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Job: Assistant to the Vice President and Director of Special Projects, University Life
When Alissa Karton began working at George Mason University in 1996, the university looked like a very different place, with fewer residence halls, fewer students, and a reputation for being a commuter school. In her various roles with University Life, Karton has had an insider’s view to seeing Mason transform into what she calls “a university that is basically as big as a small town.”
How the University Got a Life—University Life, That Is: When Karton started working at Mason, her unit was known as Student Services, a name that changed to University Life under the helm of former Mason president Alan Merten. That name shift heralded more changes in response to evolving student needs and demographics. “[It] really set a new wave of opportunities for student services staff to work directly with faculty on building connections inside and outside of the classroom,” Karton said. Now, University Life has grown to encompass a whole cohort of organizations and programs, all with the goal of supporting Mason students’ success.
What Makes a Mason Student: Over the past 26 years, Karton has encountered thousands of students in hundreds of different types of interactions, from her work with student organizations and University Life events, to her roles as a mentor and instructor of UNIV 100. “One thing that defines our students is there is no one commonality,” she said. “Our students are resilient and kind to one another. Most are very determined to make the most of their Mason experience and to succeed to make their families and themselves proud.”
Patriots Being There for Patriots: At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, University Life immediately set up the infrastructure to assist students through the Student Emergency Assistance Fund. Karton was part of the team that evaluated student applications for grants to help with everything from paying rent due to loss of income to purchasing a laptop to participate in virtual learning. “To be reading firsthand narratives from our students all day, every day, for the first year of COVID, was extremely impactful and humbling. It was not easy, and we were honored to be able to respond and help students in need.” Now, Karton is part of the team that is allocating funds to assist students who have been affected by the war in Ukraine.
Many Hats, One Favorite: From being an organizer for fundraisers like the Diversity Scholarship Golf Classic, or former student events like First Fridays or Summer Socials, to teaching and mentoring, Karton has worn many hats during her Mason career, describing herself as a “utility player, fulfilling roles and taking on projects that support the division and the university.” But when asked to pick a favorite, Karton doesn’t hesitate: “Anything I was involved in that brought members of the Mason community together with folks that they wouldn’t normally be interacting with on a daily basis at work or in study is my favorite thing.”