A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Meet the Mason Nation: Doni Nolan

By Buzz McClain, BA '77 on August 4, 2017

Doni Nolan

Job: Presidents Park Greenhouse Coordinator

As an undergraduate, Doni Nolan, BA Biology ’14, had no visions of a future profession until she visited the Fairfax Campus greenhouse. “It was like a revolution in my life. Really, it was immediately so clear: This is what I want to do with my life,” she says. “This is everything I want. Soil, pots, a huge diversity of plants. I want to be a farmer.”

Doni Nolan, Greenhouse and Gardens Specialist, Office of Sustainability. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Favorite Part of the Job: The Presidents Park Greenhouse produces more than produce (at a rate of about 2,000 pounds a year for use in Mason’s kitchens by the chefs of food service provider Sodexo.) It also supports an academic purpose in giving volunteers and interns an introduction to the trade. “My favorite part is working with the students,” she says. “I love plants, for sure, that’s my passion, but if I just wanted to be a farmer I could work on a huge farm and run my own business. That’s lonely.”

Growing into the Job: Nolan began as a volunteer for Greenhouse Manager Monica Marcelli at the Potomac Heights Vegetable Garden. “I was that one student who would volunteer during finals when no one else would,” she says. She also helped revitalize the flagging student organization GMU Organic Garden Association (GOGA). “When I was president of GOGA I realized I’m a natural leader,” she says. She recruited new members just so she could teach more people about her passion. Before long, the Office of Sustainability hired her to be the unofficial Mason farmer.

Branching Out: Her biology degree and various horticulture certificates are just the beginning. Nolan is studying for her master’s degree in plant science via an online program offered by Virginia Tech. “Mason doesn’t have [a program],” she says, “but I can bring it to Mason. My goal is to become a professor here; I think there’s a growing need for agricultural classes to add to the environmental policy and sustainability programs we have.”

Pastoral Home Life: Not only did Mason help Nolan find her profession, it is also where she met her husband, Matt Nolan, who is an assistant professor of game sound and composition in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. They live on 31 ½ forested acres near Warrenton, Virginia, with a fenced acre for farming where they grow their own produce “just for fun.”

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