English Professor Teresa Michals has often told her students that real learning and real friendship go together.
Through the development of the Mason Topics program, Michals was able to create an environment in which students and professors could build long-lasting relationships in the pursuit of their scholarly work.
“Mason Topics attracted both students and faculty who were looking for that experience,” said Michals.
The Mason Topics program linked courses, grouping students with faculty for shared reading assignments, writing assignments and off-campus excursions.
On-campus students in the program lived in special living/learning floors in the residence halls where much of the special programming took place, including films, talks, study sessions and more.
Though the program will not return this fall, the impact it had on students and faculty is evident.
“We gave them a really good start, students who were worried about coming to Mason because it was so big,” said Michals. “Since then, they have gotten awards and fellowships and scholarships. It’s great to see them becoming who they are going to be in the real world.”
When Maria Obando first came to Mason she was looking for a specific experience. “I was a commuter student and I knew adjusting to a big campus and student population would prove difficult,” said Obando. “I came from a big high school, but it was nothing compared to the place where I would spend my next four years. It was important for me to engage in dialogue with professors, enroll in small-sized classes, and see some familiar faces.”
Obando will being pursuing a Master’s Degree in the fall.
“Mason Topics also had some of the best faculty members who gave you more than a grade at the end of the semester,” said Obando. “They encouraged us to think critically and analytically and to use the classroom as a place of discovery.”
Mason Topics students lived in close proximity in group housing, where many freshmen “shared my fears of being in a new place and not knowing anyone,” said former student LaShella Wade. “I remember on move-in day as we we're getting settled into our rooms, some of the Mason Topic professors were walking through the halls and greeting the students. We were a little shocked at first, but just seeing that the professors would do that, made us all that more excited for our first day of classes.”
Professor John Foster taught in the program for three years.
“One wonderful thing about that slot was the experience of showing up for the first day of class and discovering that most of the students already knew each other,” said Foster. “You'd approach the open door of the classroom, and there was already a buzz of lively conversation--something that persisted throughout the semester. What a treat, after having entered so many first classes sunk in deep silence.”
Foster and Lisa Breglia of Global Affairs, recently took some of his Mason Topic students to the Iranian Interests Office.
“Though understandably a challenge, the trip ended up being one of my most fascinating experiences in twenty-five years at Mason,” said Foster.
Annie Stickney was shy in high school but “With this program I was able to come out of my shell and become more outgoing,” she said.
Stickney, a rising junior, spent the past year tutoring this year’s Mason Topics students in English.
“It was great working with them and seeing how they progressed throughout the year,” said Stickney. “I hate to see such a great program leave Mason. I know this program has greatly benefited me and will benefit future students if the program were to continue.”
May 22, 2009