Wanted: A great leader, a magnificent speaker, polished and successful at public relations and fund raising. Someone with energy and vision, wise in the ways of the world, yet possessing great spiritual qualities. A skilled administrator, effective in dealings with legislators and bureaucrats and a competent and proven scholar.

The job: Presidency of Northern Virginia's George Mason University.

The assignment: To lead George Mason into the 1980s and to "inspire the university to mature as a varied, influential and prestigious institution of higher education."

As it enters its 20th year of operation this fall, George Mason University, the state university for Northern Virginia, is seeking a president to lead it out of the wilderness of obscurity into the light of recognition as a major center of learning and culture.

It is a task, says one faculty member in jest, that "really requires the second coming of Christ."

"We haven't been able to make the point that we're a full-fledged university. People keep confusing us with Northern Virginia Community College," says Donald Mash, vice president for student affairs at George Mason.

Located on a 500-acre campus near Fairfax City, George Mason is a university of nearly 9,000 students and in many respects a study in contradictions and curiosities, heading in several different directions at the same time.

Surrounded by acres of parking lots, it is the quintessential suburban commuter college, yet this fall it is opening dormitories on campus for the first time.

It has a diverse a collection of students as any college in the Washington area and it attempts to cater to recent high school graduates, bureaucrats contemplating job changes at midcareer and senior citizens.

For the majority of its students, the college experience is not an orderly four-year progression to a degree, but an in-again out-again process that involves full- or part-time jobs and several different colleges.

Fully 80 per cent of the students work, the average age is 27 and for every student at George Mason there is an average of 2.3 academic transcripts from the other colleges attended. Last year the university awarded 993 bachelor's degrees and 304 master's degrees, but it is only just beginning to collect data on what happens to its students once they graduate.

For most of her classmates, recalled Mary Beth Kutsko, who graduated from Mason last January, graduation brought few immediate changes. "There were a few who started in careers, but most continued in the same jobs they already had," said Kutsko, who worked in George Mason's office of alumni relations.

In its search for a president - to replace Virgil H. Dykstra who resigned for personal reasons last spring - the university has run discreet advertisements in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Sunday New York Times. Call have been made at various and sundry educational agencies in an effort to spread the word.

"Unlike the situation in which many older schools find themselves today, the full potential of this university is yet to be realized," the ads emphasize.

By the time it's over, the university hopes to screen 300 or more applicants before making a final selection in the spring, said search committee head Harriet Bradley.

"We need to have an enthusiastic and articulate spokesman with very subtle political sensitivities," said Bradley.

"What we need in a new president," said mathmetic department chairman John Oppelt, "is someone who's not apologetic about George Mason.

"My vision of the university now is that it is a very good place.In many ways what a student gets here is a worthwhile degree and a better undergraduate education than he could get at larger university. What he doesn't get is a name. We don't have an identity outside the campus. We're not known as Northern Virginia's regional university.

"We're the great sleeping potential" says Robert Hawkes, director of extended studies at George Mason. "We're not really sleeping, but people don't know about us."

It is in the programs that Hawkes directs, aimed at adults seeking career changes, senior citizens and anyone else seeking a process of continuing education that George Mason seeks its greatest source of future growth.

"We are building the model of the modern university here in Fairfax," says Hawkes.

Over the years, says Hawkes, the resources of the university will go increasingly to serve students like John Anderegg, Beryel Pace, and John Doherty.

Doherty, 75, is at George Mason under a state sponsored program that pays 100 per cent of the tuition cost for senior citizens. Regular full time students pay $384 a semester.

"As long as I can keep my wits about me I'm going to continue, certainly as long as the State or Virginia is going to pay the tuition for old codgers like me," said Doherty, who's studying mathematics and Spanish.

"I would be a senior now if I were working towards a degress, but I'm not. I'm here because I like nothing better than going to school."

Pace, 68, is a retired Detroit police inspector studying English and history at George Mason and he's due to graduate in January. Like many of the George Mason students, he began college at Northern Virginia Community College, then transferred to Mason after two years.

"I never had a college dregree and I decided I wanted one," said Pace. "You've got to keep active doing something. You've got to keep your mind working."

John Anderegg is yet another category of student. At 49, he's ahd 22 years in the State Department and he's contemplating early retirement and a second career. He could use a change of pace, he says, so he's enrolled at George Mason where he's studying for a master's degree in industrial psychology. "I might like to work as a management consultant," he said.

George Mason does aim to serve the just-out-of-high school student, too, and it's for this group that the new dormitories and campus are being built.

Cindy Huguley, 19, a 1975 graduate of Robinson High School will move into one of the new dormitories this fall.

"I promised myself when I went to Mason that if they ever built dormitories, I'd move into one. I'd like at least one year of college life when I don't have to commute," said Huguley, who has been driving a Fairfax County school bus four hours a day to help pay her bills.