Elizabeth Stern (2009)



“You should treat everyone as if they have a story.”

Elizabeth Stern knew at age 15 that she wanted to be an editor in publishing. “I’m going to be the Editor in Chief of Elle Magazine,” Stern said of her teenage ambitions. Although she was an accomplished violinist at age 11, attended a historically Black arts high school in D.C., and graduated with diplomas in Vocal Music and Literary Media Arts, Stern’s heart was set on a career outside of performance. The next question was where she would attend college. 

On an unexpected tour of campus with a friend, Stern quickly discovered the unique experiences that the Honors College has to offer. She was hooked. “I really wanted to go to Mason, but my going was contingent on getting into the Honors College, and it was the one school that did not offer me a scholarship – and I went anyway,” Stern said. She also found the perfect academic niche for her aspirations to become an editor and her love of the arts: a double major in Dance and English with a concentration focused on nonfiction writing and editing. 

During her time at Mason, Stern found herself involved in a multitude of student organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, the sorority of Alpha Phi, the GMU Leadership Institute, and Hillel. Noticing there were no Jewish organizations for women, she also founded and presided over an organization called Nashim.  

“My high school experience, along with experiences I had at Mason […], prompted me to care a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Stern, who continues her involvement today by chairing a diversity committee.  

One experience Stern will never forget from her undergraduate years is time spent in the newsroom. Notably, Stern immersed herself into the world of Connect2Mason, the online student-run news website that was the precursor to the Fourth Estate. Despite never having written hard news before, Stern jumped into investigative journalism head-first. As News Director, Stern covered campus events, local weather, the 2008 primaries, and the presence of pharmaceuticals in Fairfax County tap water.  

“A lot of my favorite memories are from the newsroom, where I think I started out as a copy editor […] I just remember a lot of long nights that turned into mornings,” Stern recalled. Now in the field of publishing, Stern looks back fondly at her time chasing the 24/7 news cycle: “I feel like I did not sleep for four years – and it was amazing.” 

In the near 40 stories under her name, what is most evident about Stern is her authenticity. One of her most-read articles was a personal account of surviving sexual assault, which included a link to her speech at Take Back the Night in 2007. 

“The lifelong learning bug bit me.”

Being part of the Honors College meant Stern was constantly encountering new ideas in her classes and on her floor in Presidents Park. “I absolutely loved the concept of these multidisciplinary courses. They made so much more intuitive sense to me than the traditional curriculum from a university.” She described her experience as “provocative and stimulating and interesting. It was an educational experience I really honestly can’t articulate […] I had never been so excited about learning before.” 

Stern particularly notes how the people in the Honors College made all the difference in her academic learning and personal growth. “The professors in the Honors College, their passion for what they taught was very well translated into the classroom,” she explained, reminiscing on the conversations that always left the classroom with her. “The lifelong learning bug bit me.” 

“My career was kind of a mistake at first, in a way, but I’m very happy that it happened.”

After graduation, Stern worked on the editorial side of scholarly publishing for the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society of Hematology. Although she initially found the content of her work uninspiring, Stern eventually rediscovered that “spark for insatiable learning” she had felt during her years in the Honors College after reading an article on epigenetics. In biology, epigenetics is the study of how environmental factors can alter genetic code. Stern recounts her sense of excitement: “I fell in love with my work and spent most of my waking hours learning about behavioral epigenetics, DNA methylation, trauma and epigenetic inheritance...pretty much whatever I could get my hands on.” This defining moment set Stern on a new trajectory.  

Subsequently, Stern began work for the American Psychiatric Association before moving to her current position as a Peer Review Coordinator for the American Psychological Association. Her sudden drive to learn more about epigenetics reaffirmed her choice of career in publishing and its multidisciplinary intersections with science and medicine. “My career was kind of a mistake at first, in a way, but I’m very happy that it happened.” For Stern, Elle Magazine is no longer the dream.  

If Stern could give any advice, it would be to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities available in the Honors College and in life to practice “empathy and deep listening.” Her capacity for storytelling and attention to equity pervades Stern’s work from her time as an undergraduate to now. “I think in terms of soft skills, that is something that I am very thankful to have cultivated at Mason,” she explains. Her wisdom is simple: “You should treat everyone as if they have a story.”