In 1989, George Mason University decided to stop publishing its free hard-cover yearbook for seniors. Two teachers rejected that idea and instead pitched an idea of their own.
"We didn't have a lot of students that wanted to do print," said Cindy Lont, the teacher who fought for the yearbook with her colleague, Michelle Braithwaite. "But we did have alot of students who wanted to do video."
Mason's yearbook is not a typical yearbook.
The yearbook, called GMView, is actually a set that costs just $35 and includes a traditional full-color yearbook plus a 30-minute long DVD.
"Our students work hard for their money, so we decided we wanted to make it cheap enough that people could afford to buy it," Lont said, GMView's adviser since that pitch in 1989.
But despite being an affordable and unique product, GMView struggles with reaching many Mason students that are not interested in the yearbook. This includes hundreds of seniors prominently featured in the "Senior Portraits" section.
"I send out letters to people who are in the yearbook but haven't bought it yet, and of 800 people that get their picture taken, I'll be surprised if we get a response from half," Lont said.
GMView is produced by a team that consists almost entirely of Mason students. About 37 students are involved so-far this year. According to Lont, 16 are currently enrolled in the one-credit Yearbook Workshop course she teaches.
The rest simply want to contribute.
"I have students come to me and say that they don't really need the credit but that they want to be part of the yearbook," Lont said, "and I tell them that you don't have to be in the class. Come on and enjoy.
"As the adviser, I don't decide on content. That is up to the students."
The group has used that shared enthusiasm to make constant efforts to raise awareness of GMView. This includes banners in the Johnson Center, regular weekly flyers, ads on WGMU Radio, and direct mail to upper classmen.
"We just don't seem to be able to penetrate," Lont said.
Timothy Gelner, a 24-year old senior majoring in computer science at the Volgenau School of Engineering, is among those not convinced by the effort.
"I'm sure they do the best job that they can, but it's just not something that particularly excites or interests me," Gelner said.
Gelner explained that his lack of interest is partly due to enrolling at Mason as a junior.
"I don't really know anyone else in my graduating class," Gelner said. "I took so long, transferring between three different schools, that it's not a momentous occasion."
Transfer students that feel disconnected to the community can contribute to the lack of interest in GMView. They are representative of the differing paths students take during college.
"In college, it's harder to keep track of what's happening on campus," said 21-year-old senior Rigoberto Ordonez, a producer of Mason Cable Network's "Man at the Plaza" show with a major in psychology. "You might not know anyone, or you could be a transfer student. You could even graduate a year early."
While some students remain unenthusiastic about GMView, others value it for nostalgia.
"I would like to have something to look back on," said senior Hannah Wing, a co-editor of the undergraduate art-and-literary journal Volition magazine. "Almost like a college ring."
There are freshmen who are interested in GMView for its potential as a memento after graduation, such as Diana Prado, an 18-year-old freshman from Peru and a member of the organization "Campus Crusade for Christ."
"I will buy the yearbook for two reasons: because it's cheaper than the one from my high school, and because I want to make my college years more meaningful," Prado said. "I can remember it with the yearbook."
Lont recognized this potential with GMView. Holding one of the many hard-cover yearbooks from a shelf in her office, she described GMView not as a product but as an opportunity.
"In most cases, they've never had the time to be part of something at Mason," Lont said. "This allows them to get one full credit hour and to get to put the yearbook together. In 10 years, they can bring this book out and say, 'Look there I am, I got to leave something behind.'"
September 26, 2012