Mason Senior's Immersive Summer of Education

by Anne Reynolds

Mason Senior's Immersive Summer of Education
Dominique Dowling with Governor's Fellow Javion Peterson and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam

Dominique Dowling is a Mason senior who has already made a name for herself on the Fairfax Campus. Majoring in integrative studies and enrolled in the accelerated master’s program for early childhood education, she has served as the president and vice president of Mason’s NAACP college chapter, and is currently the president of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences student ambassadors and the secretary for Mason’s chapter of Educators Rising Collegiate. In 2020, Dowling was a part of Mason’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force, serving on the Student Voice and University Policies and Practices committees.

Last summer, Dowling was one of twenty-five students from Virginia colleges and universities who were selected to participate in the prestigious Governor’s Fellows Program, sponsored by Governor Ralph Northam.

During the eight-week program, fellows worked in divisions of the Office of the Governor, each assigned to a cabinet secretary and, in some cases, working with agencies in the executive branch. Dowling’s assignment, to the Office of Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, MA History 2009, aligns with her own goals for teaching and shaping education policy. She found the experience to be a compelling taste of the workings of government as well as the interconnected interests served by education policy.

Dowling was surprised to find that she was one of only two undergraduates among the fellows; the rest were recent graduates or were in graduate programs. Also, she said, “I was a little intimidated because I’m not a government major or a politics person.” But she was inspired by the team in Qarni’s office.

“The Secretary of Education was a teacher,” she said. “He taught eighth grade history … to see him be a teacher and then do exactly what he wants to do and make the change on this level has been so inspiring… We need people who know what it's like.”

Dowling’s duties centered in Qarni’s office, and included replying to constituent emails, working with the social media team, and taking part in meetings. Regularly, the program offered visits to state facilities and historical sites. Dowling helped to present the Virginia Department of Education Teaching Black History Conference and attended bill signing ceremonies, including the event where Mason was recognized as a “Tier 3” university (with the highest level of institutional management autonomy granted to Virginia public colleges and universities).

“That was really, really cool to see President Washington and faculty and staff for Mason, and the CFO and all these important people,” she said. “It’s like, this is my school!”

It was Dowling’s involvement at Mason, in particular with the President’s Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence, that led her to the Governor’s Fellowship. Dietra Trent, Interim Vice President of Compliance, Diversity, and Ethics (now the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), had herself served as Virginia’s Secretary of Education from 2006-2010, and again from 2014-16. She learned of Dowling’s interest in education and recommended the Governor’s Fellowship Program to her.

“I'm just so grateful for her reaching out to me because if she didn't, I wouldn't have known about it,” Dowling said.

As one of the undergraduates in the program, Dowling knew that the summer experience would end with a return to her studies. But she didn’t mind. “After this experience with this fellowship, I think I've become a better student or a leader, better future educator,” she said. “I feel like I can speak on so much, but I know there's so much more that I can learn, which is why I'm so glad that I'm not done at Mason.”