Capital Region CATALYZE

Fresh Take ft. Dr. Gregory Washington

October 05, 2021 Season 1 Episode 15
Capital Region CATALYZE
Fresh Take ft. Dr. Gregory Washington
Show Notes Transcript

This Fresh Take interview featured Dr. Gregory Washington, President, George Mason University. JB and Dr. Washington discussed the state of higher ed in the Capital Region and beyond, increasing the diversity and inclusivity of digital tech pathways, and the evolving role of education in today’s economy.

Hosted by JB Holston.  Produced by Jenna Klym, Justin Matheson-Turner, Christian Rodriguez, and Nina Sharma. Edited by Christian Rodriguez. 

Learn from leaders doing the work across the Capital Region and beyond. These conversations will showcase innovation, as well as history and culture across our region, to bridge the gap between how we got here and where we are going.

About our guest:

Gregory Washington became Mason’s eighth president on July 1, 2020, taking leadership of the largest and most diverse public university in Virginia, a Carnegie Tier 1 research institution, and a beacon of access for students of all backgrounds.

The former dean of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and former interim dean of the College of Engineering at Ohio State University, Washington immediately put his skills as a strategic and collaborative solutions-oriented leader to work to guide Mason’s successful management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his seven years at UCI, Washington expanded undergraduate enrollment in the engineering school by 1,100 students and graduate enrollment by more than 200. He established the University of California’s first student makerspace and helped establish the OC STEM Initiative, one of the nation’s first STEM ecosystems, in Orange County, California, engaging more than 100,000 students.

The first African American dean of engineering at any University of California campus, and the first African American president at Mason, Washington recruited and hired one of the most diverse engineering faculty cohorts in the country at UCI, with more than 45 percent of his more than 60 hires being women or from underrepresented groups.

Washington launched his academic career in 1995 as an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the College of Engineering at Ohio State University. He became an associate professor in 2000 and a professor in 2004. He began serving as the college’s associate dean for research in 2005 and also led the university’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. From 2008 to 2011, Washington served as interim dean of the Ohio State engineering school, one of the largest in the country.

His current board service includes S&P Global, Internet2, Sandia National Laboratories (Engineering Sciences Advisory Board), Northern Virginia Technology Council, Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, and Octane. Previous board service includes the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, NSF Engineering Advisory Committee, and the Institute for Defense Analyses.

A first-generation college graduate, Washington is a New York City native who attended high school in North Carolina. He earned bachelor’s (1989) and master’s degrees (1991) and his PhD (1994), all in mechanical engineering, at North Carolina State University. He is a member of the NC State Engineering Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Gregory Washington  0:00  
This is how we look at inclusivity. Everyone has contributed every race because of how America is structured. every race every ethnic group has contributed to the success of this country. We should be about including and celebrating them all.

JB Holston  0:22  
Welcome to fresh take a candid interview series featuring thought leaders and innovators from across the capital region. These one on one conversations, highlight the incredible work happening in our communities, and showcase both where we are and where we are going as a region.

JB Holston  0:42  
Welcome Dr. Gregory Washington. It's great to have you on the on the conversation. Thanks so much for joining us.

Gregory Washington  0:48  
Great to be here.

JB Holston  0:50  
So for folks who don't know Dr. Gregory Washington became Mason's eighth president on July 120 20, right smack in the middle of a pandemic. So we'll we'll talk a little bit about that. Greg was formerly the Dean of the Henry Samuel School of Engineering at the University of California, Irvine, and former interim dean of the College of Engineering at Ohio State University. He's regarded nationally as a strategic and collaborative solutions oriented leader who is committed to providing opportunities for students of all backgrounds, I can absolutely personally attest to all that from our time together as colleagues as code as Dean's in various different institutions a little bit more about Greg for those of you who don't know him, he recruited and hired one of the most diverse engineering faculty cohorts in the country at Irvine, with more than 40% of his 60 hires being women or from underrepresented groups. He's raised more than 100 million in public and private philanthropy for the engineering school. He was the first African American Dean of Engineering in any university of california campus and the first African American president at Mason. Greg established an office of access and inclusion at UCI to enhance campus life for all students chaired the Task Force on ensuring a positive climate for the campuses black community. Greg is a renowned researcher has conducted research for NSF, NASA General Motors, Air Force Research Labs, the US Army Research office, among others, he served as a member of the US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, the NSF engineering Advisory Committee, the Institute for Defense analysis, the octane board of directors and other boards. Greg is also past chair of the engineering Dean's Council of the American Society for engineering education, and a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. So once more, Greg, thanks again for joining us. And welcome.

Gregory Washington  2:35  
Thank you. It's great to be here.

JB Holston  2:37  
Great. So we've got a long list of things to talk about Greg, and I suspect you and I could probably go on all day catching up. But let's start a little bit about about your background. I didn't I didn't tell everyone the full story about, you know where you started. But if you would take a couple of minutes and talk a little bit about what brought you to engineering, what was the path that took you to engineering?

Gregory Washington  2:58  
Well, for me, you know, I believe I was born with the engineering spirit, to be totally honest with you, as a youth, I would always take all of my toys apart. If for those of you parents listening for if you if you have a disruptive kid, there actually may be hope for them. Um, Christmas time, you get new toys, by New Year's mine were all taken apart and components in one toy was connected to another and my mother tells me the story where she literally thought something was wrong with me. And she was asking one of her friends and and the woman told her she said, I don't think there's anything wrong with your son. I think he's probably an engineer or scientists. That's great. And, and that started that. Book, thought it's been a part of me since I was a little kid, you know, it was my mother telling me these things. And you know, I wind up going to engineering school at NC State. And, you know, I because I've fallen in love with engineering, but very, very interesting. And I actually I knew I wanted to be an engineer when I turned down football scholarships, and athletic scholarships to schools because they didn't have engineering programs. Yeah. And no school would an engineering program that offered me a scholarship to play. So, so I wound up as a student, right? And a group of us had complained to the dean, that we were having problems understanding our ta is in the classroom. And sophomore year, I'm in the dean's office with a group of about eight other students, and we're giving the DNR complaints and he talks with us for a while and on the way out. He taps me on the shoulder and he pulls me back in the room and I'm like, oh my god. I'm Getting ready to get kicked out of school. But he pulls him back in the room and he says, Look, I've seen your grades, you can either be part of the problem and part of the solution, I can guarantee you that if you go on and pursue a PhD in engineering, you will not pay a dime if you do it here. And I said, Okay, I took them up on the offer and went through got my PhD, and the rest is kind of its kind of history.

JB Holston  5:26  
Yeah, that's a great, that's a great story, particularly that kind of timely mentoring, and conversation. Yeah, it's, oftentimes it doesn't happen often enough, that's for that's for sure.

Gregory Washington  5:38  
Well, interesting enough, what it taught me is the power of someone suggestion, and the power of engagement that you can have on youth. And I've always tried to practice that as the dean, to literally go out and touch students and engage them and talk with them. Because you never know where that seed is, you know, you know where that fertilizer is gonna fall. And that person might germinate into an individual, like myself, or individually, you know, you'd be surprised how many others have had this park, put into them by some individual who tapped him on the shoulder at a relatively young age and said, You know, I think there's a different pathway.

JB Holston  6:23  
That's terrific. Let's, I do want to talk about Mason and life in the pandemic, and how y'all thrive through that. But let's talk a little bit about that transition from Irvine to Mason. And I know it's tough to separate out from the pandemic. But you know, for folks who are listening who may not know both institutions, how do you how do you know that you've been in this for for, you know, 15 or 20 years in, in dog ears? How do you how do you think about or how should folks think about those two different institutions? What are similar, what's different.

Gregory Washington  6:54  
So I came here from the University of California, Irvine. And what people don't realize is UC Irvine, is George Mason. 10 years ago, when I arrived to UC Irvine, it was ranked as the number one institution under 50 years old. And the new car van is now 5455 years old, something like that. You know, the top institution under 50 years old right now at George Mason University. And both are very diverse, which is what drew me to both. But George Mason is more of what we would call an access institution, George Mason is provided to provide an opportunity to those many to those individuals that many institutions would overlook. UCI was a highly selective institution and grew more and more selective over time. And so that difference also attracted me. It's a it's a place that's really giving people opportunities. And if we can continue to give people great opportunities, and continue our ascent to being a great institution, that combination, I think it's just fantastic. You know,

JB Holston  8:13  
you and I spoke a little bit before we started this, Greg, about the last 10 months and about leading through the pandemic, your population, generally speaking of students in particular, and their families was was particularly hard hit. And I know, I know, you're a big believer in and advocate for and a champion of experiential learning, you know, suddenly, everything's different. Talk a little bit about some of the things you did with the team at Mason to manage through the institution. And if you wouldn't mind, maybe some of the risks that you had to take some of the decision taking risks you had to take,

Gregory Washington  8:49  
well, coming into the pandemic, we had two major decisions to make. And that's what is the campus going to look like, throughout the academic year? Meaning Are we going to have any students on campus or not, you know, at that time, most of the institutions in our region had decided to not have any students formerly on campus. So that was the first decision. The second decision was what we were going to do with our faculty and staff. On average, we got about 6800 to 7000 dorm rooms on campus, right. And, and I mean dorm beds. If you think about it from that perspective, each one of those beds generates somewhere in the neighborhood of about $12,500 for the institution. And so you're looking very close to $100 million loss with no students on campus. And that's those are the numbers we're looking at now. And I don't care how efficient an institution you are, if you pull $100 million out of that institution, you're going to have to make dramatic cuts and reductions. And, and so we ask the question, can we be safe? Could we bring students back to campus and do it safely. Given that a pandemic was literally raging around this, that was the first risk. And if we could do it safely, then we can maintain a large number of our faculty and staff. And if we couldn't, we were going to have to have significant cuts to faculty and staff. And so the two decisions where we were going to bring back half of our students, and so that we can densify and make it work and we were going to maintain jobs, we were not going to go through significant cuts. Those were the two big decisions. Now in order to execute on that, we had to keep those students safe, right, the major outbreak amongst those students would mean, we would then have to shut down, there would be substantially more costs in doing that, and you would still lose, you'd have to refund those students that money and you would still lose the 100 million you were going to lose up front. Right? So it would actually be a higher cost at for for failure. Our people came together, we've we figured it out, we manage this process really well. We, you know, we, our, for an institution of 38,000. Well, now close to 40,000 students, for us to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 383 cases now, since January. That that's a big deal. He literally right now we have even going into graduation, we had one case. So we were able to manage this and manage it quite well, we were able to maintain a great environment for our students who were on campus, you know, not as much engagement as they would have liked. But we were able to engage safely. And we were able to do all of that while maintaining integrity of our faculty and staff. And, and so I you know, it I learned a lot about my staff during this process. I learned a lot about our faculty during this process, because we all had to come together and work together in order to make it work we did in a significant way. And that gives us confidence that we can tackle the big challenges and big problems that are in front of us. Yeah.

JB Holston  12:41  
Well, congratulations on that. I know how risky all those decisions were at the time, not only was there no roadmap, but as you mentioned, a lot of your peer institutions were not willing to take either of those main main risks. Yeah, so so kudos to you and a great for the region. You know, I just I think that keeping momentum through all of this for your institution was was a big highlight for the region. So congratulations on that, Greg, as we as we come out of this, let's, let's talk about a couple of things. One is I'd like to start at the highest level, and then we can move down. But if you think about things learned, there's been a lot of conversation in higher ed circles about you know, what do we learn through the pandemic? You know, what can we institutionalize for the long term etc? How are you? How are you thinking about that? What do you think the institution learned that they're gonna want to implement for the long term differently for through the pandemic? Well, your,

Gregory Washington  13:32  
your former academic, so so you know, this, the, the biggest revelation, the the one that was, it's a little comical, to some extent, but I can kind of sum it up in one word, and one sentence, we learn that the students want to be together on campus, we've learned that. So in the end coming out of this, I can tell you that students want to be together on they want to come to campus as they want to be in their dorm rooms and be a part of that vibrancy of campus life. But they don't necessarily want to do it in class. Rarely want to be in class, right? They will consume that information virtually. They will consume that information online. You know, they don't feel that they should have to tolerate an 8am class on a Monday or a or an 8am class on Friday, or 6:30pm class on Friday. You know, why can't I have that class online. And so flexibility is the watchword for us going forward in order to be able to accommodate those students where we are going to have what's a very, very hybrid flex like schedule going forward. We'll have a lot more in person classes without question but we are going to explore As much as we possibly can, the utilization of virtual classes, it just makes, it makes a lot of sense. It's also given it were in our one institution, it's the best thing for our faculty. Think about it. If you're managing a large research program, and you have you teach on Tuesday and Thursdays, and you got a major sponsor that wants to come in on Thursday, you can have your students consume their class virtually on that Thursday, so that you can meet with your sponsor, you literally can record the lecture on Wednesday, give it to the students on Thursday at that normal class time and continue working and not needs to be and our students are more are so digitally ready, and so digitally accommodated, that that's, that's okay, even for those students who want to have the more personal interaction of face to face. So you're going to see a different environment going forward, that cat is out of the bag. That's the biggest lesson, I think, coming out of this, but you're not going to see fully online programs. I just think that the the other side of that lesson was learned to and that is, that's actually not what students want.

JB Holston  16:19  
Yeah. You know, I know, faculty were very hesitant about the pace at which and the magnitude of having to move online, but I do think that a lot of people, faculty and staff, too, we're looking at a more hybrid future and thinking that can be more accommodative to them to as you point out, yeah,

Gregory Washington  16:35  
oh, my God, you can't believe so look. So I went through that faculty, Senate, minutes of previous years, and there was this real fight, George Mason was really looking at developing a significant virtual presence. I mean, that's significant. Allah, Arizona State University, Allah University of Phoenix, Purdue global, they were really looking in that direction, and it was met with real resistance on the faculty, they just did not want to go online, they did not want to go virtual. And there was this cohort of people who were staunchly against it, pandemic hits, we literally go virtual overnight, then we start talking about, you know, we're gonna come back, we're gonna bring you all back in that same group of faculty who were pounding the tables, we don't want this. Now, we don't want to get back in the classroom. We don't want to do face to face, we want to do virtual, it was amazing to see the flip, you know?

JB Holston  17:44  
Yeah. Well, it'll go senate meetings, you can call you can hold up the old minutes and say, Look,

Gregory Washington  17:51  
that's right. You you actually

JB Holston  17:52  
want your name. That's, that's great. Let's talk a little bit want to dive in a little bit on STEM, STEM education, diverse pipelines in the region. But talk, let's talk first about the region. For those who again, who aren't quite as steeped in higher ed. You know, clearly one of the great strengths of the region is a string to the higher ed ecosystem throughout my throughout this reason, region is just remarkable. I certainly become to appreciate that even more, having come here that you mentioned, gmu is an access University. Mason is an access University. Talk a little bit about how when you're when you're trying to characterize where Mason fits in this higher ed ecosystem, how do you how do you? How do you explain it? How do you talk about what what differentiates it?

Gregory Washington  18:35  
Yeah, so it's a that's a real good question Look, a size and scale. That's what we bring to the table that others know, we will exceed 40,000 students this year, and 70% of them take jobs in the DMV. Period. So for a company looking for talent, it, you know, Mason is in that equation without question. And in almost every major discipline. The other pieces were the most diverse institution in the region. We have as many African American students as any institution in Virginia, and that includes our HBCUs. And we have more Latinx students than any institution in the region by a significant margin. And that's our region. We're also the most innovative and flexible institution in the region with more degree programs than any other institution in our state. And we are one of the most aggressive institutions actually in the Greater Washington partnership. So you, you know the programs and initiatives that you put in place between universities and industry, Mason is always core and then in one of the more aggressive universities, in terms of expanding and exploiting those partnerships. And you know, and that's, that's what being an access institution puts you in a position to do right? Because ultimately, you are trying to provide opportunities For those 40,000 students, right, I don't have a small cohort of people. And I can craft in in in that I have time to worry about, you know, once a twosie type opportunities, I literally have to put in place mechanisms that find opportunities for massive numbers of individuals who are graduating.

JB Holston  20:23  
Yeah. Along those lines, you know, you've made some some big moves, you've got a school of computing, yes, launching, I'd talk a little bit about, about the background of that, if you would, some of your aspirations for it, obviously, you've got a lot going on on our LinkedIn as well. And I know there's there's a direct intersection between those, but let's talk about those.

Gregory Washington  20:45  
So, look, we have a goal to get to 15,000 computer science and engineering graduates over the next two decades, from an enrollment perspective, we're going to be at that number in five years. And, and so what we did this year is we formed the College of Engineering in computing. And under it, we have two schools. One is the School of Computing. The other is the volturno School of Engineering, which was the original School of Engineering was already in existence at Mason for a number of years. We established in Arlington, our institute for digital innovation, and that Institute would actually house the School of Computing, but but it will incorporate so much more. That facility that we're putting in place is foundational to the innovative ecosystem, in my opinion of the whole region, with a goal of shaping what our future digital society looks like. It'll be a convener of startups, rapid, rapidly growing middle market companies, high tech large companies, and, and that its basis in terms of its operation is what we call cyber physical systems. That's its intellectual basis, in stemming from that our specific emphasis in areas like Healthcare Informatics, cybersecurity, 5g, cloud, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, machine learning and FinTech, right, so these are the things that kind of grow out of that cyber physical system framework that we're putting in place. And we've already started bringing partners on board to our facility that we're putting in Arlington, we currently have we're currently that facility there, even though it's not fully built, we've actually taken space that we already own there and reconfigured actually totally redesigned that space to accommodate tenants who want to get in there early. It's now home to the cyber security manufacturing innovation Institute, or Sai Manny, and the Commonwealth cyber initiative are both now located on that, on that space. And we have 32 industry and community partners who are working with us on the actual development of that whole region. So it's not going to just be a building, we are actually going to in combination in concert with our partners, develop that whole corridor of Arlington and have it have a innovation and digitization focus.

JB Holston  23:24  
We get asked this by a lot of the partner companies, Greg, and I'm sure you do as well, but how do you how do you differentiate? Or how should people think about the whole Virginia Tech Innovation Campus initiatives relative to to that work that you were just describing?

Gregory Washington  23:41  
So it's interesting, you know, the reality is we haven't done enough work together Virginia Tech and Mason to kind of carve out specific niches for for each institution. But there are some natural ones that are bubbling up. Virginia Tech has really carved out a space where they are working with and supporting a lot of the larger companies in the region. We have some of those, but we have carved out a space where we are working with a significant number of smaller and mid market companies companies like appian and alarm calm and MicroStrategy and Cvent clarabridge. And then we have the startup community with our incubators, which we have three in the area with our incubators in our small business development centers, which we manage all 33 in the state. We are actually providing a ecosystem backbone to create the next large company so our goal is out of this. Can Virginia be the hub to the next Amazon can we be the To the next Microsoft to the next large major tech company, we think we have a chance of being able to do that. But that requires you having a convener, you having an infrastructure, you having an actual ecosystem to help promote and support that. That's our focus. And that's the direction we're going with this. And that's a differentiator, to be totally honest with you.

JB Holston  25:25  
Yeah. You know, when we were setting up colab, and you folks had been a key partner in that since we started, but when we were setting it up, our friends at McKinsey did some work to look at the gap analysis for talent for digitally skilled talent in the region. And one of the things we keep telling folks is, you know, that gap is huge, and it's not closing quickly. So even if we all threw everything we had at trying to close it through initiatives like yours, the Innovation Campus, we still wouldn't, wouldn't close it. And so, you know, there's plenty of room from our paths exactly

Gregory Washington  25:56  
right. Not just plenty of room for us in Virginia Tech, there's plenty of room for other partners too. And so this is not a and that's one of the reasons why I really haven't, you know, try to emphasize, we should do this. And they should do that. The reality is, both institutions should do what they feel they do best. coexist, work together, when necessary, and compete when necessary. I call the concept Co Op petition. Right? You figure out when you go work together, you figure out when you're going to compete, and it's okay. to both work together and compete. You don't have to be mortal enemies, you can actually be friends and work together on some things and be competitors on others.

JB Holston  26:48  
No, no question. You've been a pioneer on, as we talked about in introduction, Greg on STEM diversity. But if you look at some of the recent reports that may have been a you came out with this last week, it was quite recent about I think maybe it was Pew that was restating, but anyway, you know, we haven't made the progress at the pace in terms of either women in the field or underrepresented groups that I know the engineering disciplines in particular for the last 1520 years who really set out to to achieve is you look at things now what why is it still not? Why are we still not getting as broad and deep a pipeline of diverse pipeline into industry and keeping them in industry, as all of us want?

Gregory Washington  27:32  
You know, there are a whole host of reasons. But let me highlight three of them. We tend to focus on outcomes too late in the cycle. The reality is, you literally start making an engineer and a scientist in the fifth and sixth grade. And they have to be to the point where they are taking algebra, you know, in the eighth or ninth grade, to even stand a chance of having enough mathematics requirement in order to be able to get into these, the hard sciences and engineering programs when they hit college, right? And so. So you can't look at the end of the pipeline and say, Okay, let's figure out how we get more graduates out of the university. It begins with K 12, partnerships. And it begins with industry supporting those partnerships early. By and large, that still hasn't happened enough. You will hear companies tout Oh, well, we have this program where we take 7000 girls in the summer and you know, yeah, that's great. Definitely more than that, right, because they need more than summer, right. And so, for women, and for people fonder represented groups, the context signals, the clues. The feedback that they get, literally from a very young age is that these areas are not areas for. And we have to come together both industry and university in an aggressive way to tell them early and often at multiple stages, at every single level. At every single semester. It can't just be one program for a week. That's great. That's better than not having anything, but that's not going to sustain a kid for a full year. And so in Irvine, we actually developed long tail programs programs, where we started with students and literally in the fifth grade, and we had programmatic events and engagements where we touch that student every single day. Year, multiple times per year, all the way up through community college if that's what they chose, right? And then we got to provide insight. So that's one piece, right? There's just not enough programs in the early stage of the pipeline in order to have enough. Look, the reality is only six to 8%. of eligible 17 to 24 year olds regret coming out of colleges with seven degrees. So it's just not it's just not enough. Right. And you all, you know, we took this on as engineering deans, and that's when I, in terms of growing, President Obama said, I'm gonna challenge you all, to add an additional 10,000. Engineers, we, and we want you to do it, he wanted us to do it in four years, we didn't, we did it in three. And at the end, we added 25 30,000 more, and that still wasn't enough. Right? The economy still needed more. And we thought I remember a group of us, we thought we had done something we were sitting there with the folks from the federal government, and we said, Hey, you asked us to go from 70 to 80,000, we're at 120,000. By golly, we thought we hung the moon and all of us engineering Deans are sitting there smiling, because we have increasing the number of graduates by so by such a great number. And a woman from the Department of Commerce came literally with a stack of job requisitions. Right. She said, I need 120,000 today. And if all of these graduates you had filled them, I would need more to Morrow, right. And so that's the level, the scale is just not there yet. And so we have to figure out how we scale that's been the you know, once we all get this in our psyche, then the programs will be systemic, meaning that they will flow throughout all of our disciplines. And they will flow literally, from elementary school, and track all the way through high school and community college. That's when we'll see substantial change on the back end, that's literally what we have to be. Look fundamentally

Gregory Washington  32:24  
we have taught our folk, what it means to be smart, is to pursue a liberal arts education, need to change the concept of what it means to be smart. Yes, it's a liberal arts education. But technology is a part of that liberal arts, right? We need our humanists, we need our artists, we need our English majors to also know how to code, we need them to also have an understanding of the built environment, so that when they come out, they actually can be, you know, because of critical thinking skills are so high, right? In my opinion, sometimes even higher than the critical thinking skills of engineers, right? higher than the critical thinking skills of scientists, right, because they have a usually a more holistic worldview. Those those students can also be viable contributors to helping solve our our techniques and our tech problems. They don't have to, you know, have a degree in computer science, they actually have to understand something about program. That's what you guys are getting at. With many of the programs you're putting in place, I think it's going to have huge success.

JB Holston  33:28  
You mentioned that, you know, the students coming in, they're digitally literate, but they're still, they've still been told, you know, for too long that that isn't shouldn't be part and parcel of how they think about what they do going forward. And boy, I'll tell you, that's that's just crazy. You know, they're there. They're interested. And you know, I can't tell you how many students I haven't talked to, and I know and we'll move on, but you know, who come in and take that first comp, sigh class and say everybody else in here has been doing this since they were six, I'm going to ruin my GPA. If I keep doing it, yes, like, Well, why didn't we find pathways for those folks that, you know, that so i boy, I agree with you. I think the other comment, and again, we'll move on, but it's interesting, the demand side, for talent, it's kind of the opposite to the problem of exponential growth, the pandemic showed us, you know, it's hard to realize how much this demand is growing for this kind of talent. And so we tend to always just subscale the solutions, because we're sort of looking at, you know, that number a year from now, I'm not thinking about what that curve looks like three to five years from now.

Gregory Washington  34:32  
That's right, or, and, you know, six to 10 years is that's roughly 10 years is the number right when you're talking about fifth grade, and you got to have them, it takes six years for you to get them prepared to even enter the basic training that they need in order to be successful on the back. It is what it is.

JB Holston  34:52  
Yeah, that's great. Well, there is a big opportunity for, for industry to demystify that to embrace all that earlier and Way to celebrate it for for younger students as well. You know, last year was not just a year of the pandemic, it was also, you know, an overdue year of racial reckoning to some degree for the country. And of course, Mason has its history. Can you talk a little bit about how you've been dealing with those issues? And again, coming in boy, I can't even imagine coming in in July and the middle of pandemic, talking about an extraordinary time in history.

Gregory Washington  35:28  
Yeah. You know, very, very interesting. The first question that I was asked as a, you know, as a new president, you know, was not how you're going to deal with the pandemic, it was not. What do you think of the transition from going from California to Virginia? The first question, a reporter asked me, he shoved the mic in my face and said, George Mason University, George Mason was a slave owner. Are you going to change the name but the institution,

JB Holston  36:05  
welcome. Welcome to your new job.

Gregory Washington  36:08  
And I'm like, Oh, I'm, like, ready for that question. I literally wasn't, it was it was literally July 1, my very first day, and I'm talking with a reporter who happened to be on campus for my first day. And that was her first question. And the camera is on me. Oh, man, I you know, this is when you start seeing the light flash in front of you. You're like, Oh, no, I gotta say, and yet I got through the question. And, but then I actually had to go back and start doing some real history, and so do some real research into the institution. And I had to be able to answer that question, in a reasonable manner. And look, the reality is, is that the country has had a very, very checkered past when it comes to issues of, you know, fair and equal treatment, and it systemically has excluded people. And that's a part of the country's history. And long story short, when asked what was I going to do about the name, I said, Look, we're not going to change the name of George Mason, and, and when asked why I said, Look, 12 of the first 18 US presidents own slaves, 12 of the first 18. And, and nine of them actually had a mortgage at the White House, we have 41 of the 56 signatories, of the Declaration of Independence, own slaves, and 25 of the 55 men who wrote the Constitution on slaves, slavery was the economic. It was the economic framework of the day, during the early founding of the country, the country was founded upon it, there's literally reference to slavery in the Constitution, and references to a whole lot of things. But the three fifths framework is there for a reason. And so when you understand it from that perspective, you know, you, you can celebrate George Mason for the great things that he's done, right, but not commemorate him for the kinds of things for the decisions he made relative to slavery. And so we'd look at it at as a holistic approach, this is also a great opportunity for us, for our scholars on campus, and for others, to actually look at many of the enslaved individuals who actually supported and helped build the campus. So when it became a great history lesson to us, and we're putting in place a huge memorial to those individuals who were enslaved under George Mason, and we're looking now at their contributions to the, to the formation and the growth of our campus. To me, that's the more positive way of looking at this, right. And it's looks at it. And if you expand that to other issues, this is how we look at inclusivity. Right? We everyone has contributed every race, because of how America is structured. every race, every ethnic group has contributed to the success of this country. We shouldn't be about including and celebrating them all. And when you bring everyone to the table, and when everyone has a shared benefit, because they've actually had a shared sacrifice, and what makes this country great, guess what you get, you actually get people working together on the basis of the fact that they have every right to be at the table to begin with. Right and so that is kind of core part and parcel to work Our Inclusive Excellence Program looks like this is why we established the anti racism and inclusive excellence taskforce to outline initiatives to bring us together on those principles. And and the group has put together if they've had 15 initial recommendations that we are now propagating through the campus and implementing on campus. Look, we were already diverse before it started, especially amongst our students. The outcomes of this effort will also make us much more diverse in our faculty, our staff and our administration, and thereby bringing everybody in the table as we make decisions going

JB Holston  40:41  
forward. Yeah. Well, thanks. Thanks for sharing that. Greg, I think it's really important for everyone to hear about the journey that you and the institution have have been on. We're unfortunately gonna run out of time here. Let me ask you a couple of quick things. But if you could you obviously the partnership represents a lot of employers in the region, if you could ask one thing of employers in terms of supporting your your mission going forward, what would that be?

Gregory Washington  41:09  
That's a great question. Look. The most important thing companies can do with us is really partner with us. Let's and partnership begins with having honest and frank conversations company companies should be willing and open to tell us what they need. And and then should be willing and open for us to say, here's what we can give you. And here's what we jointly need to work together to supply for you relative to the future. And what they'll find with Mason, is that a, we're flexible, B, we're innovative, and see we're responsive, right? So we're flexible, we're innovative, and responsive. If we don't have what you need, we will work together with you in order to get you there, I'll take a little bit of time, but we'll get you there. Eight times out of 10, we probably will have what you need. And then we just may need to tweak it on the edges in order to get it in to the framework that you need it right. If you need students with a certain skill set. You know, they might, we might have to run them through our nascent talent exchange and let them take a short course or to get a badge in a certain area so that they are so that their skill set aligns specifically with what your need. If you have a very, very highly specialized need, well, we might need you to invest in an a faculty member to help that faculty member develop the courseware. Around that means so that we can then work together to supply students in order to get you that need. But the reality here is that it's about partnerships. And the greatest thing companies can do with us is just partner with us. Tell us what you need. And then work with us to in order to supply that need to you.

JB Holston  43:00  
Well, as you pointed out, you've got such a diverse pipeline at scale that you know, you you are really unique solution provider, if you will.

Gregory Washington  43:08  
That's right, you know, week, we can literally put hundreds of students on your doorstep, in the ethnic groups, the gender groups that you want. And that's a big feature. that's a that's a big advantage.

JB Holston  43:23  
No question. Last question for you. And Greg, thanks again for for taking time with us. My guest has been George Mason University's eighth president, Dr. Gregory Washington. But Greg, last question for you. What did you learn about yourself as a leader over the last 10 months? Oh, man, I thought I'd ask easy one last.

Gregory Washington  43:45  
So you know, I learned two things that get them actually. Much. I'm not as fearful of taking on big challenges as I thought I was. when when when the pandemic hit, and I had to make those critical decisions early. I was surprised with the ease of which I made them, right. It wasn't without a lot of thought. It wasn't without a lot of research. We, you know, we did our homework, but when it came time to make really difficult decisions, and I'll be totally honest with the decisions that if they were wrong could literally lead to me losing my job. I learned that I'm willing to make those decisions. And I'm willing to make the decisions that I think are the right ones. And not necessarily the ones that are most expedient are the safe ones. You understand what I'm saying? Because we have the this issue of what's safe, and what was right 100% right and in and I chose right and not safe. You can say a lot of things about yourself. Right? You know, everybody thinks that their plan will work. I you know, when Mike Tyson had a boxing match, and he lost to Evander Holyfield he did him in his ear. One of the announcers, asked him at the end of the fight. Didn't you have a plan? Didn't you know what you were going to do when he got out there? we demanded, why to bite him in his ear. And Mike Tyson said, Look, everybody has a plan until you get hit in the mouth. And, you know, I kind of know how I'm gonna respond to those issues now. Because this was the greatest challenge that I had to face in my whole academic career in and and why you think you know, yourself, you actually don't necessarily know until the challenge is put in front of you. So that's the answer.

JB Holston  45:56  
Great. Well, I tell you the, the reason is, is fortunate that you brought your right risk taking skills and expertise to it. Greg, thanks so much for the time today. It's been great talking to you.

Gregory Washington  46:08  
It's been great talking to you look forward to seeing you soon. Thank you.

JB Holston  46:19  
Thanks for tuning into fresh take. This episode was produced by Jenna climb, Justin Matheson Turner, Christian Rodriguez and Nina Sharma. If you liked what you heard, share it with your network. For more information and to access all of our podcasts, events and publications, visit Greater Washington