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Graduation Profile: Environmental justice leader is force for positive change

May 19, 2020   /   by Mariam Aburdeineh

Since coming to Mason, graduating senior Emma Gregory has capitalized on experiential learning opportunities, including interning with the world-renowned Nature Conservancy. Photo provided.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have physically closed campus, but that hasn’t stopped students such as graduating senior Emma Gregory from making an impact.

“I’m really passionate about the way that people engage with the environment and the way that the environment influences people’s health and their culture,” said Gregory, an environmental science and policy student in George Mason University’s Honors College.

As president and founder of the student organization Mason Environmental Justice Alliance, Gregory and other student leaders planned the Virginia Environmental Justice Summit for late March. When holding the conference in-person was no longer an option, they quickly re-structured it for online.

“We engaged about 75 students throughout the state of Virginia around environmental justice issues that are impacting local Virginia communities [such as] mining and pipelines, water quality and access, and food justice,” Gregory said.

Gregory received a Community Engagement Medallion from Mason's Social Action & Integrative Learning (SAIL) office for her community service. Gregory and members of Alpha Kappa Chi are shown planting trees in their community.

Even before enrolling at Mason, the university was part of Gregory’s academic journey. As a high schooler, she attended the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment (WYSE) hosted by Mason, National Geographic Society, and the Smithsonian Institution.

“It’s always broken my heart to see the way that humanity has treated nature,” Gregory said. “I have always been passionate about [the environment], and WYSE opened up my eyes to the opportunities that I could make it into a career.”

Since coming to Mason, Gregory has capitalized on experiential learning opportunities, including interning with the world-renowned Nature Conservancy, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and Mason’s Office of Sustainability and Parking and Transportation Services.

Gregory studied sustainability and conservation in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo provided.

She also studied environmental humanities and natural resource conservation abroad in Oxford, participated in a study abroad program to the Peruvian Amazon, and spent “the best semester of [her] academic career” learning about biodiversity at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation.

“My favorite thing about Mason is that you really can take your education and your interests and run with them,” Gregory said, adding that University Career Services and professors such as Stephanie Lessard-Pilon, Jim McNeil, Cynthia Smith and Dann Sklarew supported her along the way.

“They were great mentors, gave me a lot of advice, and were always willing to help me out, even outside of the classroom,” Gregory said.

Empowering people to make conservation-minded decisions and engaging people in the environmental movement are Gregory’s main goals, she said. After graduating, she wants to work for an environmental nonprofit, doing community outreach.

Her professors think she is poised to do so.

“Emma is incredibly smart, thoughtful and dedicated; she understands the science of the environment, but also understands that to make an impact, you have to work with people,” Lessard-Pilon said. “My students often leave me optimistic about the future, but Emma stands out as someone with the potential to create lasting change.” 

Gregory spent "the best semester of [her] academic career" learning about biodiversity at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation. From left to right: Stephanie Lessard-Pilon, Gregory, Jim McNeil. Photo provided.