George Mason University’s Science and Technology campus near Manassas seemed positively remote when it first opened its doors two decades ago. Now, its leaders can’t help but talk about how everything seems “just across the street.”
The school’s Prince William campus celebrated its 20th anniversary Sept. 20 with a look back at how the college expanded into the county in the first place, anchoring the area’s Innovation Park and transforming the western half of Prince William.
Though the area is still developing, university officials and alumni couldn’t help but marvel at how successful the campus has been at drawing all manner of high-tech businesses to the region since its grand opening Sept. 14, 1997.
“Mason is one of the most visible manifestations of growth in the region over the last two decades,” said Deborah Crawford, the university vice president for research.
The campus, first conceived of as a partnership between Mason and the county in 1987, opened as just one building on a 120-acre patch of land donated by the county. But thanks to the efforts of state and local officials, most notably former state Sen. Chuck Colgan, the campus grew quickly to include all manner of facilities focused on everything from engineering to forensic science.
“I was on this campus the first day it opened, and there was nowhere to eat lunch, nowhere to drink besides the water fountain,” said Tara Fitzpatrick-Navarro, who is now the executive director of the U.S. Tennis Association’s Mid-Atlantic section. “It looks a bit different now.”
Since her days studying at Mason, Fitzpatrick-Navarro has helped convince her organization to open up its regional headquarters just across the street from the Prince William campus, in no small part due to the very health and fitness program she graduated from years ago.
“Across the street; that’s the whole plan here,” said Angel Cabrera, the university’s president.
Ross Dunlap, another alumnus and the CEO of Ceres Nanosciences, charted a similar course for his business. He founded the biotechnology company fresh off his Mason days, and now his business is also expanding into space across the way from the campus.
“Mason is the magnet that keeps up here,” Dunlap said. “Biotechnology is a turbulent business, but it’s great to have this stable institution, full of great scientists and researchers to stabilize things.”
Dunlap predicts that his business is just “one of many” to make the move to Mason, forecasting that “the growth of the last 20 years is just a slice of what you’ll see in the next five, even 10 years.”
Cabrera said the campus is expanding, as well, to match that projected growth. The university will soon open a new engineering research center along Innovation Drive, and he expects that the campus won’t slow down anytime soon.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Cabrera said. “We got the baton from the leaders who preceded us. Now we need to really turn this into the thriving place that it can be.”