A desire to help people achieve their dreams propelled graduation speaker into her banking career

Shaza Andersen is the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Trustar Bank, the first Virginia-based bank to be chartered in more than a decade. Photo provided

George Mason University alum Shaza Andersen, BA Area Studies ’89, is the featured speaker at the 2021 Winter Graduation ceremony. She is the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Trustar Bank, the first Virginia-based bank to be chartered in more than a decade. Andersen is recognized by American Banker as one of the Top 25 Women to Watch and twice named a Top Banker by SmartCEO magazine.

Q: Some might be surprised to learn that your Mason degree was in Area Studies, with a concentration in European studies, and not a finance-related major. How did your academic path prepare you for the career path you chose? And is major perhaps less important than some might think?

A: My view is that communication, teaming, critical thinking and the ability to get things done matter and best prepare students for success. I was interested in European studies so I pursued a degree in it. Certainly, for technical or professional tracks, specific degree requirements may be especially important, so students need to take that into account.

Q: While at Mason, you also worked as a bank teller, and it was through companies interviewing students on campus that you got the opportunity to enter Crestar Bank’s management training program. How did that job experience while in college help define your career aspirations, and what do you recall about that Crestar interview that might have been your big break? 

A: I’ve always loved banking, because I love helping people achieve their dreams. Banking has given me that opportunity. Working as a teller in college exposed me to banking, and the various functions and roles that people play serving customers, and my experience confirmed that banking was for me. Crestar gave me an opportunity to join their management training program and that experience provided an excellent foundation for me. I was just myself in the interview, and I encourage students preparing to go through the interview process to of course be prepared, but to also have the confidence to be themselves—you will find your place. 

Q: You serve on Mason’s School of Business Dean’s Advisory Council. Why is the connection to Mason important to you, and what would you say to other Mason alumni who would like to directly engage with the university?

A: I enjoy being involved, and continuing to be a part of the Mason community is important to me and my husband, Marc. Contributing through our involvement and engagement, supporting the school and student success are important to us.

Q: What do you look for in the people you hire and promote, and what should Mason students and recent graduates be doing now to prepare for successful careers?

A: We are always on the lookout for people with energy, enthusiasm and the ability to get things done. Students should focus on appreciating the journey and keeping things practical. They should understand that successful careers will come through accomplishing your goals and dreams while doing the work that is important and necessary to grow the business or achieve the mission that you are a part of and contributing to.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you ever received, personally or professionally, and how has that advice helped shape your career?

A: I think one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is to have a plan and work your plan. I’m a planner, and I start each day with a purpose and a plan for what I want to accomplish. It may sound very basic, but the ability to develop, execute and refine a plan over time will pay huge dividends for you and your career.