Profile of a Senator August 2020

Meet Stephanie Atkins, Office Manager, Mason LIFE Program and Staff Senator

Stephanie Atkins, photo by Creative Services/George Mason University

Role: I joined the the Mason staff in April 2015. Mason LIFE (Learning Into Future Environments), in the College of Education and Human Development, is a postsecondary program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Mason LIFE offers the opportunity for an inclusive university experience and was one of the first such programs in the country. I provide administrative support for the program and am the main point of contact for staff, students, and their families.

Mason Journey: I graduated from Mason with a BA in Sociology in 1998 and am taking advantage of the tuition waiver to pursue a graduate degree in the Masters Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) program. I am taking classes with a social justice and human rights focus, more specifically related to individuals with IDD. It’s certainly a different experience uploading documents to Blackboard rather than printing papers out and turning them in to a professor in person. And researching articles online rather than finding a physical book or journal in a library? Heck yeah!

COVID-19 Transition: There were a host of challenges taking our program fully online. There are Mason LIFE-specific classes, taught by graduate-level students pursuing a degree in Special Education, helping our students gain skills in reading, writing, math, and other soft skills like self-regulation, that make them better students in their regular university courses. Those university courses, in everything from computer science to painting, are taken with 1:1 support of a Mason LIFE staff member, an undergraduate student who assists in note-taking, class participation, and understanding the coursework. Another big part of the Mason LIFE program is giving our students internship opportunities both on and off campus, including in congressional offices on Capitol Hill. The internships are on pause as we work through the pandemic, but we continued to teach employment skills in an online format. Somehow everyone found a way to make it work!

Best thing about working at Mason: Watching Mason LIFE students make academic strides, gain experiences, learn new skills, and achieve their goals, both academic and social, makes me happy. All Mason students come here for an education, to experience new things, meet new people, seek out networks, and hopefully find gainful employment in a field that excites them. It is no different for students in Mason LIFE. I enjoy helping such an important program enable the IDD population and those who serve them make the Mason community a more inclusive and better place to be. We are always looking for new opportunities for our students!

Why serve on Staff Senate: When I was an undergraduate student at Mason, I commuted. I came to campus, went to class, and went home. When I joined the Mason staff, I did the same thing – came to campus, worked in my office, and went home. Joining the Staff Senate, which I did in 2015, has enabled me to not only broaden my knowledge about the Mason community but has given me the opportunity to serve others. The fact that I’m part of a collective voice, working to benefit staff, is something that I’m proud of. I’ve had the privilege of being co-chair of the Education and Outreach (now Communications) committee and am the current chair of the Events committee. By the way, look for more information on our virtual staff appreciation to be released soon!

At the end of the day:  While this pandemic has been difficult for everyone, I am so impressed with all that the Mason community has done to help those less fortunate, who needed more assistance, and how Patriots have “come together.” Once a Patriot, always a Patriot!