Stories from the Class of 2012
Of course, every Mason graduate is a standout, but among the 7,700 students who will graduate from Mason this year are some special people who have a great story to tell. Following are snapshots of a few of Mason’s amazing, accomplished students who earn diplomas this spring.
Kevin Loker Named Senior of the Year
By Jason Jacks
Yes, Kevin Loker will miss being a student at Mason after he crosses the stage at Commencement in May. But this extremely busy senior is looking forward to one post-graduation benefit: more sleep.
That’s because as a full-time student, executive editor of an online news site, and a pulled-in-multiple-directions volunteer, Loker gets precious little of it at the moment.
“I lost a lot of sleep through it all,” he acknowledges, “but happily and willingly so!”
To get a better sense of just how involved Loker—the Alumni Association’s 2012 Senior of the Year—was over his four years at Mason, one just needs to glance over his resume, which would rival most job seekers with many years already logged in the work force.
For starters, he’s interned and worked part time at the Washington Post since September 2010, assisting with the paper’s events department and its social media needs. He has also worked as a blogger for USA Today and mediabistro.com.
At Mason, much of his time has been dedicated to populating the online news site, Connect2Mason, with features and breaking news about Mason. In 2011, the Associated Collegiate Press named the site as one of its 2011 Online Pacemaker sites for its content, coverage, interactivity, and design. Connect2Mason was one of 24 campus news organizations to be honored out of the more than 250 that were considered. Loker says he puts in much more than the 20 hours a week the job requires.
“My goal is to get to a place where I can hand it off, so it keeps going,” he says of leaving Connect2Mason.
Loker, a South Dakota native who will depart Mason with a BA in Anthropology, is also involved heavily with Mason Catholic Campus Ministry, through which he volunteered as a mentor for youth at the Fairfax County Juvenile Detention Center.
“When you’re in a tough situation, it’s nice just to have someone there for you,” he says of working with the kids in detention.
Another way Loker dedicated his time to Mason was by planning and organizing a scavenger event called The Hunt that took place during Welcome Week last year. The event, the first of its kind and a way to introduce incoming freshmen to Mason, involved coordinating with numerous university departments and offices, and was held throughout the Fairfax Campus.
So what’s his secret to taking on so much? Loker, who intends to also be an involved alumnus, says he simply sought out opportunities as a student and tried hard at whatever he did.
“That has gotten me pretty far,” he says.
Student’s Social Media Research Helps Promote Campus ‘Flash Lectures’
By Beth Pullias
Social media plays an integral part in our everyday life. Whether young or old, we are constantly connected to it by our smartphones or computers to find information about our friends and events, as well as to keep up with the news.
Leslie Cook, a graduating government and international politics major and previous secretary for Mason’s Student Government, has done formal research on how the social media site Twitter affected the national Occupy movement, and she also looked more locally into ways of disseminating information about Student Government’s “flash lectures,” a series of professors’ talks in public spaces, strictly through social media.
For her senior thesis, Cook examined how Twitter is used to disseminate information about the Occupy Wall Street, Oakland, and D.C. movements.
She searched through more than 20,000 tweets—text-based updates of up to 140 characters via Twitter—from the month of January 2012 and came to the conclusion that there were core leaders who were retweeted (reposting a message from another Twitter user and sharing it with one’s own followers) more than others.
“What I learned is that there are, in fact, core leaders within these networks who are retweeted significantly more than other users in their networks; that there is a ‘B group’ who retweet the core leaders but are not highly retweeted themselves,” explains Cook.
Her research gave her great insight into how information is disseminated via social media and how influential certain individuals are to different movements, events, and news stories.
When Provost Peter Stearns suggested the flash lecture series last fall, Cook was on board to get them going. She explains that it is “a way of encouraging students to engage in educational experiences outside of the classroom.”
She decided to incorporate hashtags and retweets into the flash lecture series, and flash lectures popped up all over campus this spring. But even though Cook had mobilized a group of students to retweet, “like” and repost about the flash lectures, she found it hard to secure a crowd to go and listen to them.
Still, Cook feels that students who stopped and listened thought it was a unique concept, and she even saw students approach professors after talks to ask more questions.
From this experience, she has gained a deeper appreciation for the large demonstrations over the past year that have resulted from social media, such as the Arab Spring and global Occupy movements.
Upon graduation, Cook hopes to find a job that will allow her to continue working with social media in a political setting, perhaps as a foreign service officer at the U.S. Department of State, which has an Internet freedom initiative that interests her.
Traveling Back to the Past Leads Veteran to Promising Future
By Tara Laskowski
Andrew Pedry grew up loving knights and castles. His childhood interests have grown up—he’s now a history major interested in medieval times—but his passion is still pure.
“I love studying history and religion because it really helps me to understand what is happening today,” he says. “I can look back on the past to make sense of current events.”
Pedry will graduate this month with a BA in Religious Studies and a BA in History. He will then take his wife and two daughters to Montenegro for one year as part of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship he was awarded. The experience will allow him to develop as an educator, serve as a cultural ambassador for the United States, and explore a region with a rich medieval history, he says.
This journey is just a continuation of a lifetime of traveling and seeing the world. Pedry lived overseas as a child and then served in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he was deployed to the Pacific, Kuwait, and Iraq. These experiences allowed him to see many places of religious and historic significance that are not easily accessible to tourists—such as the ancient cities of Ur and Babylon in what was once ancient Mesopotamia, which further fueled his interest in history.
“I certainly love America, but I also love to travel,” Pedry says.
Because of the revamped GI Bill, Pedry discovered that it would be financially viable to return to school after his time in the military. At Mason, he not only discovered a friendly veteran community, but faculty members who were interested in the same areas of research that he was and could help him integrate his past experiences into a unique learning opportunity.
“I have had a fabulous educational experience at Mason,” he says. “The Office of Military Services at Mason is a very valuable asset at Mason. That Mason is dedicating full-time staff to this resource is amazing—it really helps bring veterans into the university community and make that transition.”
Pedry is currently working as an archivist in the Veterans Curation Program through the Army Corps of Engineers. When he returns from Montenegro, he will enroll in the University of Toronto’s master’s degree program in history, focusing on the Middle Ages.
Two Students Plus One Shared Passion Equal Math Success
The following story was adapted from the College of Science’s spring 2012 edition of Periodic Elements.
While many children want to put distance between themselves and their parents during college, one mother-and-son team is defying convention. Jody and Devin Shipp will both graduate this spring with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics.
Although the duo faced curious looks from students and faculty when they sat together in class or worked on homework together, the system worked well for them, motivating both Devin and Jody. Devin often conferred with Jody before signing up for classes each semester.
“I like to take the same classes because it tends to make me work harder,” he says.
Jody instilled in Devin a love of math since his childhood, giving him extra math problems after he finished his homework, which they would work on together.
For the Shipps, learning math is like learning a language: Repetition creates fluency, and fluency fuels passion. As math tutors, both Jody and Devin strongly believe that success doesn’t come overnight—learning math takes hours of practice, and sometimes the help of a tutor.
“I would tell students to stick with it and try to find a way to relate math to your own life,” Jody says of motivating students who struggle.
During her time at Mason, Jody’s work has drawn attention. Last year, she was chosen to participate in the National Science Foundation-supported program Undergraduate Research in Computational Mathematics, and she attended the Joint Mathematics Meeting in Boston earlier this year to present her work. In 2010, she received the Amer Bešlagić Award from Mason’s Department of Mathematical Sciences and, before that, a math award from Northern Virginia Community College.
Jody began her college career more than 20 years ago as an electrical engineering major at Utah State University, leaving after two years to marry. Now, at age 49 and after a 15-year career in customer service at Delta Airlines, she is picking up where she left off. After earning a degree in mathematics this spring, Jody will start work on a master’s degree in education at Mason.
Devin, a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, was recently selected to become a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He will begin training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas, after graduating. He says he loves how math relates to patterns and codes, and he aspires to work at the National Security Agency some day, helping to defend the United States against cyber attacks. A doctoral degree in math is also in his sights.
Caps, Wizards Internships Inspire Sport Management Major
By Catherine Probst Ferraro
For the past two years, Mason senior Katie Naylor has probably spent more time in the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., than she has in her own apartment. As an intern with the Washington Capitals, she is involved in all of the activities and events before and after each of the team’s nearly 50 home games.
Naylor has always had a passion for the National Hockey League and the excitement of the game, but never imagined she might be making a career of it. This spring, she’ll graduate with a BS in Health, Fitness and Recreation Resources, with a concentration in sport management and hopes to make a name for herself right here in the Washington, D.C., region.
One of the most rewarding aspects of her internship experience has been interacting with the fans and taking part in the Caps’ many initiatives that support the local community. One of these initiatives is Mites On Ice, a game for youth hockey players that takes place during intermission at Caps games.
Naylor’s time with the Caps gave her the confidence to branch out to a new sport and led to her most recent internship with the Washington Wizards. During her five months with the Wizards, Naylor was involved in marketing, ticket sales, event management, and community outreach.
“One of the aspects of sport management that I’m most passionate about is the team’s relationship with the community,” says Naylor. “Working with nonprofit groups and children’s organizations and participating in fundraising initiatives shows that the sport is not just about revenue, but about bringing the community together.”
Naylor credits Mason with helping prepare her to successfully operate a sports organization. She notes that her courses and especially the sport management faculty had a profound impact on sharpening her communication, leadership and managerial skills—all important tools of a sport management specialist.
After she graduates, Naylor plans to stay in the Washington, D.C., area. She would like to continue working with the Caps. But she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of traveling somewhere new.
“I’ve made so many great connections and relationships through my work with the Caps and Wizards and would love to move up within their franchises,” says Naylor. “But I’m also interested in learning about the differences in how each sport operates and will definitely consider spreading my wings.”
Joe Van Riper’s Journey Brings Him Back to Music
By Catherine Probst Ferraro
As strange as it sounds, one of Mason doctoral student Joe Van Riper’s fondest memories of his time at Mason is pushing a piano all over campus. As a lover of traditional jazz music, Van Riper and several other Mason students formed a Dixieland band and were known for breaking into song at any moment.
Van Riper will graduate this spring with a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degree in orchestral conducting. He is the first graduate of Mason’s DMA program and the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
Van Riper has always had a passion for music and is proficient on the trumpet and piano. But in the beginning of his career, it was his love of baseball that won out. After graduating from Principia College in Illinois with a double major in music and sport management, Van Riper worked for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox, serving as a clubhouse manager at both the minor- and major-league levels.
He then earned a master of music degree in band conducting from Illinois State University. After a few years working as a contractor for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C., Van Riper returned to music and academia for good.
“While I was working in D.C., I had the pleasure of meeting Mason music professor Tony Maiello, who encouraged me to pursue my graduate studies at Mason,” says Van Riper. “I’ve traveled many different paths in my life, and every one of them has been a great experience, but I always knew that I would somehow be drawn back into music.”
Since arriving at Mason in 2009, Van Riper has served as a teaching assistant to several music professors and performed frequently with the Mason Symphony Orchestra, the Mason Wind Symphony, and the University Singers.
Organizing a Dixieland band with some of his fellow students came naturally to him.
“It never fails that wherever I go I somehow end up getting together with a great group of people who are enthusiastic about Dixieland music,” says Van Riper. “My classmates at Mason were no different and had a wonderful passion for playing. It was fantastic to be able to share our love of music with the community.”
Van Riper had the opportunity to perform on trumpet with the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” In addition, he was one of 10 musicians from across the country invited to audition as a conductor with the U.S. Air Force Band.
While finishing up his dissertation on mechanical music at the turn of the century, Van Riper has been working as an assistant professor at Principia College. He directs the choir, heads the vocal studies area, coaches the chamber ensembles, and gives private voice and trumpet lessons. He also teaches courses on the history of popular music in America, the history of Western music, and the history of American musical theater.
Making a Difference in the World through Nursing
By Michele McDonald
“I want to make a difference in the world,” says nursing student Audrey Ferguson, who grew up in a family that fostered the volunteer spirit by helping out with river clean-ups, community health projects, and anything else that came their way. “It takes healthy people in order to create change. I want to do something to broadly improve the lives of others.”
When Ferguson first arrived at Mason in 2008, she planned to major in global affairs. Two weeks later, she changed her major to nursing.
“What is the most practical way to use global affairs? Why, nursing, of course!” she says, laughing.
Ferguson excels at connecting disparate ideas. She became interested in Bangladesh after writing a paper about diarrheal diseases for an English class. Her main source for the paper was the Bangladesh-based International Center for Diarrheal Research Bangladesh.
When she landed a spot last year in the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, she knew where she wanted to go: Bangladesh. The experience helped her earn a Global Proficiency Certificate last year.
It was a different world for the native of Marietta, Ohio, population 15,000. Tired from finals and an internship at the National Institutes of Health, she arrived in one of the most densely populated countries in the world. “I think I was really overwhelmed,” she says.
But the kindness of the Bangladeshi people encouraged her as she learned their language, Bangla. “Even when we thought we knew what to say, we didn’t,” she says with a smile. “We’d test our skills in the marketplace. We learned that the words for gossip and ginger are identical to the untrained ear.”
She toured six hospitals and visited the diarrheal research center. Ferguson is returning this summer for a second stint with the CLS program to continue work on her Bangla skills and help the local nurses.
After she returns from Bangladesh this summer, Ferguson plans to earn her nursing license. She wants to work in public health or rural medicine, with an eye on international opportunities. “I want to help prevent disease and teach people how to manage their health.”
Mason professors guided her along the way, especially Thomas Flores from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution and Carol Urban from the School of Nursing. “If you want to do something outside the box, the faculty are very enthusiastic about helping you,” she says.
Communication Major Makes His Mark at Mason
By Erin Cushing
When he first arrived on campus as a freshman, Marshall “Britt” Wright wanted to get involved in the Mason community. He started by joining the club football team his freshman year, and then began looking for other ways to make his mark on campus.
Four years later, the communication major is the president of the Black Student Alliance (BSA), president of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, and a broadcaster with his own weekly show on WGMU radio. Maintaining this busy schedule has taken some balance and compromise, but as Wright says, he has learned how to “make it happen on campus.”
As a two-year president of the BSA, Wright helped to create new events and traditions, his favorite being the Soul Food Dinner the BSA held earlier this year. He also reached out to other cultural organizations to increase awareness and to strengthen ties between the BSA and other organizations.
“We are proud of our diversity here at Mason,” says Wright. “You’re never in a situation where everyone in the room is the same. Everyone has a story.”
Wright continued to positively influence the Mason community by becoming president of his fraternity. One of his favorite memories of his time at Mason was this year’s Greek Week. Traditionally, Greek Week has been an Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Council event, where Greek organizations under those governing bodies participated. For the first time this year, National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations, including Wright’s own fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, fully participated and paired with the other councils’ organizations during competitions. Initially, there were concerns about changing a tradition, but the week ended up being a great success.
“Everyone made new friends, and we were all able to come together like never before,” Wright says. “This is what Greek life should be like.”
Wright combined his career ambitions in journalism and broadcasting with his social life, hosting a weekly talk radio show in his spare time. What he liked most was having students call in to discuss an issue.
At first, he didn’t really know what sort of impact the show had on the community.
“Sometimes, I would cancel a show because of school work or other commitments, and then I’d see people on Twitter asking what had happened,” he says. “It was great seeing people discussing my shows online.”
His penchant for leadership won’t end when he graduates; Wright will work this summer with the College Board Upward Bound program as a mentor and resident assistant for first-generation college-bound students in Washington, D.C. He is also in contact with Mason alumnus B.J. Koubaroulis, a reporter who does live streams for the Washington Post, for job shadowing and potential broadcasting opportunities. Although these new ventures are exciting, Wright is still a little sad to leave the Mason community he has been so involved with.
“I like Mason so much!” he exclaims.
This article originally appeared on the university’s News site.
To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.