Westwood Country Club in Vienna, Virginia, lies near the epicenter of economic growth spurred by community leaders alongside George Mason University over the past three decades. On the evening of May 16, several such leaders—longstanding pillars of the community and newcomers as well—gathered there to reflect on Mason’s role in Northern Virginia’s success.
- Haymarket resident Mary Postma, whose planned gift to the Hylton Performing Arts Center contributes mightily to its ongoing building and endowment campaign;
- Ernst Volgenau, former rector of the Board of Visitors at Mason, after whom the Volgenau School of Engineering is named;
- Jon Peterson, vice rector of the Board of Visitors as well as a member of the family for whom the Peterson Family Health Sciences Hall will be named; and
- Long Nguyen, 2016 recipient of the Mason Medal, whose philanthropy was recognized through the construction and naming of the Long and Kimmy Nguyen Engineering Building.
Board of Visitors member Dave Petersen hosted the event and also spoke, as did the university’s president, Ángel Cabrera.
The event offered an opportunity for attendees to share the stories of what had motivated their giving to Mason. Some were moved by emotion, a desire to give back and pay forward gifts that had enriched their own lives. For Postma, it was a passion for opera and the opportunity to share what she called “the greatest gift of my life” with future generations through enhanced music pedagogy and programming. For Nguyen, giving to an anchor institution of Northern Virginia was a patriotic act, since “Where we are today—what we have achieved so far—is thanks to the American people.” For Dave Petersen, the inspiring work of Mason colleges such as the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) was part of Mason’s allure.
Others shared a strong belief in Mason as a catalyst for the regional economy. “Dave asked me why I support Mason,” observed Jon Peterson, “and I say why not. You can see that Mason is a jewel and economic engine, and you can see the trajectory that it’s on. Other universities are stuck in old ways, and Mason is looking in entirely new dimensions,” he added, making clear why his family is helping make possible Mason’s new home for health—specifically, the university’s College of Health and Human Services. “You judge a community on its medical and educational facilities, and Mason’s are why people come to live in this region. Mason offers great return on investment.”
“Those of you who have built George Mason University can see that your investment has gone farther than you had imagined,” said President Cabrera. “We could not be more grateful that you have chosen to make Mason, and Northern Virginia, your home. Because of you, Mason’s progress has been off the charts—in terms of regional success as well as social impact. It’s clear that Mason has not excelled simply as a consequence of the growth of our region. Mason has helped drive that growth.”
For Volgenau, and for many of those present, being involved at a university was intrinsically fulfilling. “In higher education, you get the chance to do a lot of things and then live on to be 106,” he quipped, before sharing that “What it takes to be a world-class university is three factors: market need, great leaders, and money from the government and organizations and individuals.”
Volgenau went on to offer an invitation to those present, observing that private philanthropy had already helped Mason bridge the gap between “good” and “great”: “Wouldn’t you be glad to be part of this world-class university?”
May 19, 2017 / LH