Isaiah Cruz has never shied away from something because he found it to be challenging. Traveling from his hometown of Katy, Texas, the senior religious studies major faced challenges very early as a student at George Mason University. “I was shocked at the amount of work some classes asked of me my freshman year,” Cruz said. “Being a first-generation student, figuring out who to go to for help was tough since you don’t feel super comfortable asking your professors your first semester.” Since then, however, Cruz has developed relationships with his professors that helped him make the most out of his education, prepared him for the right opportunities, and propelled him to become heavily involved in the Mason community.
A recipient of the 2018 Dean’s Challenge Award, Isaiah’s work outside the classroom all relates back to one idea: helping others who face challenges similar to his own experiences. “I just want to be there for those around me by saying ‘hey, I’ve been through this before and I’m willing to help you out’.” It’s this idea that drives Isaiah to use his future degree in religious studies to move on to a seminary and eventually become a biblical counselor.
“I want to work in biblical counseling because of the personal situations I went through as a teenager,” he said. Cruz said that he feels local churches put pressure on pastors to council members of the congregation. While he agrees that pastors should make themselves available for individuals to speak to them, he also believes it’s important to have the proper training.
Isaiah’s passion for religious studies led him to begin and complete an independent research project through the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR) focused on the dissertation of megachurch pastor and author, John Piper, that focused on New Calvinism and the importance of Christian Missions. Isaiah plans to present his findings in October at the Conference on Faith and History Undergraduate Student Conference at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A devout Christian, Cruz’s favorite part about being at Mason is the diverse ideas and philosophies he learns from other students. “People here are very open minded. They’re willing to talk with other people about other philosophies and political views. The openness and willingness to listen to others is very welcoming. Your ideas aren’t just going to be thrown out the window. If you’re going to say something, be ready to defend it, but know that people are going to listen.”
Outside of his academics and research project, Isaiah finds time to serve the Mason community in other ways, working as an off-campus housing advisor and volunteering as a tutor in the Religious Studies Department, as well as a student ambassador for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS). “The excitement in CHSS is something I wanted to be able to communicate to potential students,” Cruz said. “Potential students should know that if they’re part of this college they’re going to have a great time, they will get a great education, and they will be part of a great community.”
Cruz was very humbled to be named a 2018 Dean’s Challenge Award recipient and was quick to credit the college, as well as the fellow winners.
“Whoever was on the committee did an excellent job selecting different students from different areas of study. It’s encouraging because it shows that despite there being certain degrees that are highlighted more on campus, that doesn’t mean your major is overlooked or irrelevant. It shows that no matter what you’re studying, you can still contribute to this community.”