George Mason University President Alan Merten, Senior Vice President Maurice Scherrens and Associate Provost for Graduate Education Michelle Marks each addressed the Mason community with presentations on the infrastructural, academic and fiscal initiatives the university is undertaking. The event took place Wednesday in The Mason Inn ballroom. It was open to all members of the university, including students, faculty and staff.

Tours of The Mason Inn facility were offered from 2 – 3 p.m. and 3:30 – 5 p.m. A shuttle service to the convocation was also offered, transporting passengers every 15 minutes from various points along Patriot Circle.

President Merten opened by highlighting how The Mason Inn typifies the structural growth of the university.

“This facility is changing [Mason],” Merten said. “Business executives from Oracle and Exxon Mobile have leased small ballrooms. Last I checked, more than 30 wedding receptions have been scheduled, and we even hosted an event to honor the university’s own Nobel Laureate, James Buchanan.”

The Washington Wizards training camp, hosted at the Patriot Center, and the construction of the Hylton Performing Arts Center on Mason’s Prince William campus were also recognized as examples of the university’s considerable growth.Current and planned construction projects, such as Founders Hall, a 250,000 square foot, multifunctional building, scheduled to open on the Arlington campus in January, were also presented.

Pending infrastructural projects taking place on the Fairfax campus include the construction of University Hall, renovations and an addition to Science and Technology Buildings I and II and a large extension to the Fenwick Library.

According to Merten, the university’s focus has now shifted from creating infrastructure to creating and utilizing the infrastructure the university has created. He presented the question, “How do we leverage what we’ve built?”

Next to speak was Michelle Marks, associate provost for graduate education, who briefly discussed some of the academic initiatives taking place on Mason’s campuses. Marks revealed that the university has been officially accepted into Phi Kappa Phi, one of the nation’s oldest and distinguished honor societies. “This will open new networks for students,” Marks said.

Marks also mentioned how student retention rates have improved in recent years, with the freshman retention rate currently at 87 percent and sophomore to junior year rates at 90 percent. The resident student population has also reached a new high of 5,400 students.

Notable partnerships with Georgetown University in the biomedical sciences program on the Prince William campus and the Smithsonian Institution’s collaboration with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, a 3,200 acre research facility in Front Royal, were also mentioned as touchstones of academic excellence at Mason.

The final presenter was Senior Vice President Maurice Scherrens, who discussed the fiscal state of the university.

“George Mason University is positioned about as well as we can be during these difficult economic times,” Scherrens said.

Some budget concerns were acknowledged including the expected loss of $20 million in government funds during the 2012 fiscal year.

“Limited enrollment growth of 2 percent per year, over the next four years and a 10 percent increase in tuition and fees over the next two years, are expected.” Scherrens said. “Obviously, we will be working hard to lessen the burden on parents and families.”