Students are the lifeblood of the university. They are what drives and inspires all new projects, programs, and courses at Mason. The students below have shown leadership and dedication to sustainability at Mason. In addition to their demanding course loads, they carved time in their schedules to undertake projects, initiatives, or causes toward making Mason more sustainable.
There are few students on Mason’s campus that are as recognizable as Charles Coats. However, to say Charles is just popular is slightly disingenuous; he is widely admired by both his peers and professors for his ability to simultaneously juggle being a full-time student in the Environmental and Sustainability Studies program, an RA, a fundraiser, a member of the Patriot Green Fund Committee, a musician, an organizer, a devoted friend, and an activist. It would not to be inaccurate to say that as only a junior in college, Charles has done more than most full-time professionals. One might wonder how he does it. His secret? "Everything I do, I do with intention. If I don’t care about it 100%, I’m not going to do it. "
Like his preferred type of food, Charles is local in his origin. Charles was born in Fairfax, Virginia, and lived in Manassas throughout his youth. When asked what brought him to Mason, Charles noted that, "I wanted a diverse population, like that found in my high school. All of the other schools seemed to be less diverse, or there was a certain type of person who went to these schools. I went to Mason because it was something I was comfortable with at the time.”
Interestingly, Charles’ close affinity and with nature wasn’t only influenced by his time in Virginia. Charles’ family on the West Coast instilled an appreciation for nature in him. "I have family in Minnesota, Utah, Montana, and Colorado and no matter where I went they had that conservation ethic within them. My folks in Minnesota have 80 acres; they have a conservation easement and get paid to conserve land. In Montana, they live near Glacial Park. The others have large agricultural projects."
As a result of his family’s leadership, Charles felt drawn to projects devoted to conserving local, state, and national parks. At Mason, Charles has managed to apply his passion for conservation by leading various trips as part of the alternative breaks program. This spring break, Charles will be leading a team that will be repairing mangrove forests, repairing park trails, and assisting in conservation efforts in Stuart, Florida.
Interestingly, when asked what issue mattered most to him, Charles noted that he cared the most about an issue other than conservation, "I care about people valuing food the most; knowing what real food is, understanding real food, and valuing it.” Early on, Charles spent time working with WOOF in Glade Springs Virginia, near Abington. During his time there, he was working in a low-income community. The experience led Charles to continue his involvement with food-related work. He has since worked on a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project in Marshall, Virginia, which aided Charles by allowing him to "gain work experience to understand what real food is.” He has also organized conference with Alternative Breaks at Mason on local food’s role in a globalized world. At the conference, Charles was a site leader, a host site partner, and played an instrumental role in seeing the conference’s agenda through.
During his final years at Mason, Charles hopes to make real food more available on campus. Charles has found it difficult to eat healthily as a vegetarian on campus, "There are really not that many outlets…I would like to see dining have a more proactive approach to bringing health foods; I’m talking about foods that help people and the planet.” Knowing Charles’ track record, this will be highly feasible.
When asked what advice he would give to any student at Mason hoping to make a positive impact on a community, Charles advises to remain open to experiences and thankful. "Give more and expect less. I mean that there’s so much good out there. We need numbers and people continuously showing up. We need people to show up without expectations. In the end, if you’re looking at a resume and with these expectations, nothing beats the realization that you’re doing something good for someone else outside of yourself. You learn a lot from that.”