A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

12 Ways Mason Is Keeping It Green

By Arthur Wesley, BA '17 on October 3, 2017

At George Mason University, green is more than a school color—it is a way of life and a commitment. From research on climate change and renewable energy to degree programs that help students turn their passion for making a difference into a career, Mason is helping to educate the next generation of leaders and problem solvers, and to develop new technologies that improve lives—and help the planet.

Mason was the first university in Virginia to achieve a STARS Gold Rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. It was also among the first 15 American universities to join the United Nations Global Compact, a group that addresses environmental issues and other societal concerns.

“Our efforts transcend classrooms and research centers,” says President Ángel Cabrera. “We use our campuses as learning laboratories for positive change and ensure that environmental causes are ingrained in our campus life.”

In addition to the opening of the Potomac Science Center, here are more ways Mason is keeping this commitment.

1. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE: The National Zoo’s Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Mason joined forces in 2011 to create the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation. The school provides Mason students access to hands-on learning with world experts in conservation biology. Students are able to learn the most up-to-date teachings and research methods at the Smithsonian’s prestigious facility while contributing to the field.

2. BUZZING WITH RESEARCH: The Honey Bee Initiative has expanded since its founding in 2012 to include more than 40 beehives for students and faculty researchers to monitor and study. Even President Cabrera’s house has a hive. Mason’s research on bee and colony health is networked into the Sentinel Hive Project, a national project monitoring hive health across the country to learn better ways to protect and care for the world’s bee population.

3. CAN YOU BELEAF IT? Mason offers more than 125 sustainability- related classes that teach ways to meet our present needs without compromising our future needs. Each of these courses, which span more than 25 different academic programs, from ANTH 370 Environment and Culture to USST 301 Urban Growth in a Shrinking World, is awarded a Green Leaf designation.

4. IT’S EASY BEING GREEN: The Patriot Green Fund (PGF) encourages students and faculty to produce eco-friendly projects that improve the sustainability of Mason’s campuses. Not only do students make up the majority of the PGF Committee, they also have the opportunity to work closely with a faculty mentor on a sustainability project with expenses covered through PGF’s funding awards. This year, for the first time, the fund is sponsoring Mason-centric mechanical engineering capstone projects. One project will assess buildings and energy loss—and ways to mitigate the problems; the other project focuses on the assessment of stormwater drains on campus.

5. DEVELOPING THE NEXT GENERATION OF LEADERS AND PROBLEM SOLVERS: Mason students are committed to making the world a better place and that’s obvious with majors they are choosing. Mason’s Environmental and Sustainability Studies degree program is one of the first of its kind in the nation. From minors to PhD programs, students are also studying conservation, environmental science, and climate dynamics, among other topics. Civil engineers are focusing on sustainable land development, and physics majors are looking at renewable energy.

6. PARDON THE GARDEN: Mason has converted troublesome landscaping areas into bumblebee and butterfly gardens to keep our campus colorful while attracting not only butterflies and the all-important bees, but birds, spiders, and ladybugs—natural predators of plant-damaging insects.

7. ENGINEERING A BETTER FUTURE: The student organization Engineers for International Development works with under-developed communities around the world to improve residents’ quality of life with engineering projects. Teams of students, faculty, and alumni have worked on sustainable infrastructure projects such as clean drinking water and sanitation systems in South America.

8. NUTRITIOUS AND DELICIOUS: The Presidents Park Hydroponic Greenhouse, run by the Office of Sustainability, harvests edible herbs and vegetables year-round. In its first year, the greenhouse supplied campus food service provider Sodexo and Mason’s kitchens with 1,400 pounds of greens, valued at $14,400. The goal for year two is 2,000 pounds, valued at roughly $20,000.

9. IT’S A WAY OF LIFE: Students interested in an environmentally mindful lifestyle can live in the Sustainability Living Learning Community (LLC) with like-minded students. Sustainability LLC students, who come from all majors, engage in many off-campus service adventures to become aware of what sustainability in action looks like. Many alumni return for the most popular annual trip— dune fence restoration at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland.

10. COME SAIL AWAY: Field Studies and Alternative Breaks sponsored by the office of Social Action and Integrative Learning (SAIL) give students the opportunity to take classes with a hands-on approach to learning. While these courses vary widely in subject matter, from anthropology to sociology, they all hold sustainability practices at their core and seek to leave the land and local community as they were before. Because of their short timespan—the longest classes last three weeks—many of these classes provide opportunities for travel in addition to lessons on sustainability practices. Students who participate in Alternative Break during spring break have worked on ecosystem restoration in Florida and literacy programs in Jamaica.

11. WETLAND CAREGIVERS: Since 2007, environmental science and policy professor Changwoo Ahn has been working on the Wetland Mesocosm Compound. Located behind the softball field on the Fairfax Campus, the compound allows students and faculty to experiment with simulated wetland environments and contribute to global efforts of wetland ecosystem restoration.

12. RESEARCH OF CONSEQUENCE These centers are just a sampling of the important work being done by Mason researchers and students.

  • The CENTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE COMMUNICATION (4C) conducts social science research to develop insights on how to enhance the public’s understanding of climate change. The center also trains students and working professionals to conduct audience research and develop public engagement programs. Twice yearly, with Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication, 4C conducts a nationally representative survey. Findings from these “Climate Change in the American Mind” surveys are reported throughout the year and are cited by leading journals, publications, and online media around the world, including Bloomberg, the Washington Post, and many others. The center’s activities are supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Park Service, and various philanthropic foundations.
  • The INSTITUTE FOR PHILOSOPHY AND PUBLIC POLICY is the oldest research institution in the United States that explores the normative aspects of public policy. It came to Mason in 2011. The institute’s researchers and scholars provide pioneering research in public policy issues including climate change, conservation sustainability, and bioethics, among others.
  • At the CENTER FOR OCEAN-LAND-ATMOSPHERE STUDIES (COLA), scientists from several disciplines conduct research that enhances our understanding of the predictability of climate variability and change. Through careful analysis of observations and state-of-the-art coupled ocean, land, and atmospheric models, COLA benefits society by advancing the knowledge of weather statistics through research supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and NASA.
  • The ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY CENTER is a joint interdisciplinary center that focuses on advancing the fields of global environmental and climate monitoring, global carbon measuring, flood forecasting and defense, water resources management, ecological protection and restoration, and Earth observations. The center’s scientists come from diverse fields of study to research the complex environmental problems that affect societies globally. Affiliated with Tsinghua University, China’s Ministry of Water Resources, and a number of universities around the world, the center brings together researchers from various cultural backgrounds and provides them with the skills, tools, and methodologies to support a global approach for solving complex problems. In recent years, the center has organized meetings on drought management, food and water security, and agricultural concerns.

Located in the Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering, the FLOOD HAZARDS RESEARCH LAB takes inspiration from nature to create natural solutions to coastal flooding problems. With support from such agencies as the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and National Science Foundation, the lab’s research team is currently using its experience in deploying field instrumentation under extreme conditions to develop real-time systems for flood hazards awareness, both locally—in Fairfax and the Chesapeake Bay area—and internationally, in Bay of Bengal and Brazil. The researchers specialize in observing hydrodynamic conditions in estuaries and in urban and suburban streams, and they operate a mobile real-time weather station, as well as a suite of stand-alone environmental monitoring stations, to keep track of extreme weather.

  • The CENTER FOR ENERGY SCIENCE AND POLICY, a joint initiative of the Schar School of Policy and Government and the College of Science, provides objective analysis of and original research on energy issues to inform policy and decision makers and to encourage a sustainable future. It is one of the sponsors of the Rappahannock River Parking Deck green roof and the recipient of a 2016 Provost’s Office multidisciplinary grant for a project to enhance electrical energy security of Virginia.

Cathy Cruise, MFA ’93, and Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’95, contributed to this feature.

Photos by Evan Cantwell, MA ’10


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