Class of ’23: Unexpected path leads legacy student Heather Moss to academic excellence and new perspective

by Melanie O'Brien

Credit: Sarah Holland.
Heather Moss (BIS ’23) with her father Bennett Crandall (BIS ’06)

Mason has been part of Heather Moss’ life for as long as she can remember; she even has pictures of herself on campus at only a few weeks old. Her father, Bennett Crandall (BIS ‘06), worked on campus as a bookstore manager in the 80s when she was a baby. When she was in high school, her father enrolled in classes at Mason to complete his degree. Growing up, Heather watched as Mason expanded, becoming the vibrant and diverse community it is today.  

Now, Heather is about to graduate from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) Bachelor of Individualized Studies (BIS) program herself, with a 4.0 GPA and recipient of two prestigious academic awards.

BIS faculty and staff nominated Heather for the School of Integrative Studies (SIS) Outstanding Graduate Award, an award given to graduating students who have greatly contributed to the life of the college and university. Recipients of this award embody the values and teachings of SIS and show the promise of using what they’ve learned to make the world a better place. Because she is graduating with one of the top GPAs in the BIS program, Heather will also receive an SIS Academic Excellence Award.  

Given Heather’s roots at Mason, it might seem like following in her father’s footsteps was something she always planned, but her journey—one of determination, hard work, and grit—was not one she had predicted. When asked about the accomplishment she is most proud of as a student, she says earning and keeping her 4.0, adding, “Never in my life did I think those words would ever come out of my mouth.”   

Immediately following high school, Heather attended Radford University. She left before completing her degree, returning home to northern Virginia uncertain of her next move. She started working at Mason part-time at the fitness center on campus, picking up any shifts that she could. Eventually, she got a full-time position working at the front desk of the Office of University Events, where she was promoted to a student scheduler position. Heather loved it but couldn’t shake a nagging feeling about not completing her degree.  

Heather recalls the pivotal moment when her husband, whom she was dating at the time, asked what her long-term goals were. Without hesitation she said she needed to complete her degree. He replied with an enthusiastic, “What are we waiting for; let’s do it!” That was just the encouragement and support she needed. She signed up for classes at Northern Virginia Community College to raise her GPA, applied to Mason’s BIS program, and started classes in the Fall of 2020.   

“I was not a good student in high school,” she says. “In my first go-round in college, I was a terrible student, terrible. I hated school. But I thrived in this program. I've found what I'm passionate about.”  

Bennett is immensely proud of Heather’s academic achievement. “I know from experience the challenges involved with deciding to go back to school later in life and while raising a family,” he said. “Heather deserves all the credit in the world for making that decision. Thanks to the BIS program, we are a proud Mason family.”    

Designed to meet the needs for adult learners, the Mason’s BIS program in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences allows students to create interdisciplinary concentrations to meet their own educational needs for professional advancement, career change, preparation for graduate school, and personal satisfaction.  

“CHSS changed my life,” Heather says. “It changed so many things for me, but mainly how I look at myself.”   

One of the first classes BIS students take is BIS 301: Adult Learner Transition, a class designed to help adult learners develop skills and plans to overcome challenges of completing a bachelor's degree as an adult. Heather credits this class, taught and developed by Janet Ha Poirot, term assistant professor and associate director of Academic Services in BIS, for setting the tone for her education at Mason.  

“Janet taught us how to re-evaluate ourselves, and that you are not less valuable because you don’t have a degree. It totally changed the way I looked at myself,” she said. “I never put myself out there because I was really scared of being rejected because I didn't have my degree. Just working toward it gave me all this confidence that I didn’t have before.”  

Poirot served as Heather’s faculty mentor for her senior capstone research project, for which she conducted interdisciplinary research on the important issue of teacher burnout and how the pandemic has added layers of additional stress on elementary school teachers. She says Heather’s positivity has been an inspiration. “Heather is a wonderful student, dedicated to academic excellence and has been such a champion of BIS, uplifting many students in the classroom as well,” she says. “I’ve been impressed with her excellent research work, diligence, and commitment and I am excited for her bright future.”  

As far as what’s next for Heather, she plans to continue working for CHSS, where she is the assistant director of Events and Community Engagement. She's eager to foster relationships with BIS alumni and grow the BIS alumni chapter. Eventually, she’d like to get her master’s degree. On graduation day, she’ll walk away with two prestigious academic awards as her husband, parents, and almost-2-year-old daughter cheer her on.