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Girl in greenhouse surrounded by plants

Xiaoxia Zhang, who is a member of the Sustainability Living Learning Community, wants to set up an organic garden for her parents in China.

Finding A Growth Opportunity

When Xiaoxia Zhang arrived at George Mason University from Beijing, China, she had a difficult time deciding whether to major in psychology or environmental science. She decided on psychology, but she is able keep up with her interest in the environment through the Sustainability Living Learning Community, where she has lived for two years.

Living Learning Communities, called LLCs, provide Mason students with the opportunity to live among people who share the same interests or majors. LLCs have been available at Mason for almost 20 years and continue to grow in popularity.

Mason now hosts 16 communities that vary in topic from Sustainability to Leadership and Community Engagement. Major-based LLCs cater to students majoring in the arts, business and economics, and engineering. The Honors College LLC is a popular one, filling three residence halls this year. Some LLCs are exclusively for freshmen; others combine freshmen with upper-class students.

All members of the LLC share a common class. For Zhang and her community, that class is NCLC 275 Leadership for Sustainability, led by New Century College Associate Professor Andrew Wingfield. The class gives students the opportunity to engage with on-campus sustainability initiatives by visiting the Potomac Heights garden or donning bee suits at one of the campus apiaries.

The LLC also has a field trip each fall in which  they travel to Assateague Island National Seashore in Berlin, Maryland, to build and repair fences on the sand dunes. “We always see ponies on the beach,” said Zhang.

But gardening is where her interests lie. “I’m a foodie, and I have to try everything.”

When she returns to China after graduation, she plans to set up an organic garden for her parents for when they retire.

As a part of the LLC, Zhang helped build a rainwater garden outside Piedmont Hall, where the LLC resides, and worked on the Presidents Park Hydroponic Greenhouse, which provides produce for Mason Dining.

“I wish the greenhouse was bigger,” says Zhang. “There is nothing like eating something you’ve grown yourself.”