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“Techie” sets pace – Dr. Alan G. Merten, new president of Georgia Mason University

In American higher education, rarely have computer scientists
advanced to the top ranks of university leadership. At George Mason
University in Fairfax, Virginia, Dr. Alan G. Merten, the school’s newly
inaugurated president, is getting the opportunity to demonstrate the
leadership, administrative and academic skills he has acquired during
his twenty-seven-year career as a computer scientist and teacher.

His stated goals include boosting the role of information
technology in teaching, researching and administration. “I strongly
believe that it is essential that we be on the leading edge in the use
of information technologies in our teaching and learning activities, in
our knowledge generation and knowledge application activities, and in
the administration of our people, money, facilities and partnerships,”
said Merten during his presidential inauguration speech this past April.

“At George Mason University, we are uniquely positioned
academically and located geographically to be world leaders in our use
of information technologies,” Merten further declared at inauguration.

Merten, who was formerly dean of the Cornell University graduate
business school before taking the presidential appointment last summer,
has in George Mason University the ideal school to test his skills and
views on technology. George Mason was named this month as one of
America’s “100 most wired colleges,” according to Yahoo! Internet Life
magazine. Scoring highest among Virginia’s public universities, the
school ranked 68th overall in the survey that compared the use of
technology in student services, academic use of the Internet and
quality of computer hardware and wiring.

With a total enrollment of slightly more than 24,000 students,
George Mason has in just twenty-five years as a public university
become one of Virginia’s largest schools. Only half of the student body
attends George Mason on a full-time basis. The institution, which is
considered a commuter school, has four separate campuses spread across
the booming high technology region of northern Virginia. The
concentration of technology firms in northern Virginia make the area
the second largest high technology region in the nation, according to
George Mason officials.

In a design that reflects the strength of regional industry, the
engineering curriculum at George Mason revolves around information
sciences rather than the physical sciences as is traditionally the case
at American engineering schools. Merten said engineering education is
based at George Mason’s “School of Information Technology and
Engineering” because the programs there are geared to help students
pursue careers with local information technology companies. Information
technology companies in the Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia
region include America Online, Comsat and MCI.

Merten said it is critical that university presidents have a clear
understanding of how information technology should work for their
schools. He said decision making on information technology planning and
purchases can no longer be delegated to others by school presidents or
chief executives, a practice he sees common in both higher education
and business.

After twenty-seven years of full-time teaching and administrating,
Merten appears well-prepared to guide to George Mason into a leading
role among American universities in the information technology arena.
Merten earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University
of Wisconsin, a master’s degree in computer science at Stanford
University, and doctorate in computer science at the University of
Wisconsin. He has held teaching and administrative positions at the
University of Michigan, the University of Florida and Cornell

“Merten is a strong advocate of education, possesses impressive
leadership skills and has a proven ability to work well with a wide
range of people. George Mason University is fortunate to have such an
outstanding leader as we face the challenges of the next century,” said
Stanley Harrison, rector of the board of visitors at George Mason

Who Has Computers?

Percent with
Family Income Computers in the Home
< 20,000 9.2
20,000 - 29,999 18.5
30,000 - 39,999 26.5
40,000 - 49,999 35.2
50,000 - 74,999 47.3
75,000 and above 62.8

Percent with
Gender Computers in the Home
Male 36.2
Female 36.0

Percent with
Race Computers in the Home
White 43.3
Black 16.1
Hispanic 15.2

Percent with
Age Computers in the Home

< 25 30.8
25 - 29 23.4
30 - 39 30.7
40 - 49 36.4
50 - 59 27.1
60 and above 10.5

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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