Meet College of Sciences Alumnus and George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera

Advice to students: Reach out to people who are different from you and listen to them

Ángel Cabrera is the first native of Spain to lead an American university. He became the sixth president of George Mason University (GMU) in 2012. Located near Washington, D.C., GMU is the largest public university in Virginia, serving 35,000 students.

Cabrera’s journey to the top leadership of GMU includes two degrees from the College of Sciences’ School of Psychology: Ph.D., Psychology (Cognitive Science Certificate), in 1995, and M.S. in Psychology in 1993.

Before coming to Tech, Cabrera earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in computer and electrical engineering from the Polytechnic University of Madrid, in Spain. For high school, he attended the Instituto Cardenal Cisneros, in Madrid.

Cabrera is married to College of Sciences alumna Elizabeth F. Cabrera (Ph.D. and M.S. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology), a senior scholar at GMU’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being and founder of Cabrera Insights. The couple has two children; one of them is a sophomore at Tech.

What is the most important thing you learned at Georgia Tech?

Georgia Tech gave me the chance to do my graduate work in psychology despite the fact that all my prior training had been in electrical and computer engineering. Georgia Tech expanded my thinking from engineering into the social sciences. It helped me develop a multidisciplinary mindset.  As a foreign student, Tech was also my gateway into American society. And most importantly, Tech gave me my wife, a fellow graduate student to whom I’m still happily married.

What is a vivid memory of your time at Georgia Tech?

I will never forget my first football game. American intercollegiate athletics is unparalleled around the world. I cannot recall whom we played and whether or not we won, but I can still remember being blown away by the tailgating, the energy, the cheering, the half-time show, and the band.

What role did your Georgia Tech education and experience play in your journey to your current position?

I simply could not have become the first Spanish-born president of an American university without my time at Tech. Georgia Tech was my first exposure to a great American research university. It inspired me to think differently about higher education and to want to play a leadership role in it.

Perhaps the most impactful element of my graduate work in psychology at Tech was the strong research methodology and statistics class. That’s where my social science mindset was first shaped.

What do you like most about your current job?

Being a university president is a privilege. It is the best job I have ever had in terms of the opportunity it’s afforded me to make a difference in the lives of many, to learn every day, and to get to know and be inspired by amazing individuals.

What has been the greatest challenge in your professional life so far?

A university presidency provides an endless supply of challenges. Some are technical (administrative, financial, etc.), but the most difficult of all are people-related. They have to do with motivating and inspiring people, building trust, persuading others, resolving conflicts. That psychology training at Tech proved to be more useful than I could have ever anticipated!

What has been the most gratifying experience of your professional career so far?

As an educator, my most gratifying experiences are meeting with alumni who are doing remarkable things, who are building businesses, leading organizations, making a difference around the world. There is no better reminder of how crucially important our universities are and how worthwhile our work is.

If you could have taken an alternative career path, what would you be doing instead?

There’s only one job better than being a university president: being a professor.

What advice would you give to incoming first-year students at Georgia Tech? 

Study abroad if you possibly can.

Have fun, but stay safe (and say “no” to drugs!).

Reach out to people who are different from you and listen to them.

Take a class in a new field you know nothing about.

Don’t tolerate any form of violence, including sexual violence.

Don’t wait to take advantage of all the resources and opportunities at your disposal.

What’s something about yourself that’s not obvious to your colleagues?

I once hiked across the Sahara Desert.

If you could have dinner with any person from history, whom would you invite?

Martin Luther King Jr. Very few people have had as much positive impact around them in one (short) life.

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A. Maureen Rouhi

Director of Communications

College of Sciences