Family members paved the way for this Mason student


Alaina Ruffin will not be the first, second, or third, but fourth person in her family to graduate from George Mason University. 

“My mom and two older cousins, who are also Black women, came to Mason before me,” said Alaina Ruffin, who will graduate in August with her BA in English with a concentration in writing and rhetoric

Recent graduate Alaina Ruffin (left) and her family of Mason alumna. Photo by Ron Aira/Office of University Branding.
Recent graduate Alaina Ruffin (right) and her family of Mason alumnae. Photo by Ron Aira/Office of University Branding.

During her time as a student at Mason, Ruffin joined Mason’s NAACP chapter and acted as an officer of the chapter for three years. She was also an officer for the Black, African Heritage, and Caribbean Coalition and worked at the Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment

“I’m actually really introverted. I wasn’t as involved in things in high school, so I really surprised myself with the extent to which I did things at Mason,” she said. “I put myself out there more than I previously would have, and I think that helped me become someone whom a much shyer teenage Alaina would be very proud of.” 

Her mother, Dawn Woods-Ruffin, graduated from Mason in 2000, also with a BA in English with a concentration in writing and rhetoric, previously called technical writing and editing. 

“I [originally] went to VCU, but it wasn’t long after that I realized I was unhappy with that choice,” said Woods-Ruffin.  

In her third year, Woods-Ruffin transferred to Mason and joined the ranks of Mason’s commuter students, but still couldn’t decide on a major. She withdrew and decided to work in customer service full time. Her job evolved to writing training manuals, and she eventually found her path as a technical writer before re-enrolling at Mason.  

“Sometimes a student may not have a direct path from high school to a chosen career. It wasn’t easy working full time and attending college, but like many Mason students, I proved it can be done,” said Woods-Ruffin. “I remember seeing Mason grow in not just the size of the campus but with its prominence as a premier school in Virginia.”   

“Mason welcomes people from all walks of life and oftentimes a [potential student] sees the great experience another family member had and decides that Mason is the place for them,” said Jennifer Robinson, JM ’02, associate vice president of alumni relations and executive director of the George Mason University Alumni Association.   

Ruffin’s older cousins, Rachael Woods-Cheytanov and Nicole Woods-Adkins, graduated in 2013 and 2001 respectively. Woods-Cheytanov earned a BS in health administration while Woods-Adkins earned a BS in management information systems.   

During her time at Mason, Woods-Adkins was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and, like her younger cousin, was a member of Mason’s NAACP chapter.  

“I surprised myself with how independent I became,” said Woods-Adkins. “I really enjoyed being close to D.C. where I could experience the area's historical landmarks, cuisines and night life. I was three hours away from home, but I was able to establish a community of lifelong friendships with people who also graduated from Mason.”  

Woods-Adkins’ degree has allowed her to pursue career opportunities in IT and accounting. She currently works for the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a nonprofit organization that focuses on investor protection. “Mason provided me with resources, internship opportunities and professors that shared their various experiences, which helped shape my career choices.”  

Woods-Cheytanov knew that she wanted to work in the medical field but wasn’t sure exactly what career she wanted to work toward.    

“During my time at Mason, I was able to take classes on everything from lab work to medical law. Those classes all shaped my interest in health systems and how they connect,” said Woods-Cheytanov. “I'm so grateful that I was able to really find my career path surrounded by professors who were such experts in the subjects they taught.”  

Coming to Mason from Colorado, Woods-Cheytanov knew that attending Mason was going to be a big personal shift, but also knew she wanted to see more of the world.   

“I'm most surprised at how easy it was to meet a more diverse group of people—in both the way we look and the way we think—that I honestly don't think I would have gotten anywhere else,” she said.   

“[Mason also] brings so many international students that I don't think I would have had the chance to learn about different cultures and traditions anywhere else,” Woods-Cheytanov added.   

Ruffin is interning at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights this summer and hopes to attend graduate and law school.    

“I’m proud of working to make our campus community a place where all students can be heard and valued, because students are what gives universities meaning,” said Ruffin.