George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University
Meet a Student

Ben Rhoades

2020, 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."

— Ben Rhoades, Honors College Environmental and Sustainability Studies senior

Honors College senior Ben Rhoades practicing Monarch tagging at Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation as part of the Wildlife Ecology & Conservation program.

Honors College senior Ben Rhoades practicing Monarch tagging at Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation as part of the Wildlife Ecology & Conservation program. Photo by Robert Barrett.

Ben Rhoades is always engaged with the world around him. He's been on the sustainability scene throughout his four years at Mason — from talking climate change policy with President Cabrera to protesting Virginia pipelines — and regularly gets involved with environmental research. Now a senior, Rhoades looks to the future.

"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."

Rhoades, an Environmental and Sustainability Studies major with a minor in Photography, actively seeks out opportunities that will help him gain the experience he needs to achieve these goals. Some of his first steps in the right direction were through 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."

In Honors 240 with Professor Johanna Bockman’s Reading the Past, Rhoades engaged with the big picture of economic systems and injustice, which are now at the heart of much of the activism he does surrounding climate change.

Last fall he studied in the Wildlife Ecology & Conservation (WEC) track at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC). His research investigated conserving landscapes and wildlife, fields of study that are instrumental for mitigating climate change.

“Natural systems and ecosystems tend to be good at storing carbon, and that is something we need to start working on really quickly.”

As part of a research project that wrapped up his semester at SMSC, Rhoades worked with the Clifton Institute, an organization in Warrenton, Virginia. Under the guidance of a mentor, he looked at the effects of fires and historical burning on the growth of invasive Chinese Lespedeza, or bush clover, in wildlife areas and agricultural settings.

Outside of SMSC, Rhoades has been involved in other environmental research trough 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 and more recently evaluating the presence of microplastics in the tidal Potomac River. Both opportunities familiarized Rhoades with experimental design, data collection, and working as part of a collaborative research team: “[They were] really invaluable experiences.” This semester, he is using the HNRS 361 Multidisciplinary Research Seminar to create a scholarly presentation and publishable article about his microplastics research.

With his undergrad almost completed, Rhoades reflects on all the opportunities Mason has presented him with for success. One opportunity he wishes he could have taken greater advantage of is the Patriot Green Fund, which provides one-hundred thousand dollars annually in grants for environment-related projects on-campus. “There’s nowhere else on campus where a student can say, ‘hey, I want this [project to happen].’” Students can raise an application, have it reviewed, and go through a process for funding and implementation.

Rhoades’s recommendation for his peers is to make the most of the privileges they have and use those privileges to make a 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 academic resources that they get through the library, their professors, and their peers with the political resources that they have — increased media attention, increased freedom, and time to exercise free speech and association” to advocate for a better future.


Student profile by Honors College Communications intern Sophia Chapin

Ben Rhoades (left) and Elizabeth Rush (right) presenting their Summer Team Impact Grant project at the OSCAR research exhibition.

Ben Rhoades (left) and Elizabeth Rush (right) presenting their Summer Team Impact Grant project at the OSCAR research exhibition.