Individualized Study
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

A Course in Perseverance

by Alecia Bryan

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If you would like the opportunity to talk with Jack Fahey, BIS ’94, you may have to get in line. Just ask any student who has attended a session of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ mentoring lunch program. Jack has been volunteering his time with this group for eight semesters, and is a favorite mentor amongst the undergraduates. He’s usually found at the center of a group of students, thoughtfully responding to questions on what it’s like working for the federal government, his most memorable career experiences, or tips for finding a job after graduation.

The students’ draw to Jack is due in part to his 47 years of service with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Jack has represented the U.S. government in more than 40 countries, been on assignment to the White House under Vice President Gore’s Reinventing Government Team to help coordinate and implement geo- graphic information systems across multiple government agencies, and managed an organization of more than 1,500 employees within NGA. But it is Jack’s knack for storytelling and his relatable honesty, as he shares his career path of steady perseverance toward earning his undergraduate degree and becoming a proud George Mason alumnus, that peak their interest.

Jack started his college career at the University of Rhode Island in the mid-1960s. He earned a partial athletic scholarship but was unable to keep it due to his academic record. He dropped out of school and started working for a shipbuilding company in the Port of New York. He also spent a short time in the military, after which he landed in Washington, D.C., where he applied for a government job in mapping at the prompting of his sister. Jack got the job and began working for the Army Map Service (AMS). During this time he started taking classes in math and science offered to employees through George Washington University, and after years of work, he had earned 30 credits and was able to be designated as a “professional.”

In the early 1970s, AMS became the Defense Mapping Agency (in 1996 the agency was folded into the NGA), and Jack gradually moved up within the organization. With a colleague’s encouragement, he enrolled in a contract program offered by the University of Virginia, and at its completion, he had earned 30 more college credits and a Certificate in Procurement and Contracts Management. Jack now had 60 credits and a strong desire to complete an undergraduate degree. Another colleague told him about George Mason’s Bachelor of Individualized Study Program (BIS), which is designed to help adult learners integrate other college-level learning into university coursework. After working with the Registrar’s Office, he put a plan in place and in 1989 started working toward completing his undergraduate degree.

Jack’s new routine became one of night classes, work, and helping to raise his three children. His position within the DMA demanded a strenuous schedule, especially at the height of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, when the agency provided direct support to the U.S. military. Jack made the difficult decision to put his degree work on hold for a year during this time, but he never lost sight of his goal. He was finally taking classes that interested him, and he was, for the first time, an A/B student. Jack’s classmates told him he brought a wealth of life and work experience to his class discussions, but he remembers best what he gained from his peers. He fondly recalls working with students of all ages and walks of life. He believes these interactions helped him to become a better manager and improved his ability to relate to others. After a long path to Mason and five years of coursework, Jack received his BIS degree in the fall of 1994.

Jack, now retired, is a regular guest lecturer to several BIS classes each semester. When asked what draws him to continue sharing his time, his answer is immediate: “I am absolutely in awe of the quality and diversity of [Mason] students.” His passion for Mason also stems from his gratitude for what the university has helped him accomplish.

Earning his BIS degree opened doors in his career and gave him the satisfaction of reaching a personal goal. To help pay forward this appreciation, Jack recently endowed the Jack Fahey Giving Back Scholarship, which will present its first award to a deserving BIS student in fall 2017.

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