Few figures in George Mason University history have served in as many roles as Joseph A. Heastie. He has been a student, Board of Visitors member, and Alumni Association Board president, and he has led Mason efforts related to diversity and access. On Friday morning at Mason’s 52nd annual Spring Commencement, Heastie will have a new vantage point on the university—from center stage at EagleBank Arena, where he will receive the Mason Medal, the university’s highest honor, for his many years of service.
“There’s a great sense of pride to be able to think that I was a part of the transition of watching the school become what it has become,” said Heastie, 77, a resident of nearby Vienna, Virginia. “I saw it in some of the very early days. To watch what it has become is just absolutely amazing.”
Within a span of less than 20 years, beginning in 1984, Heastie earned a master of public administration degree at Mason (attending graduate school as a father of two with a full-time government IT job) and served two stints on the Board of Visitors, chairing key committees as secretary, vice rector and rector. Then came a term on Mason’s Alumni Association Board, including as president.
Heastie also is the father of a Mason alum—daughter Eleanor Barber earned a master of education in counseling and development in 1996.
“I felt at one point in time that at least half of my adult life I was at George Mason doing something or other,” Heastie said with a laugh. In 2000, he received the Alumni Service Award.
Heastie played an important role in the university prioritizing access to higher education. Mason today is the most diverse public four-year university in Virginia and one of the top 25 most diverse in the country.
Heastie chaired the BOV’s Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action Committee. After his second BOV term, President George W. Johnson asked him to help develop what became the Diversity Advisory Board. That group brought together minority executives and business owners in Northern Virginia to raise scholarship money for minority students and to pair working students with career-relevant jobs tied to their majors.
Throughout his service at Mason, Heastie was impressed with the caliber of faculty the young university attracted and with the creative and aggressive leadership from Johnson and local business leaders. They shared a vision of how a budding research university could anchor the region, and how an initial emphasis on computer-related majors could set the university apart from its more established state peers.
“At the time that I got on the BOV, Mason was a lot smaller school and did not have the physical facilities,” Heastie said. “But still it had kind of an attitude about it that it was going to not compromise on quality of education or quality of anything that it pursued or tried to do. I believe they’ve accomplished that.
“Now with Amazon coming and the reputation Mason has gained worldwide, it’s hard to imagine what the future might be.”