For alumna Tennille Parker (1997), finding your community is one of the most meaningful parts of life. From her time at Mason, Parker still remembers the Honors College peers who stood beside her and inspired her to reach her highest potential.
Parker credits her friends for helping her achieve. It was their "belief in me that gave me confidence in what I could do," she says. Reflecting on this, she remembers a close friend who "literally stood over my shoulder” while she applied to a fellowship that would open many doors for her. “Lo and behold, I was accepted into the fellowship, which provided both financial support and also a really rigorous pre-graduate school prep program. I went right from graduation to spending a summer – maybe a month – doing some work and then right into grad school.”
This path presented Parker many opportunities and led to her career as the Director of Disaster Recovery and Special Issues division for the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD). Working for HUD "was my very first job out of undergrad,” Parker explains. “When the existing federal disaster recovery programs are tapped out or their resources are not significant enough to address remaining unmet recovering needs, Congress will often provide special grant funding to HUD – that’s my division.”
HUD has been responsible for providing support to areas following catastrophic disasters such as hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and Maria. Funds from HUD help make it possible for communities to recover, rebuild, and prepare for the future: “[We are] performing oversight, conducting technical assistance. Slowly we’re trying to create the type of space where there’s an expectation that these investments will protect communities from disasters, because disasters will not stop.”
In addition to her role supporting communities in need across the nation, Parker is enthusiastic about giving back to the local area that influenced her and supported her learning. She has worked both at the local level for the Fairfax County Government and as the President for the Mason Alumni Association.
“It’s one thing to be a Mason student; it’s quite another to be an alum and have that view of how the university works,” Parker notes, calling the experience “eye-opening.” She particularly expresses concern about the financial demands on many students. As a leader in our alumni community, Parker has raised funds to help ease these burdens. In this way, she hopes to open the positive opportunity she had to others and to support the continued evolution of the Honors College and Mason as a whole.
Parker emphasizes that she is proud of what the Honors College has become since she graduated in 1997: "taking the best part, cultivating students’ comradery, academic excellence opportunities, but trying to do so more broadly.”
“I think everyone should go to Mason,” she adds, with a big smile on her face. “It’s the right size for people who are ready to make a difference.”
Parker felt uplifted at Mason and aims to continue to support, encourage, and inspire those who follow in her footsteps.