Jack Wood Award Recipients for 2023
Dr. Christy Esposito-Smythers, Professor, Psychology, leads the Center for Evidence-Based Behavioral Health at Mason. Under her leadership, Dr. Esposito-Smythers has brought faculty and graduate students together with community mental health agencies and clinicians to merge leading evidence-based treatments for behavioral health problems with the specific needs and circumstances of our region, and has developed training tailored for clinicians in the Northern Virginia region. As a result, over 1,000 clinicians are trained in evidence-based approaches. Moreover, the work has led to a three-year grant to add training in treatments for eating disorders and nearly $1M in federal funding to help community agencies develop and implement “measurement-based care.” This partnership is unique not only regionally but nationally, and it offers a model for bringing together academic institutions and community agencies to address community mental health.
Northern Virginia Food Rescue, which was led by Interim Executive Director and Mason alumna, Erika Spalding, from July 2022 – January 2023, answered the call during the December SciTech Campus Advisory Board meeting when President Washington called on members of the board to support the Patriot Pantry, which was in dire need of food donations. Erika and the Northern Virginia Food Rescue immediately pledged and delivered 1000 pounds of food. They also made it possible for the Patriot Pantry to become affiliated with the Capital Area Food Bank network so that the pantry would never run out of food in the future. Since the Patriot Pantry provides food for needy Mason students, Erika and the Northern Virginia Food Rescue’s actions have eliminated the recurring problem of food insecurity for many Mason students in the future.
Community Member Category:
Jennifer Disano has served on Fall for the Book’s Board of Directors for nearly 10 years and is its current board chair. Under her direction and through her advocacy, the festival has thrived as a major town-gown event. She has been instrumental in increasing Fall for the Book’s support from the City of Fairfax, fostered collaborations across campus and community groups in Fairfax, overseen Fall for the Book’s expansion in off-season programming done in partnership with the City of Fairfax, and is steering the board preparations for Fall for the Book’s 25th anniversary festival in October 2023. Disano is also Chair of the Board of Advisors of George Mason University Libraries. Her connections across the campus and the Fairfax community have strengthened ties between the two on a number of levels, and her work continues to serve as an important point of connection between the University and Fairfax.
Elected Official/Government Staff Category:
David L. Meyer has demonstrated leadership in fostering mutually beneficial relationships between the University and surrounding communities, including residential, business, and government communities over the course of his three terms as mayor from 2017 – 2022 and five terms prior on Fairfax City Council from 2008-2017. Through his leadership on the Fairfax Campus and Community Advisory Board (FCCAB), where he served multiple times as Chair, he led a group of representatives from the City of Fairfax, Fairfax County, and the University to help identify and promote relationships and programs in support of joint initiatives; provide recommendations concerning university-community issues and relations; and address and resolve issues of community and university concern at the earliest possible time.
Mayor Meyer constantly looked for ways to engage Mason students and connect them to the City of Fairfax through a CUE bus promotions campaign with Student Government, Patriot in the City videos, welcoming video remarks to newly admitted students, and participating in Career Services opportunities as a discussion panelist for Government Industry Sector students. He has been a supportive, dedicated, and knowledgeable collaborator and partner in helping to make the region a great place to live, work, and do business.
Partnership Category (an initiative created between a Mason entity and an external organization(s) to benefit both entities):
“Made in Arlington” Market Pop-Ups at Mason Square is a partnership between Arlington Economic Development (AED), long-time partners of Mason, and George Mason University Mason Square. The current expansion of Mason Square in Arlington brought with it an opportunity for AED to play an additional emerging role in higher education.
Beginning with discussions on activating Mason Square and bringing the community into the experience, AED’s ‘Made in Arlington’ Initiative, led by Susan Soroko, was a catalyst to new interactions and vitality. Working closely with Mason’s Toni Andrews, Melissa Thierry, Una Murphy, Amanda Harrison, Sara Hawes, and Sophie Gorshenin, this partnership group made a series of pop-up retail markets on campus a reality. Bringing artisans and makers to Mason Square signaled a relationship that goes beyond a market location – it is economic development at its best.
From a campus and student life perspective, ‘Made in Arlington’ is a natural complement to the goals and vision of Mason Square. Students enjoy interacting with the artisans as they learn about true entrepreneurial spirit while supporting small local businesses.
Since February 2022, Mason Square hosted five successful Market Pop-ups in partnership with ‘Made in Arlington’, bringing over 50 small business entrepreneurs to campus and engaging with over 2,000 students, faculty, staff, and Arlington community members.
Innovation Category (a specialty award that acknowledges a short-term town-gown program that is created to meet a timely need):
George Mason University’s Safety, Emergency, and Enterprise Risk Management (SEERM) team and the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) have a longstanding collaborative relationship, born out of necessity and shared interest in the health and well-being of our shared communities. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Mason’s leadership tapped SEERM to serve as the lead unit in managing and operationalizing Mason’s pandemic planning, response, and recovery. SEERM leadership quickly leveraged Mason’s strong existing relationship with FCHD to enhance Mason’s response to the pandemic by incorporating FCHD’s public health expertise, situational awareness, and access to the vaccine. Conversely, Mason was able to augment FCHD vaccine efforts by expanding access to the COVID vaccine through Mason’s mass vaccination clinics, mobile clinics, and ultimately routine vaccine clinics that are still in operation today. Mason was also able to provide testing to our community which alleviated some of the burdens on the regional and county testing sites.
Once the vaccine became available to the community, SEERM leadership seized the opportunity to support regional public health efforts by providing university resources (including facilities, equipment, funding, volunteers, faculty, staff, and students) to support FCHD in vaccine distribution to the community.
This partnership ultimately led to FCHD entrusting Mason with enough vaccine supplies to operate the region’s second-largest mass vaccination clinic capable of offering up to 3,000 vaccines per day for the regional community, as well as Mason students, faculty, and staff.
Legacy Award (The Legacy Award recognizes leadership achievement in town-gown relations over a period of time longer than five years.):
Delegate Kenneth R. “Ken” Plum, who in addition to being a member of the House of Delegates from 1982 to the present, was employed by Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) as Director of Adult and Community Education from 1966 – 1996. In his capacity with FCPS, Ken sought opportunities to partner with community organizations and institutions to expand services within the community.
In the late 1980s, Ken worked with members of the Fairfax County Council on Aging about the need to provide programs and services engaging retirees in the community through programming suited to their intellectual interests in a noncredit format.
In 1990, Ken and members of the aging community started discussing the need for lifelong learning. The result was a request to the University to accommodate such an effort. Ken provided technical assistance to a Board that was formed and helped set up its charter, goals, and objectives.
The resulting program became the Lifelong Learning Institute at Mason, later renamed the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI Mason), in which Ken has taught many courses regarding the history and government of Virginia. OLLI Mason recently celebrated its 30-year anniversary, having brought thousands of senior citizens and retirees to the campus and engaging them with the University community in endless ways.
Congratulations to all our award recipients. We greatly appreciate your leadership in strengthening the relationships between the university and the communities we serve.