George Mason University’s Arlington Campus celebrated its storied past during a 40th anniversary commemoration in Van Metre Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 20, with an eye on an even more promising future.
Mason Interim President Anne Holton joined other university, state and regional leaders in recognizing the university’s positive presence in Arlington since 1979, and its prominent role as a hub for current and future regional innovation.
Holton referenced the “glorious past and present and our exciting future” and Mason’s consistent role within the community over that 40 years when she recalled the origin of the campus in the old department store building next door; its current home in Van Metre Hall, Vernon Smith Hall and Hazel Hall; and the upcoming Institute for Digital InnovAtion. She cited the extraordinary work that has been done on the campus since its outset.
“We’re a partner to this whole Ballston/Rosslyn corridor that is such a factor,” Holton said. “We like to think that Mason has grown up throughout Northern Virginia, growing up helping lead the community and being led by the community. We have a lot to be proud of right here, right now on this Arlington Campus.”
At the heart of the expanded campus will be a state-of-the-art, 400,000-square-foot building that will be home to the new School of Computing, as well as the Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA), a university think tank that will welcome more than 1,200 entrepreneurs, researchers, technologists and business leaders from the public and private sectors to anchor the Arlington Innovation District.
“This campus will integrate business, community and education to launch a true innovation district,” said Liza Wilson Durant, the associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement in the Volgenau School of Engineering. “Our vision is for people to live, work and play here.”
State Senator Barbara Favola, a Democrat whose 31st District encompasses parts of Arlington, delivered a unanimous resolution commemorating the anniversary and lauding the Arlington Campus for its achievements.
“You articulated a future that Arlington was proud to buy into,” she said before reading the proclamation.
Christian Dorsey, chair of the Arlington County Board, said the region’s current anticipated growth and dynamism will require “constant innovative thought” that Mason would provide.
“A key hub of that [growth] is a learning institute, which is attracting the kind of individuals who are going to learn and participate in this innovation economy, but who are also going to lead in attracting others to this culture of growth and change and doing so in a responsible way,” Dorsey said.
The campus expansion comes on the heels of Amazon’s decision to open a second headquarters in Northern Virginia.
Virginia’s largest public research university, Mason currently enrolls more than 6,500 students in its computing programs, but expects to grow that to more than 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students in computer science, computer engineering, information technology and other related fields by 2024.
To meet increased demand for highly skilled graduates, the university has pledged to invest more than $250 million over the next five years to grow programs, hire additional faculty and expand its physical presence in Arlington from its current 700,000 square feet adjacent to the new Amazon headquarters to 1.2 million square feet.
Most recently, the state pledged $235 million over 20 years to invest in undergraduate and graduate tech talent degree programs.
“It is an ongoing effort to make sure Virginia is the best educated state in the nation,” Holton said. “Mason is a big part of that.”
Mason has help in the effort with partners like Growth4VA, a broad, bipartisan coalition founded by the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. It includes state business, education and political leaders who see education as the state’s top competitive asset.
Ardine Williams, Amazon’s vice president of people operations and Amazon HQ2 workforce development, said that her company has long held that the region’s abundance of tech talent was why Northern Virginia was selected as the site of its second headquarters. Williams also lauded Mason for its major additions that will produce even more job-ready graduates.
“Integrated real-world challenges will assure that Mason students are ready,” she said.
Mason officials envision the IDIA and the Arlington Innovation District serving as an engine of research development, economic growth, job creation and new tax revenue, while drawing on the university’s strong relationships with other organizations in the region, including private, nonprofit and public-sector partners.
“We will be using all of our different talents to raise up this corridor from Ballston all the way to Rosslyn, and we are so proud of it,” Holton said.