This was originally published on Medium
Last month I had the privilege to witness and participate in an Appreciative Inquiry summit at George Mason University. Dewberry Hall was a buzz with the sounds of a rock band playing at 8am to add excitement to a gathering that was already a buzz. The organizers, Nance Lucas, Director for the Center for Wellbeing and Pam Patterson, Associate Vice President for University Life procured a team to help with this amazing goal — to make the university an even more welcoming, healthy place for all.
Appreciative Inquiry is a change management approach that focuses on identifying what is working well, analyzing why it is working well and then doing more of it. The basic tenet of AI is that an organization will grow in whichever direction that people in the organization focus their attention.The room was primed with thought to every detail to encourage true connection and exchange of ideas.
Invited participants ranged from President Ángel Cabrera, to students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, community members, facilities teams, vendors, neighboring schools and organizations all weighing in on sharing their thoughts and ideas to make this stealth goal a reality.
As a small group facilitator I watched in awe as the brain stormed solutions were put forward — some very similar in scope from people from different perspectives. Some small groups designed similar solutions which was inspiring since no group had compared notes until a sharing forward at the end of each exercise. The synchronicity in the room was electric. The cold, wet spring actually broke with warm temperatures and sunshine on the day of the summit and not one of the more than 300 participants wanted to leave the room. The engagement level was euphoric. There was a waiting list of people who wanted to participate in the event someone’s schedule had changed.
A high point experience for me was witnessing a student who identified herself as a non traditional student from a non dominant culture share how thankful she was to attend a university that would share a vision like this and make it a priority. Every person matters and that’s what Mason wants to emphasize most. Topics for consideration included curriculum, building design, best practices, strengths based programing to name a few — all being filtered through the lens of diversity, inclusion and wellbeing.
What an honor to see this magic unfold — leaders allowing the community to steer them into the next generation of growth in an educational setting that values the whole. Great work!
George Mason University is a public research university in Fairfax County, Virginia. Initially founded as a branch of the University of Virginia in 1949, it became an independent institution in 1972. Diversity is one of Mason’s core values; everyone is welcome. Mason was recently named the most diverse university in Virginia by U.S. News & World Report.