George Mason University Office of Military Services

Military Advisory Board

Executive Summary

George Mason University (Mason) is committed to the military and veteran community. Because of its geographic location within the National Capital Region, Mason has always had a robust veteran and active duty population. So much so, the 2009 introduction of the Post 9-11 GI Bill® by President Barack Obama took place on the main campus in Fairfax, Va. Mason recognized the needs of veteran students early on. In 2008, Mason created a dedicated position within the admissions office for a military/veteran liaison. During the first year, Mason was selected nationally as one of ten post secondary institutions to receive a coveted two-year $100,000 Success for Veterans grant from the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Walmart Foundation. From the hard work by the dedicated staff with the full support of the Mason Administration, the Office of Military Services (OMS) emerged as a comprehensive, coordinated one-stop resource and support center for student veterans, active duty military and their family members with dedicated facility space. Today, Mason currently serves approximately 1,800 military and veteran students with an anticipated annual growth of 10%.

OMS provides tailored benefits counseling and admissions support to both the prospective and current student population. Additionally, OMS has partnered with several internal and external organizations to provide customized services. Community support and mentorship is provided by the local chapters of veteran service organizations to include American Legion Post 177, VFW Post 8469 and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 10. Close collaborations are maintained with the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program and Fairfax County Public and Private Partnerships to improve connection and communication at both a local and state level. On campus, OMS has aligned with University Career Services to provide tailored resume writing services and career workshops for student veterans. The Office has also worked closely with Mason’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), exposing students to trained counselors educated in PTSD, TBI and combat stress. To assist in this area, OMS has partneres with Veterans Moving Forward, a nonprofit that provides therapy dogs to assist veterans dealing with mental and physical challenges. Lastly, OMS personnel have created an impressive rapport with employer and company recruiters interested in coaching student veterans in the art of resume writing, interview skills and job opportunities. Companies include CACI, SAIC, BAE, General Dynamics, Sotera Defense and most recently, Deloitte & Touche.

George Mason University has been named four years in a row as a Military Friendly Institution by GI Jobs. Mason has also been recognized as a go-to university by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and MITRE Corporation for student input on VA improvements. Last but certainly not least, Mason is a proud participant in the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program managed by the VA, awarding $10,000 scholarships to all eligible veterans participating in the Post 9-11 GI Bill®. Mason has a resolute conviction and values the experiences veterans bring to the campus community and classroom culture. In an effort to build and improve on the current service model, Mason founded the Military Advisory Board in the fall of 2012.

Mission

The primary mission of the Military Advisory Board is aligned with the objectives of the Office of Military Services, offering support and guidance in achieving the following:

  1. Building strategies aimed at enhancing Mason’s overall recruitment and support of veterans
  2. Serving as the primary resource and advocate for student veterans and service members
  3. Determining what military and veteran students need from Mason
  4. Determining the best way to address those needs and streamline related processes
  5. Becoming the standard on how higher education interacts with military personnel and veterans, resulting in increased enrollment, satisfaction, graduation rates, and career success.

The Military Advisory Board is instrumental in public relations and provides the Director of Military Services with industry perspectives, advice and mentorship. Given sound guidance and continuing fiscal growth, there are many opportunities.

The Advisory Board focuses on four key areas as it relates to OMS objectives.

  1. Recruitment

    As the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia , George Mason University is a major educational force. Mason has a reputation as an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with national distinction in a variety of academic fields, with a proven track record of successful sponsored research across a wide range of funding agencies and organizations. Mason currently serves approximately 1,800 military and veteran students, with an anticipated growth of 20% per year.

  2. Career/Workforce

    Through military service, veteran students already possess characteristics valued in a competitive work environment including strong leadership skills, dedicated mission focus, resiliency and adaptability to name a few. Coupled with a college degree, there is a strong business case for hiring a veteran. Mason is conveniently located amidst a host of national defense contractors, the Dulles technology corridor and federal government agencies, an inviting opportunity to forge public/private partnerships for students as they transition to the work place.

  3. Scholarship

    Student veterans are faced with a myriad of challenges including affordable housing, family concerns, employment, and sometimes new disabilities brought on by their military experiences. In other words, they enter a higher education institution with different concerns and priorities than the traditional undergraduate student. Dedicated scholarship programs for Veterans and their families assist with tuition costs, living expenses and supplement break pay no longer available to recipients of the Post 9-11 GI Bill®.

  4. Development

    The strong existing service model has resulted in the current OMS operation outgrowing its physical capacity to adequately meet the growing academic, social, and psychological needs of the students it is designed to support. Additional private funding would enable OMS to increase its level of support and expand operational services. With support, veteran students can return to school with a new found energy, sense of purpose and a focus on the future.

Board Members

J. Thomas Hennessey, Jr., Ph.D.

Dr. Hennessey is a career professional with more than forty-five years of progressively responsible leadership and management experience in public service, university administration, organizational research, and the classroom. He received his bachelor’s degree in English and History and his Masters of Public Administration from Eastern Kentucky University. He was one of the first doctoral graduates of the Institute of Public Policy, now the School of Public Policy, at George Mason University.

As the University Chief of Staff, Dr. Hennessey was responsible for all administration in the Office of the President, served as the University legislative liaison to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, University Liaison to the Board of Visitors, and chaired multiple University wide committees, including the Privacy and Security Compliance Team and Crisis Management Response Committee. Externally, Dr. Hennessey served as the Chair of the Commonwealth Homeland Security Foundation (CHSF) Board and Chairman Emeritus of the Board of the Virginia Economic Bridge (VEB).

Dr. Hennessey's research and teaching center on public service, management of change in public organizations, and organizational theory. At the University, Dr. Hennessey was been twice recognized, in 2001-2002 and 2003-2004, as the “Administrator of the Year” by Student Government.

Prior to joining George Mason University, Dr. Hennessey served with the United States Army for 28 years in successively responsible leadership positions and retired as a Colonel from the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command. His most recent assignments included Deputy Chief of Staff, US Army Intelligence and Security Command, Chief, European Division. Political-Military Affairs, J-5, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and US Military Attaché, American Embassy London, United Kingdom. His military awards and decorations include: the Silver Star, two awards of the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, three awards of the Bronze Star, two awards of the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman Badge, Joint Staff Identification Badge, the US, British, and Egyptian Parachutist badges and other awards for service.

L. Gordon Sumner, Jr., Ph.D.

Dr. Sumner is a successful career professional having served in the US Army, civilian businesses and the Federal Government. He is a former member of the Senior Executive Service and a Presidential Appointee. Dr. Sumner has over thirty-seven years of demonstrated leadership, operational and resource management experience while leading large and small organizations. He was a Department Chair and Senate faculty member of a major university. He has also held senior leadership positions within Fortune 500 corporations and the Federal Government. He received his bachelor’s degree in Music Education and Piano Performance from Jacksonville State University, his Master of Education from Boston University, an MBA from Auburn University and his PhD from Madison University. He is also a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

As an SES and Presidential Appointee, he served in the position of a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. As the Executive Director for the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves (ESGR), Dr. Sumner was a principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on all matters involving employer support programs for all the Reserve components of the United States Armed Forces. As Executive Director, Dr. Sumner provided leadership and management for the programs and activities of more than 62 military uniform and government civilians, 200 defense contracted personnel, and approximately 5,000 volunteers organized into 54 field committees throughout the states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

After leaving the Federal Government, Dr. Sumner started his own Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, Gordon Sumner Consulting. His last assignment with the US Army prior to retirement he served as the Division Chief, Army Institutional Training Directorate, Office of the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans. Additionally, he served on the Army Science Board and was the Army’s representative to the NATO Training Subgroup. Dr. Sumner is the only American to command a British Attack Helicopter Squadron (659 Squadron, 4 Regt AAC) within the British Army Air Corps. His military awards and decorations include: Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service, Commandant of the Coast Guard Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, Legion of Merit (OLC), Bronze Star Medal (V), Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal (3OLC), and Air Medal. He holds the Army’s Master Aviator Badge, Parachutist Badge, Ranger Tab, British Aviation Badge and Ecuadorian Parachutist Badge. He also holds various other US and foreign awards and decorations such as “The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”, the British Army Air Corp Badge, the “Order of Saint Michael”, and the National Guard Bureau “Minute Man” award.

Dr. Sumner is also a member of various Boards. He is a Senior Fellow and Affiliate Faculty, George Mason University; Council Member, Graduate Education Development Council, Auburn University and a Scholar, Washington Scholars Program, The Admiral Carey Foundation. He currently serves as the Secretary, Board of Directors, Veterans Moving Forward, a “not-for-profit” whose mission is to provide service dogs to veterans with physical and mental health challenges.

M. James Littig

M. James Littig is a principal and co-founder of Congressional Strategies, LLC. He previously was the vice president in an internationally focused marketing and lobbying firm where he was instrumental in substantially expanding business by attracting new clients and in rejuvenating the firm's relationships on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch.

Mr. Littig has extensive experience in federal government relations spanning the past twenty-four years, where he served in a variety of positions directly involved with congressional funding and as a senior aide to a high level Department of Defense official. In those assignments he was instrumental in developing selected defense policy and carrying those messages to Congress. His achievements in obtaining congressional approval and the attendant funding led to his selection as Chief of the Army's Legislative Liaison Office in the House of Representatives. During that period of time he led over forty delegations to sixty-two countries on five continents in support of fact finding and national defense objectives. The relationships and friendships developed on those visits remain strong and active today.

Following a twenty-six year career in the Army, Jim joined a major defense and technology firm's Washington office and became a Director of Government Affairs with primary responsibility for the House of Representatives. His portfolio ranged from compartmented access programs supporting the National Reconnaissance Office to the development of a mini-submarine designed to clandestinely deliver special operations personnel to targets worldwide. His knowledge of the Pentagon and access within the administration permitted him to solve a wide variety of problems ranging the introduction of air traffic control equipment into the Republic of Georgia to successful program votes on both the House and Senate floors. He has served as Chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association's (NDIA) Legislative Committee, is currently Chairman of the Board of Governors of the City Club of Washington and the Virginia State Commander of the Combat Infantryman’s Association.

During his twenty-six year military career, Jim served two tours in the Republic of Vietnam as an infantry commander with both the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). He earned a MS in History from Utah State University with a specialty in Afro-Asian Affairs and a BS in Zoology and Entomology from the University of Utah. He is a graduate of the Armed Forces Staff College and the United States Army War College. During his assignment at the War College he completed a yearlong fellowship with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, DC. The fellowship included on-site inspection of South African mines and his report detailed the importation of selected strategic minerals by the United States from the Republic of South Africa during the United Nations' embargo. Mr Littig maintains a current DOD Top Secret clearance.

Denise N. Baken, Ph.D

Dr. Baken’s almost 40 years of leadership and management experience include military service, non-profit administration, small business and education. She has a bachelor’s in Biology from St. John University, Jamaica, New York, a Masters of Science in Administration from Central Michigan University and a doctorate in Biodefense from George Mason University. She also attended Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia and Tuft’s University’s Strategic Studies Program. She is currently President of Shield Analysis Technology, LLC, a small Virginia consulting firm.

Previously, Dr. Baken was the Director, Biodefense Programs for the Center for Innovative Technology. She retired from the Army as a Colonel after 28 years and a career that included the position of Chief of Staff for the Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Protection, where she developed and implemented chemical and biological warfare healthcare policies for the Department of Defense. She served on several interagency health policy committees for anthrax and smallpox vaccine. As Biodefense Director, Dr. Baken has developed and administered technology-leveraging programs that identify Level Six capabilities with the potential to support DoD’s Chemical Biological Defense strategy. Using the National Military Strategy as guidance, the programs showcased pilot opportunities for DoD to assess technology that has been identified as cutting edge or innovative, prior to committing significant resources to them.

Dr. Baken has evaluated technological and scientific trends in pathogen detection and identified changes in known chemical and biological threats. She also identified technologies that leverage current low-cost unmanned systems into remotely-operated capabilities that multiply human effectiveness and minimize personnel danger in hostile or inaccessible environments. Dr. Denise N. Baken’s research has investigated al Qaeda’s business method approach and the potential vulnerabilities the biotechnology industry’s competitive intelligence information. She has presented findings from her research to the Association for the Study of Middle East and Africa and the Tenth Biennial International Conference at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Jeffrey Engle, CEM

Mr. Engle is a certified emergency manager (CEM®) who has spent his career combating weapons of mass destruction terrorism and proliferation in both the public and private sector. He received his bachelor’s degree in Political Science, a Graduate Certificate in Foundations of Political Analysis and is completing a Masters of Political Science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Mr. Engle recently retired from the United States Army due to a service connected disability where he deployed nine times in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. Despite the recent career change, Mr. Engle continues to support the warfighter by coordinating Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) response exercises for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Prior to retirement, Mr. Engle performed terrorism vulnerability assessments for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Joint Staff. His most recent operational assignment was as a CBRN Team Leader in United States Army Special Operations Command. His military awards and decorations include: two awards of the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, two awards of the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, three awards of the Army Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Combat Action Badge, the Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, US and British Parachutist wings, and multiple other awards for combat and military service.

John Munies

John Munies serves as Senior Vice President for Civilian and Homeland Security Programs. He understands what is necessary to catapult TeraThink to the midsized business marketplace and advance the company’s alliances to expand capabilities and services that have broad market application. He brings more than 27 years of senior level technology and finance experience, including nearly 14 years at CACI International as a Senior Vice President and 13 years in various positions with Commonwealth of Boston, Massachusetts. His expertise includes strategic planning, acquisition strategies, strategic alliances, enterprise transformation, and public sector finance.

Prior to his work with TeraThink and CACI, John served in several Legislation and Executive Branch positions in the State of Massachusetts’ including CFO at the Department of Revenue, COO at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Deputy CIO at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Deputy Assistant Comptroller in the office the State Comptroller, and Deputy Director of Fiscal Policy at the Senate Ways and Means Committee leading several enterprise IT transformation projects.

John holds a BS in Accounting from Bridgewater State University and Certificates in Executive Leadership from Georgetown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Sloan School of Business. He is also a member of several IT and finance associations; serves on the Associates Board of the Wolf Trap Foundation; Board of Advisors, Office of Military Services, George Mason University; chairman of the Piedmont Golf Club’s Board of Governors; and is the founder and chairman of the Piedmont Charitable Foundation.

Jennifer L. Disano

Jennifer L. Disano serves as the Executive Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University (OLLI Mason), a nonprofit membership driven organization with three regional campuses in Northern Virginia offering 400 educational courses per year to over 1200 members, serving retired individuals aged 55 or better.

Since its inception, OLLI Mason has been a staunch supporter of George Mason University Office of Military Service (OMS) by providing monetary support in the form of scholarships for our veterans and their families. Under her direction, OLLI Mason has become more effective in fulfilling its mission and is better prepared to face organizational growth and expanded programing in support of the coming “age wave” of retirees in Northern Virginia. Her transformational initiatives have led to improved facilities and have expanded the reach of OLLI Mason services. Disano has initiated extensive modernization projects at the OLLI Mason. Among them are an overhaul of OLLI Mason registration systems and the growth of the organization’s leadership in social media and classroom technologies, as well as, partnerships within the university – including the introduction of series collaborations with departments and sponsored scholarships.

During her tenure, Disano has overseen OLLI Mason delivery of excellence in educational programing, teaching opportunities, and social and leadership opportunities to members. As Chief Spokesperson for the organization, she regularly gives speeches and media appearances to support outreach of the organization. As OLLI Mason is nationally aligned with 119 OLLIs at Universities, she works closely with other OLLIs across the country.

In September of 2014, she was appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to serve on the Fairfax County Long Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC) which is committed to increasing awareness and access to services and programs that enhance the lives of older adults and people with disabilities.

Prior to her role at OLLI Mason, Disano worked as a Program Manager in support of military sponsored research at The GMU Center for Command, Control, Communications, Computing and Intelligence (C4I) within the Volgenau School of Engineering at George Mason University, as a Scientist at GEO-Centers, Inc.; analyzing technology requirements for corrosion control implications in support of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), supporting the US Navy’s initiative to reduce CFC emissions in paint and other eco-friendly alternative materials, and as an Executive Administrative Assistant, at Commander Naval Air Force Pacific (COMNAVAIRPAC); supporting staff of the maintenance office responsible for coordination of the aviation material readiness of 5 carrier battle groups and 8 major Navy and Marine Corps air bases.

In addition to her work experience Disano is also a military spouse, married to a Naval Officer; retired after 26 years of service. She understands first-hand the nuances of family life in the military-and after. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography from California State University East Bay; and served as President of the International Geographic Honors Society, Gama Theta Upsilon (GTU).

Disano is currently a member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and regularly hosts the television show “On the go with AAUW.” She also serves on the board of directors of Robinson Secondary School PTSA as the chair of high school educational programs and is the owner and founder of Disano Solutions, a consulting company.

A lifelong volunteer, Disano is the recipient of several honor awards; receiving both the U.S. President’s Volunteer Service Award and Fairfax County Public Schools Highest Honor Award for Excellence in Volunteer Service.