George Mason University President Dr. Angel Cabrera was invited to speak at this month’s ACG monthly meeting, where he shared his vision for the future of Northern Virginia’s fastest growing university, and how business can be a vehicle to continue the school’s growth.
When speaking of stepping into the role, and his vision for the school, Dr. Cabrera said, “One thing that came out of our conversations that ended up becoming the theme of the whole vision, when you hear many universities comparing themselves to other universities – what school is best in the city or in the state – and we thought: wouldn’t it be nice if we crafted our goal as not trying to be the best school in the world, but for the world.”
Despite his history in academia, Dr. Cabrera stressed that he is “an academic, but also a business guy.” After finishing his PhD and returning to Spain, Dr. Cabrera became a manager with Accenture where he discovered the world of business and the impact that business can make.
According to Dr. Cabrera, “Once you make an impact, business is the most interesting vehicle to make a difference. Since then I’ve not only been teaching in leading business schools but I’ve continued to serve on three public boards. I love business; I’m always trying to figure out how to make universities and businesses work together and do better things together.”
Dr. Cabrera then highlighted Northern Virginia’s strong economic and academic state. He cited a study published by the Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, where they compared the academic performance of universities around the world.
According to Doctor Cabrera, “They look at how many influential papers are written, how many patents are filed, how many people cite and buy our books, etc. In the top 200 universities in the world, half are American. Virginia happens to have 4 schools in the top 200. It places us in the top quartile in the United States. I mention this because it’s nice to see that our home is doing well, and that really matters to the future of the economy of our state and our region.”
He believes that “It’s essential for NOVA that we nurture and strengthen a world-class university, and right now, we have one. You – as a community – have created an asset, George Mason University, which has made it into that exclusive group of the top research universities in the world.”
Dr. Cabrera also spoke about the importance of attracting students from all around the world, and how they can be a great resource to tap into, “World-class research universities can be a magnet for talent. Many reports have been published which show that about half of the start-ups in Silicone Valley in the last 15 years have a founder born outside of the United States. When you interview these folks and ask them why they came to the US, they’ll tell you they came here to study. Once they’re here, they’re part of the system; they become connected to faculty, investors, colleagues, etc. All of a sudden they become contributors to the success of this country. The university becomes the magnet of talent. At the end of the day, no matter what highly competitive cluster you look at, there’s always at least one world-class school at the heart of it.”
Finally, Dr. Cabrera presented seven high-priority areas that are going to dominate his focus at the University, including:
- Driving innovative learning: Dr. Cabrera wants to focus on innovative ways to reach students; Massive online open courses (MOOC) have been changing the industry, and with the proliferation of online schools, Universities are now racing to offer free content. “We don’t want to sit back and see where technology goes, we want to lead.”
- Encouraging research of consequence: GMU is a relatively young university, but it’s now the largest public university in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It’s also become one of the leading universities in the world. The school doesn’t rank as highly when it comes to the science and technology fields, and Cabrera is working on doubling or tripling sponsorship money from federal agencies, which he believes will have a spillover effect leading to product licenses, etc.
- Becoming an economic and cultural engine: The governor of Virginia has said that the state would need around 100,000 graduates over the next 10 years to remain competitive. GMU currently produces 8,000 graduates a year. Over the next decade, the school will produce around 12,000 grads per year, essentially creating 100,000 graduates in a decade.
- Fostering engagement with the world: Cabrera doesn’t believe he’s helping the state unless students are taught to be world business leaders. He spoke of plans to open a facility in South Korea that will allow students from the Virginia campus to spend time outside of the United States while paying in-state tuition.
- Promoting sound Investment: Dr. Cabrera pointed out that GMU’s tuition increases were brought upon by reduced state assistance, and that the money was not being misused in any way. GMU is in fact at the bottom half when it comes to tuition, which is impressive given its status as a top research university in an expensive area. Cabrera stressed “We want to stay affordable.”
- Enriching work environment: George Mason University’s president did not forget his staff though, as he discussed the importance of providing an enriching work environment for all employees.
- Building a foundation for the future: Funding is always a hot topic, which is why Cabrera believes that “We want to be a great destination for anyone who works for us. It is essential that we create a strong financial base for the school. We need to bring our forces together and make sure that GMU is well funded, because it’s a big part of our community. We cannot hope or pray for dramatic changes in public spending.”