Changing of the guard

Presidents of George Mason and Wolf Trap step down after 16 years

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Print this page by M.J. McAteer

Two of the most prestigious and successful organizations in Fairfax County — George Mason University and the Wolf Trap Foundation — have had no change in leadership since 1996. Now, coincidentally, the presidents of both institutions are retiring after having done so much to burnish the reputations of the organizations they headed for 16 years.

NewsWhen outgoing GMU President Alan G. Merten arrived on the Fairfax campus, he found a modest-size commuter school. Today, GMU is an international institution with campuses in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties that serve 34,000 students from 140 countries. Its faculty includes Nobel Prize-winning economists James Buchanan (1986) and Vernon Smith (2002), and it is highly regarded for its academic programs, particularly in information technology and the biological sciences.
In the past five years alone, GMU has added 28 facilities including a 600-bed residence hall, a performing arts center and a hotel. “It never happened this way, this good, this big, this fast,” Merten says.

From the first, Merten was determined to be innovative and entrepreneurial. He borrowed marketing models from business, and he worked hard to weave the university into the fabric of the community. He retired on June 30, and his successor is Angel Cabrera, formerly the head of the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona. Merten expects that the incoming president will find his biggest challenge to be fiscal, as GMU’s growth is restrained by the amount of support it receives from the state.  “We are the dog that chased the car and caught it,” Merten says of his institution’s success. “Now what?”

NewsWolf Trap President and CEO Terrence D. Jones also has dedicated himself to making his facility a vital part of Northern Virginia life. Sixty percent of Wolf Trap audiences come from Fairfax, he says, as well as a third of its corporate members. “Businesses see the value of having a Wolf Trap in the community,” he says. “It is a recruiting tool for employees and clients.”

During his long tenure, which ends in December, Jones has been committed to artistic innovation, fostering more than 70 new works from such marquee names as composer Philip Glass, multimedia artist Robert Wilson and choreographer Paul Taylor. A 2007 recording of “Volpone,” an opera Jones commissioned, was nominated for a Grammy. Wolf Trap’s inventive “Face of America” series combines music, dance and film in celebrating the beauty of U.S. national parks.

Jones is particularly proud of nurturing Wolf Trap’s educational outreach programs. “Wolf Trap is as much an educational institution as it is a performing arts institution,” he says, explaining that it works directly with the schools and Head Start. He hopes the new, as yet not named, president of Wolf Trap will continue to expand the educational segment of the park’s mission.

Meanwhile, he encourages patrons of the nation’s only national park for the performing arts to cast their eyes upward the next time they visit Wolf Trap. After years of problems with leaking, the park’s Filene Center has a stunning new copper roof. The effect is dazzling.

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