Film and Video Studies and Communication
Bernardino is the recipient of the 2021 Film at Mason Academic Excellence Award, which goes to the graduating senior with the highest grade-point average in the Film and Video Studies Program. But her most notable accomplishment might be her senior research project: the short film “Children of Gunshots,” which she shot on location in her native Philippines with the help of a grant from Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research.
Bernardino has had several on-campus jobs at Mason, including as a Film at Mason office assistant, multimedia editor with the “Fourth Estate” and as a communications assistant with the Office of Housing and Residence Life.
“My favorite part about being this involved on campus is meeting the different people and learning people’s stories,” said Bernardino. “I wanted to assimilate into the diverse culture.”
But she did not forget her roots, which drew her back to the Philippines to make “Children of Gunshots.”
The experimental short film, which explores the effect of drug-related violence on children, was completed in the summer of 2020.
A second documentary, titled “Fraction of a Second,” was filmed by Bernardino last semester and follows the life of a Filipina journalist who covers her country’s raging drug wars. The thesis project, currently in production, won best documentary pitch during the 2020 Film at Mason Festival.
After graduation, Bernardino plans to enter “Children of Gunshots” in independent film festivals and hold screenings in the Philippines as fundraisers for Project SOW, a foundation that helps widows and children displaced by the drug war.
Cody Ray Milner
When Milner was applying to law schools, he received a wakeup call, literally, from then-Antonin Scalia Law School Dean Henry Butler.
“He called me late one night, woke me up, and started talking about Mason,” Milner said.
Milner, a graduate of Oklahoma Christian University who majored in history and political science, accepted Butler’s invitation for a visit and “fell in love” with the university.
“I love the opportunities to work in [Washington,] D.C., in government,” Milner said. “I also love the substantive quality education the faculty offered.”
Some of the faculty he got to work with included such as Supreme Court Justices Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who taught summer seminars Milner attended.
Milner said he also benefited from experiential learning programs such as Scalia Law’s Supreme Court Clinic, in which he helped author write four briefs filed at the court, and the school’s emphasis on legal writing.
A comment by Milner in the George Mason Law Review was even cited in D.C. Circuit Court Judge Justin Walker’s opinion in American Lung Association v. Environmental Protection Agency, which vacated a rule adopted by the EPA to regulate power plant emissions.
“It was surreal,” Milner said of the mention of his comment, which he said was inspired by Gorsuch’s stand on the separation of powers. “It further demonstrates the quality of writing that Scalia Law encourages.”
Milner has a busy three years upcoming with three clerkships, including one with Walker. After that, Milner said, he is interested in becoming an appellate advocate.
“I’ve always approached law school from a holistic perspective and doing quality work,” Milner said. “I’m thankful for the holistic approach Scalia Law offered. It really sets up a lot of different opportunities.”
James almost didn’t come to Mason. In fact, Mason wasn’t even on her radar when choosing a college. It was a friend at her high school in Boston, Massachusetts, who was interested and convinced James to come along to a session with an admissions counselor.
The friend ended up going to college elsewhere, but James found her academic home. The biology major and member of Mason’s Honors College graduates in May, and is headed next to a PhD program in cell, molecular, developmental biology, and biophysics at Johns Hopkins University.
James said the high point of her time at Mason was her fall research semester when she worked one-on-one with Assistant Professor Valerie Olmo of the Biology Department, investigating the relationship between vitamin A derivatives and Zebrafish embryo development.
Outside the lab, James coached students in Mason’s Early Identification Program and was president of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
James also had a number of internships. In addition to being a Martin Luther King Summer Scholar at the Boston Museum of African American History, she participated in the Summer Institute in Biostatics at Boston University.
“I do like statistics in general,” she said. “I decided to minor in data analysis because it can give you a leg up if you can do your own stats.”
James hopes to pursue a research career in academia, which she sees as the best of both worlds.
“I can help students, and I get to have my hands in research and work on lots of different projects at the same time,” she said.
—Colleen Kearney Rich
Khan’s affinity for science and her personal story meant that medical research came naturally to her.
“I’ve seen my own family suffer with medical conditions,” said the 21-year-old graduating senior, “so I can understand what patients are going through. As a doctor, it’s important to know what your patients are going through and to be able to comfort them.”
Khan, a neuroscience major, a studio art minor and a member of Mason’s Honors College, is fluent in five languages: English, French, Hindi, Spanish and Urdu. But it is her ability to so easily speak the language of science that figures to define her future.
Her research has received a number of awards, including the ACS Organic Chemistry Award, an Undergraduate Research Scholars Program grant and the Schwartzstein First Semester Research Award.
Khan, who will begin medical school at George Washington University this fall, has worked on three significant biomedical projects while at Mason. One involved synthesizing cancer inhibiting drugs. Another involved the use of glucocorticoid medications for people with autoimmune disease and how doctors can reduce side-effects that damage the liver. A third project involved studying the cognitive effects of certain novel treatments for children with sickle cell anemia.
“It’s all been so very satisfying,” she said. “I love research and I want to use the experiences I’ve had to help people.”
— John Hollis
Government and International Politics
Moore has always been passionate about service, a sensibility she learned from family and applied to her time at Mason.
“My dad’s a fourth-grade teacher, but he did so much more beyond teaching,” Moore said. “He’s passionate about creating a change that extends throughout generations.”
The Bedford, Michigan native said she was drawn to Mason for its programs focusing on grant writing and nonprofit work, and as a freshman participated in a nonprofit fellowship through the School of Integrative Studies.
Working with Britepaths, an organization that provides stability services to individuals in Fairfax County, Moore said she helped secure nearly $12,000 in grants.
During the fellowship, Moore also learned about a military nonprofit, which inspired her to join the GMU Patriot Battalion. She plans to attend law school to become a Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG) officer.
“As a leader, it’s really important not to just make a change for yourself, but to make sure you’re doing that for everyone around you,” she said.
“I’m excited because this program will impact [Mason] students, but it will also impact the greater community,” she said.
“These experiences gave me a window into the needs of the world beyond Mason, and beyond where I thought my influence was limited,” Moore said.
“That’s the best thing about Mason, she added, “the diverse perspective it brings and the opportunities it creates.”
Benson could have graduated in December. But when the NCAA awarded athletes an extra season of eligibility because of COVID-19, the track and field sprinter decided to stay for the spring semester. He does not regret the decision.
Two parts to that: the post-graduation cybersecurity job he has with a government contracting firm was delayed while he received his security clearance, and he also loves being part of the men’s track team.
“I’ve made some of the best friends in my life through George Mason,” said Benson, who competes in the 200 and 400 meters and on the 4x400 relay team. “The sense of community and the opportunities I’ve gotten are fantastic.”
Benson was limited during the season because of a hamstring injury. But his academic year was a success, with a capstone project that continued the hands-on learning he said made his Mason experience so rewarding.
He and his fellow students created IT solutions for a small gym to help revamp its internet security, customer databases and website.
“Sometimes you just go to school, you sit there and read a book,” he said. “But my capstone was an enriching experience. A lot of the classes I had, especially when I got into my cybersecurity concentration, were in the actual field.”
Benson ultimately wants to start his own business. For now, he plans to mingle his cybersecurity job and his freelance photography.
“At the moment, I’m doing both,” he said. “I’m really excited to look forward and see what happens.”