Meet the Mason Nation: Doug McKenna, university registrar


Doug McKenna

Job: University Registrar

Many things change over the years at a college or university, but the university registrar serves as the guardian of something permanent.

“I’m responsible for maintaining the student record in perpetuity,” said Doug McKenna, registrar at George Mason University. “At the core, the Office of the University Registrar is the steward of student academic data.”

Portrait of Doug McKenna
Doug McKenna, university registrar at George Mason University. Photo by Ron Aira/Office of University Branding

A student’s time at the university may only last a few years, but their records last forever, thanks to the work of the registrar.

A champion for Mason: Before coming to Mason in July 2019, McKenna worked at both public and private institutions of higher education, with enrollments ranging from 12,000 to 46,000 students. But he says that Mason is a great fit for him. “The values of inclusivity, equity, and accessibility all resonate with me and align with what’s important to me personally,” said McKenna.

A full catalog of work: The Office of the University Registrar serves a broad range of functions. Publishing the catalog, building the schedule of classes, performing degree audits, completing veterans’ certifications, issuing transcripts, and awarding degrees—these are just some of the ways the office serves the university community.

Witnessing the milestones: McKenna describes the Office of the University Registrar as a tremendous vantage point to the institution, touching key moments across a student's academic journey. “I know it sounds trite, but one of the reasons that I love being the registrar is that very few days in a row are the same,” said McKenna. The office supports students, faculty, staff, and alumni. “With that many constituents, there’s always something going on.” 

Meeting modern needs: At the largest and fastest growing public research university in Virginia, there are challenges, too. “Mason is catching up in terms of leveraging technology for administrative processes,” said McKenna. His office has been working to convert forms into dynamic digital workflows, making processes like grade changes and credit overloads faster and more efficient. McKenna says these changes save time for everyone.

Portrait of Doug McKenna
Doug McKenna, university registrar. Photo by Ron Aira/Office of University Branding

A dedicated team: No matter what each day brings, McKenna’s colleagues inspire and motivate him. “Hands down, Mason has the best people who are passionate about supporting student success, who care, who are engaged, and who are fun,” said McKenna. “There’s a real sense of joy about the work that we’re doing here.”

Learning for life: McKenna has a unique perspective as registrar: He is a student, too, pursuing his PhD in education with a specialization in higher education. “I think it’s important that I continue to study and learn as much as possible about the industry in which I work,” McKenna said. “And as a leader, to model lifelong learning for my staff.”

Registrars assemble: Beyond Mason, McKenna holds an influential role in the realm of university registrars. He helps train new registrars through the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). An active member of the professional organization, McKenna also started hosting its podcast, For the Record, in 2019.  

“While the podcast is focused on topics that affect registrars, I’ve heard from a lot of people who are either registrar-adjacent or higher education-adjacent that it has provided interesting insights into the registrar’s many roles at an institution,” said McKenna. “I love hosting it, because it’s given me the opportunity to talk to and learn from so many really smart and capable people.”

Beyond the job: Outside work, McKenna and his wife stay busy with their two active teenagers and two dogs. The arts are an important part of his life—he plays the guitar, sings, and recently sold his first piece of commissioned artwork: poured acrylics on canvas. McKenna volunteers to support the arts programs at his children's middle and high schools, as well.

Envisioning the future: He will continue working toward that PhD. “I’m on a kind of ‘dance remix’ version of the PhD, taking one course at a time while working full time and parenting full time,” McKenna said. “My goal is to be finished before my son, who is currently a junior in high school, graduates from college.”

When that day comes, he’ll have yet another timeless perspective to add to his Mason repertoire: alumni.