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Mr. CONNOLLY. Madam Speaker, I rise today to commend George Mason University's 50th Anniversary.
In 1957, George Mason College was established as the Northern Virginia branch of the University of Virginia. Mayor John ``Jack'' Wood and the then-Town of Fairfax were instrumental in acquiring the original 150 acres of land for the Fairfax Campus in 1958. Shortly after, Rector John ``Til'' Hazel, Jr., helped acquire an additional 421 acres of land to expand the Fairfax Campus in 1969.
Fifteen years after its inception, on April 7, 1972, a contingent from George Mason College met with Governor A. Linwood Holton in Richmond to sign House Bill 210, establishing George Mason University as a free-standing four-year public institution of higher education. George Mason University now operates three campuses in the Commonwealth--including the Fairfax campus that is located in Virginia's 11th District.
George Mason University is home to academically driven students and professors, as well as state-of-the-art facilities and programs. GMU Professor James Buchanan won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1986 and Professor Vernon Smith won the prize in 2002, making them the Commonwealth of Virginia's first two Nobel Memorial Prize recipients. The university achieved R1 ``Highest Research Activity'' status in 2016, and 2018, from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
GMU has worked to provide opportunities for all and break down the barriers that often keep people from achieving academic success. In 2018, GMU and Northern Virginia Community College created the ADVANCE program, a partnership that assisted students as they transfer from a two-year program to earn a bachelor's degree, helping more than 2,020 students through the pathway program. During the pandemic, 61 percent of GMU students received some form of financial aid, including almost a third of Undergraduates who received Pell Grants. A quarter of GMU's undergraduate students are first-generation college students, and approximately 1 in 12 GMU students are affiliated with the military, including veterans, active-duty personnel, military dependents, reservists, and guardsmen.
George Mason University is the most diverse, fastest growing, and largest public four-year institution in the Commonwealth, serving 39,134 students with close to 11,000 staff and faculty. There are more than 215,900 GMU alumni, including 135,300 currently in Virginia. The hundreds of thousands of alumni are reflective of the 70 percent six- year graduation rate that has little to no disparity on ethnicity or economic status.
Madam Speaker, I ask that my colleagues join me in commending George Mason University on its 50th Anniversary. GMU exemplifies the tremendous success that institutions of higher education can achieve when equity, diversity, and accessibility are of paramount importance.
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