates for these issues as well.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu