Celebrating stories of personal growth from these graduating seniors

Gabrielle Jackson, Community Health

Gabrielle Jackson came to Mason because she said she wanted to be close to Washington, D.C., and she admired the friendliness and diversity of the campus. She also appreciated Mason’s interdisciplinary approach to community, global and public health.

“I wanted to be well-versed in the social and economic issues affecting health access,” Jackson, 22, said. “I was able to get the big picture view of community health at Mason.”

Jackson has taken on a number of leadership and mentoring roles while at Mason, including resident advisor, peer student success coach and peer research mentor.

Jackson of Voorhees, New Jersey, is a member of the Honors College and is a University Scholar, Mason’s most prestigious merit scholarship. Jackson, who minored in Spanish, said she was grateful for the opportunities she had to travel and learn about other countries.

That will continue as Jackson, with a Fulbright Scholarship will be a teaching assistant in Colombia, teaching English and math, and providing additional support to professionals who wish to improve their English. The program is on hold until at least January 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jackson spent a semester in Mason’s study-abroad program in Spain and traveled with Mason to Cuba. In 2018, Jackson received the prestigious Boren Award for International Study to spend a summer learning Portuguese in Brazil.

“That was a pivotal Mason experience for me,” Jackson said. “It was a chance to challenge myself.”

After graduation, Jackson will be working as a project assistant at Justice & Sustainability Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based firm specializing in alternative dispute resolution in public policy and civic engagement.

— Anna Stolley Persky


Patrick Grady, Government and International Politics

Patrick Grady really took advantage of the Mason’s proximity to Washington, D.C., while working on his degree in government and international politics with minors in criminology, law and society and legal studies.

The Honors College student from Kennebunkport, Maine, interned on Capitol Hill with his state representatives, Congressman Jared Golden and Senator Susan Collins, and Maine’s Democratic Party.

His service work wasn’t limited to the Hill; Grady was also very active in Student Government and as resident advisor. He also led the student organization InvestinYOUth, a youth mentoring program with at-risk high school students.

In his junior year, he received a prestigious Truman Scholarship, which provides $30,000 for graduate work for those pursuing public service careers. Grady has deferred graduate school until a later date and has accepted a year-long Truman-Albright Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Rural Health Policy.

“One of the issues I will be focusing on is the opioid epidemic and more broadly drug misuse and mortality in rural populations,” he said. “I want to investigate what policies are needed to curb the issue and ultimately move our country to a place where this is no longer a problem.”

Of his time at Mason, Grady said, “I think what made Mason such a great place for me was being in an environment where I was exposed to so many different people and ideas while also being encouraged to do well in my classes and make an impact in my community. It was the perfect formula for me to learn and find direction.

— Colleen Kearney Rich


Ben Rhoades, Environmental and Sustainability Studies

Ben Rhoades said he didn’t realize the breadth of environmental science before he came to Mason. That is why it’s been difficult for him to decide on a master’s program, and why he is looking for a job.

“I’ve learned about all these issues and academic fields,” said Rhoades, who recently researched the amount of microplastics in the Potomac River. “I want to be involved before I narrow it down for the rest of my career.”

A member of the Honors College and a University Scholar,  Rhoades, of Midlothian, Virginia, said his Mason experience has been one of personal and academic growth.

Never a joiner, Rhoades has been part of Roosevelt @ Mason, a nonpartisan student policy organization; Green Patriots; the Mason Environmental Justice Alliance, which advocates for diversity in the environmental movement; and Alpha Kappa Chi, the environmental science professional fraternity.

“I could never have expected everything I got out of Mason,” Rhoades said. “The professors were amazing. I never thought I’d be doing undergraduate research, but that’s been a defining part of my time at Mason.”

— Damian Cristodero


Sarah Richart, Conflict Analysis and Resolution

While working as a waitress at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon last summer, Sarah Richart’s coworkers instantly noticed the patient way she dealt with the elderly. While some people might have gotten frustrated with them, Richart said she found them delightful.

“My whole life I’ve gotten along with older people, and my grandmother and I were very close,” said Richart, an Honors College student from Philadelphia. “It hit me this summer that this is something I could do with my conflict resolution degree.”

Richart said her senior capstone project is centered on the experiences of elderly refugees, and she’s already been applying for jobs that would allow her to connect elderly refugees with helpful services.

“I’ve really had a great time,” Richart said. “The thing I loved most about my time at Mason is that there are so many different things I can be involved in.”

That includes running Division I cross country and track, being a Peacebuilding Fellow who interned with Churches for Middle East Peace, studying international security in Switzerland, and pursuing research through the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR), she said.

Whether it was researching how female authors like Zelda Fitzgerald had their narratives influenced by their husbands, or finding ways to combine her passions, Richart’s Mason experience “has been a dream come true,” she said. 

— Mariam Aburdeineh


Zaria Talley, English

Zaria Talley has been busy in her four years at Mason. She’s majoring in English with concentrations in literature, and writing and rhetoric, and minored in African and African American Studies and Criminology, Law and Society.

The Honors College member worked as a Mason Ambassador; an editor for Volition, an undergraduate literary and arts journal; and on the communication team and as a peer mentor for the Honors College.

“Getting involved with Volition and becoming an editor was really a big stepping point in moving my career and advancing what I want to do after graduation,” Talley said. “Volition has been a big part of my Mason experience.”

As a Mason Ambassador, Talley was the first face some incoming freshmen saw on campus, and that experience can be pivotal. At Volition, she helped create an expressive community for students.

About the Honors College, she said, “Being able to work as a mentor and help guide [freshmen] through their Mason journey, give them some advice on what I learned … it was a good opportunity for me.”

Talley has a post-graduation job lined up in editing and publishing.

— Delaney Harrison


Farhaj Murshed, Applied statistics

It was the kind of rare opportunity that few ever have, let alone a young college student. Farhaj Murshed spent the latter part of 2018 in his native Bangladesh doing fieldwork that would help better inform policymakers about organ trafficking. Talking with legal and illegal kidney donors, the Honors College student in the Volgenau School of Engineering gathered critical information needed to protect those most vulnerable from unscrupulous dealings.

It was the fourth time Murshed had been funded by Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research (OSCAR). His research mentor’s team received additional funding from the National Science Foundation.

“It was a great experience,” said Murshed, 22, from Lorton, Virginia, “and it felt great to know that you’re contributing to the field of research you’re in and making an impact. I feel I was able to do that.”

Murshed was also selected for a Critical Language Scholarship, and spent the first half of 2018 in India, honing his skills in Bangla.

— John Hollis