Thursday, February 9,2017
Bethany Usher would love a window in her office. And if George Mason
University’s new associate provost for undergraduate education moved to
the Merten Hall space waiting for her, she would have one.
Instead, Usher will remain in her windowless digs in the Johnson
Center, straining to see daylight through the top-floor windows visible
through her office doorway.
“There’s always something going on in this building,” Usher said.
“The space is active for students and faculty, and being accessible to
them is really important.”
Usher has spent the past five years engaging with students and
faculty as director of the Students as Scholars initiative in the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research (OSCAR).
The experience and relationships she forged will be invaluable as she
investigates and then tries to construct what she calls “a clear vision
of what we want the undergraduate experience to look like.”
For Usher, that vision is one of total student engagement, not only
with their studies but with experiential learning that enhances the
facts and figures gleaned in the classroom and creates a passion that
perhaps spotlights a life path.
“I do think the undergraduate experience should be transformational,” Usher said. She called it “engaged scholarship.”
Usher found that experience for herself as a biology and anthropology
major at the University of Virginia. Through a grant from the Howard
Hughes Medical Institute, she was an undergraduate biomedical
researcher. She helped excavate and save a Monacan Indian mound in
Orange County, Va., that was eroding from water damage. And she worked
at a bookstore.
“All those things changed my perception of what it means to be an engaged undergraduate,” Usher said.
“She gets it,” George Mason Provost and Executive Vice President S.
David Wu said. “It’s about rethinking higher education in a different
framework. It’s how the students discover their passion and use that to
enhance the quality of our education. She really gets that idea.”
Usher knows this is not a top-down exercise. There will be many
discussions with students, faculty and campus organizations. Most
important is to find out what students want from their educational
experience, what they are not getting and what they want more of.
“I don’t think we’ve asked enough students that question yet,” she said.
There’s no better place to do that than at the Johnson Center.
“I like being here,” Usher said, “even if I don’t get a window.”Article
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