Ben Rhoades in Spring 2020 with a B.A. in Environmental and Sustainability Studies, after making an impact on environmental issues at Mason.
From talking about climate change policy with President Cabrera to protesting Virginia pipelines, Ben was a constant presences in conversations about sustainability and environmental justice during his four years at Mason.
Since graduating, Rhoades has been working with the Reston Association as a Watershed Specialist, assisting with the maintenance of water resources within Reston, Virginia. “It has been a great way to apply the skills I learned in Mason's Environmental Studies program and get work outdoors,” says Rhoades. As a Watershed Specialist, Ben works as part of a team responsible for the water quality of the lakes, drainage and erosion issues, boating, and recreational water activities. “It’s been a great experience coming right out of college and being able to practice some of the things about water conservation that I learned over the course of my time at Mason in the Environmental Studies department.”
Before graduating, Rhoades knew that he wanted to continue working in sustainability, "whether I’m an ecologist or some kind of social scientist, [I'd like to] generally [be] working to restore or improve ecosystems for the better of life, to improve and mitigate climate change, or working within social institutions to improve rights... within the context of climate change.”
Now, Rhoades’ career aligns with his long-term goal of improving ecosystems, and many of the first steps towards his career came from his experiences in the Honors College. "I don’t think I would necessarily be aware of all of the issues [or] the entirety of the issues that I want to deal with without the Honors College."
As early as his freshman year at Mason, Rhoades knew he was passionate about environmental sustainability. Through his Honors 110 course, the Principles of Research and Inquiry component of the Honors College, Rhoades conducted literature research on photography in environmental education. In Honors 240: Reading the Past, with Professor Johanna Bockman, Rhoades was introduced to the big picture of economic systems and injustice, which are at the heart of much of the activism he does surrounding climate change.
Throughout his time at Mason, Ben was involved in additional environmental research through OSCAR’s Summer Team Impact Grants. He’s worked on projects under the program for two summers — the first looking at agricultural fields in Fauquier County. The second summer, Ben researched the presence of microplastics in the tidal Potomac River. Both opportunities familiarized Ben with experimental design, data collection, and working as part of a collaborative research team, all of which he now uses in his career: “[They were] really invaluable experiences.” In 2020, his microplastics research project won the OSCAR Student Excellence Award.
While at Mason, Rhoades studied Wildlife Ecology & Conservation (WEC) at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC) located in Front Royal, Virginia. “It was a great experience not only because of the super-specialized conservation education I was getting from practitioners in the field, but also the experience of having such a small cohort of people living at [the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute] together.”
Even now, Rhoades reflects on the value of a tight-knit academic community. “I am still friends with so many people,” he says of his peers in the Honors College. In addition to staying in touch with his old friends, Rhoades continues to meet and connect with new Honors College students through the Climate Change and Energy Transition reading group facilitated by Honors College Director of Communications, Professor Stafford. He has been enjoying staying in touch with activists from throughout the Mason community, sharing, “I still spend my free time thinking about preserving our global environment and fighting climate change [with other] GMU students and alum.”
As an alumnus, Rhoades reflects on all the opportunities, both in and out of the classroom, that Mason presented for his success. “All of my projects had something to do with the environment or environmental impacts from people; it ties perfectly in with the watershed work I do at the Reston Association.”
Rhoades’ advice for current students is to make the most of the privileges they have and use those privileges to demand change. “Mason students have a lot of power in that they’re at this great point in their lives where they have incredible access to academic resources and political resources. They can combine those [resources]” to advocate for a better future.