When Rupa Mehta learned she was an Employee of the Month awardee in 2017, she reached out to me for help practicing her acceptance speech. Rupa, Data Analyst/Report Writer in Enrollment Planning and Administration, is also a charter member of GMU Toastmasters. Because we are accustomed to practicing our speaking and leadership skills every week, it was only natural for Rupa to want to prepare for her ceremony in the Office of the President. Having worked at Mason for 20 years, I attended many Employee of the Month celebrations, but Rupa’s was the first one I witnessed with a well-rehearsed and thoughtful acceptance speech. We believe the desire for professional development and personal growth is the reason that many GMU Toastmasters have also earned the Employee of the Month designation.
I received the Employee of the Month award in 2005 in my first position at Mason as Administrative Assistant to the Senior Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (now CHSS). I remember my celebration with President Alan Merten and when he said, as he often did in these events: “first I’ll say a few words, then you say a few words, and then I’ll say a few more words!” My knees started shaking as I realized I would have to make some sort of speech and I can promise you it was not nearly as eloquent as Rupa’s a few years later! It took me until 2012 to make the leap and join GMU Toastmasters. Believe me, I thought about it many times, but fear held me back. From the very first meeting I attended as a guest through today as I continue to serve as the VP of Membership, I have never been in a more supportive and encouraging environment. Being a Toastmaster opens a world of opportunities to serve as a leader beyond the club experience, and the confidence I gained is fully attributed to my involvement in Toastmasters.
Over the years, there have been five GMU Toastmasters awarded Employee of the Month! Here is what they had to say about the experience …
Ann Ludwick: The campus was quiet on an early summer day in 2009 when I found myself in President Merten’s Mason Hall office. I recall so many happy faces and the formality of the certificate presentation. There are so many benefits to working at George Mason University and opportunities to build your professional portfolio. My later involvement in our Toastmasters club has been a rewarding addition to my Mason journey. On that sunny June day, I certainly appreciated the recognition. The walk back to Robinson Hall with colleagues was joyful and the best part – cake in the conference room!
Rupa Mehta: I started working at Mason in 2007. I realized that in order to deliver training to staff and faculty, I needed to improve my public speaking skills. Fortunately for me, I came across an announcement for the GMU Toastmasters Club. At the first meeting, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I soon realized this was exactly what I needed. As I attended more and more meetings, I gradually gained confidence and improved my public speaking skills. In the past, I certainly wouldn’t have had the courage to present at MicroStrategy World Conferences, but I can proudly say thanks to GMU Toastmasters, I’ve gained the confidence and successfully presented at several. I joined to improve my public speaking skills, but I stayed for the camaraderie within the club. I still remember the day I stood next to President Cabrera with my family and colleagues to accept the EOM award. It was 3am in India, and my mother, brother, and sisters joined the event via Facebook live. My mother later told me she had tears in her eyes and is very proud of the person I have become. I strongly recommend anyone looking to improve their public speaking to attend GMU Toastmasters as a guest! I guarantee that you will not only improve these skills but make friends for life.
Philip Wilkerson: I joined Toastmasters in the summer of 2019 because I was really determined to learn how to be a better public speaker. I was already comfortable talking in front of large groups and being asked to speak on the spot, but I wanted to be more organized and crafted with my speech, especially if I knew I had to speak ahead of time. When I came to the club at Mason, I was very impressed with how organized and well run the meetings were. Unbeknownst to me that the reason why it was so well run was the fact that there were so many campus leaders already involved in the group. It was no surprise that when I was awarded “Employee of the Month” for September 2019 and shared this good news with the club, a few members said, “I was an employee of the month too.” I said to myself, “Wow! It’s amazing that so many GMU Toastmasters have this in common.” I realized there was a correlation between being a member of GMU Toastmasters and being awarded “Employee of the Month.” I believe that shared desire to be better “professionals” and “public speakers” shows our commitment to professional development and leadership. I believe this commitment unifies us as a club and we bring those leadership skills we learn from the club to our individual departments across campus. We also channel that commitment to excellence into our club by trying to achieve milestones within the Toastmaster community. GMU Toastmasters achieved 16 goals in the Distinguished Club Program for the first time last year and is only the second club in the District to have met all 16 goals ever! The last thing I realized was that we have many Distinguished Toastmasters within our club, most of whom are also “Employees of the Month.” This motivates me and inspires me to think about pursuing a Distinguished Toastmasters distinction for myself.
Christie Michals: I joined GMU Toastmasters in the summer of 2019 when two of my colleagues shared their remarkable experiences with me about the club. After one meeting as a guest, I knew this club was something I wanted to commit to, as an opportunity to grow in my public speaking skills and connect with other Mason professionals. Through living my own life in the lens of a growth mindset, I was glad to find a club where I could surround myself with other people who strive to improve themselves. Then in May 2020, I was awarded the Employee of the Month, which was a tremendous honor and what I believe was an attribution to my involvement in professional development groups on campus. I am grateful for the encouragement I receive at Mason to continually learn and find belonging, even beyond my specific role.
There are many reasons why people join Toastmasters. A few reasons include personal growth, professional development, meeting new people, networking and more. Toastmasters is a self-paced program, so you can attend as often as your schedule permits. GMU Toastmasters is a community club, and members do not have to be affiliated with the university to join … however, we definitely welcome both graduate and undergraduate students, as well as Mason faculty and staff!
As Toastmasters, we partner with each other to work on our goals. Sometimes members are practicing for their dissertation defense or maybe presenting at a conference, or some want to improve their interpersonal communication with their supervisors or colleagues. Rupa and I mentored each other through achieving our Distinguished Toastmaster awards last spring. We are proud of reaching this highest accomplishment as Toastmasters, and now we are armed with the skills to help newer members work the program and achieve their goals.
The best way to experience Toastmasters, is to visit a meeting, so please feel free to join us as a guest. We meet every Wednesday at noon via Zoom until the end of 2020, and we will resume in person meetings as soon as we receive university guidance that we are able to do so. Guests are welcome to visit a meeting as many times as they want without incurring any commitments. I invite you to learn more about Toastmasters International and GMU Toastmasters by visiting our website: http://toastmasters.gmu.edu/
– Written in collaboration by Heather Aleknavage