George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Honors College Students Immersed in Nature Hikes and Conservation Career Building

February 4, 2019

From field trips to relaxing hikes, Honors College staff member Kevin Stoy spent the Fall semester connecting students with nature.

Stoy led seven prospective Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC) students on an immersive tour of the Front Royal campus as part of the school’s yearly Conservation Discovery Day.  According to freshman Biology major Julia Hakeem, the Saturday, Oct. 6th trip meant more than just a campus tour.

“I was ecstatic to visit the campus and experience what my summer field ecology professors said [is] the best day of the year,” describes Hakeem.

Conservation Discovery Day – SMSC’s annual autumn event – marks the one day a year that the facility is open to the public.

SMSC logoHonors College students planning for environmental science careers benefitted from the tour’s experiential learning festivities.  Visitors explored professions ranging from wildlife biology to animal care to sustainability.  “Students participated in hands-on activities, research demonstrations, and career panel discussions,” explains Stoy, the Honors College Living Learning Community Coordinator.

Undergraduates engaged with environmental professionals including conservation biologists, field ecologists, veterinarians and animal keepers.  “We also heard from three current Honors College students who are conducting conservation research [at SMSC],” says Stoy, whose favorite aspect of the annual trip is seeing current students learn from one another.

Honors College upperclassmen who are studying at SMSC personally relayed their research to visiting prospective underclassmen.  Projects include gathering data on various species from Virginia large-eared bats to marine critters like mussels.

“It was great that some of the Honors College students took the time to talk to us afterwards,” says Hakeem, who also attended a pollinator workshop.  There, she learned valuable information on the science of bees, later applying those lessons to her HNRS 110 research project.

“[Visiting SMSC] was an amazing experience and a break from my day to day school life,” reflects Hakeem.

Vista from Sky Meadows hiking tripOn the bus ride back from Front Royal, Stoy says several students expressed interest in a hiking trip, a departure from the daily stresses of college schedules.  “I listened to them and organized one,” says Stoy.  He offered students off-campus opportunities to decompress in nature when teaching at the University of Michigan’s New England Literature Program.

“We agreed upon Sky Meadows because there was a fall festival there that we could enjoy after the hike,” explains Stoy, who led the trek on Saturday, Oct. 28th.

Surrounded by vividly colorful autumn leaves, Community Health major Nathan Griffith benefitted from spending time away from bustling campus life.

“After sitting in front of a computer screen or staring down at a textbook, hiking to gorgeous overlooks was breathtaking,” explains Griffith, whose time off helped him earn passing marks on major assignments. “Being able to escape into nature helped me refocus myself more than I can put into words.”

Stoy, like other Honors College staff members, is committed to providing students with healthy and beneficial off-campus opportunities.  SMSC’s 2019 Conservation Discovery Day awaits future prospective students aspiring to protect the planet.  And more nature hikes will continue bringing Honors College students together.

“[Hikes are] not a race up and down the mountain,” says Stoy.  “We stay together as a group, let our imaginations wander.  This way, we can enjoy the sights, smells and sounds mother nature and all her glory tend to offer.”


Original reporting by Jimmy O'Hara. Photo courtesy of Kevin Stoy. SMSC logo courtesy of Smithsonian and Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation.