George Mason University

News at Mason

Scholars program a ‘stepping stone’ for students and (maybe) the planet

June 5, 2019   /   by Damian Cristodero

Darryl Acker-Carter

George Mason University students Aishah Nyeta Brown and Darryl Acker-Carter have no doubt they are in for a life-changing experience.

The rising juniors, both of whom are majoring in environmental and sustainability studies, have been selected as Global Sustainability Scholars, a National Science Foundation and Future Earth program focusing on global sustainable development that trains undergraduate students from groups underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. During three summers, students travel abroad, conduct research and build their professional networks.

“There’s no way you can go through such an intensive program, bonding with different people, experiencing so many different things, and be the same person coming out,” Acker-Carter said.

This is the first year of the Global Sustainability Scholars Program.

Nine students were selected from applications nationwide. The students will focus their sustainability research on the food, energy and water nexus, and this summer they will work with researchers in Seattle, Berlin and Bristol, England.

The six-week (June 24-August 2) program includes funding for the students’ food, travel and accommodations. Mason partnered with the program to fund two students in the 2019 cohort, program coordinator María Fernanda Enríquez said. Brown and Acker-Carter applied with other Mason students, she said.

Aishah Nyeta Brown

“It’s going to be a great opportunity within the field of applied sustainability research,” said Andrew Wingfield, director of Mason’s environmental and sustainability studies major and an associate professor in the School of Integrative Studies. “They will make connections that will open doors in the future for grad schools and professional opportunities. It’s a great stepping stone.”

Mason’s Institute for a Sustainable Earth was instrumental in forming a partnership with the Global Sustainability Scholars program to provide this opportunity for students. 

“Both Aishah and Darryl are excellent students with a passion for making our world more sustainable. This deeply engaged learning experience will be transformational due to the exposure to different approaches to sustainability science, the connections with others in their cohort, and the opportunity to learn from leading scientists in other countries.” said Aurali Dade, executive director of Mason’s Institute for a Sustainable Earth.


The rigorous application process required students to write six short essays exploring questions such as why field research is important, the students’ future plans and the relationship between social equity and sustainability.

Another essay question asked what college courses would make a student an effective voice for sustainability. For Brown, that meant language courses in Swahili and Zulu. Learning both, she said, would allow her to communicate with about 150 million people who speak one of those languages.

“In America we are taught very Eurocentric languages,” Brown said. “Then how do you communicate with the rest of the world, maybe in Africa? You have to learn languages to communicate sustainability effectively in those places.”

“They’re trying to build change leaders,” Sharon Spradling, academic program coordinator in environmental and sustainability studies at Mason, said of the program. “They need someone who is a good student and a well-rounded person to be a future leader. Aishah definitely fits that bill.”

The program fits the bill for the students as well.

Acker-Carter said he is eager to see how he responds to different environments and cultures.

Brown said the experience will enhance her fall project, funded by Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research (OSCAR), in which she will create a multimedia art project that will feature original music and focus on how humans are affecting the planet. Brown said she wants to study how the video will affect the audience view on the subject.

“I’m excited because this opportunity is something I worked hard for, and that I’m ready for,” said Brown, who already has released a collection of songs on YouTube. “I’m also excited for the people who might get to feel the effects of something awesome we could come up with.”

“I’ll get to talk about the energy sector, politics, the food sector,” Acker-Carter said of the program. “I’m really excited to see how I grow personally from this experience.”