Mason’s Impact Fellows Program allows students to combine business and sustainability interests

Mason Impact Fellows work at the Mountain Area Nutritional Needs Alliance (MANNA) Foodbank in Asheville, NC, where the group processed and packed 840 pounds of black beans. Photo by Karen King/School of Business

George Mason University rising junior Ashanti Martin, 20, is passionate about sustainability and, specifically, addressing food insecurity.

Martin recently finished a two-year stint in the Impact Fellows Program, which focuses on helping students learn about how to help businesses achieve sustainable goals. The program is run through the School of Business’s Business for a Better World Center.

The program began in 2020, with Martin’s cohort of 15 students. It provides incoming freshmen an opportunity to join up with like-minded students interested in social and environmental issues.

“Being part of the Impact Fellows Program broke me out of my shell,” said Martin, who is studying management information systems. “It was such a comfortable environment where we were encouraged to be ourselves. Through the program, I got more confidence.”

guy sorting stuff in plastic container
Mason student Hagan Van Deest helps package black beans at North Carolina food bank. Photo by Karen King/School of Business

The next cohort will start in the fall. Participation in the program is fully funded by the School of Business, said Leila G. Austin, assistant professor of business foundations and Impact Fellows co-faculty director

“One of the goals of the program is to attract students from less represented groups, so that it is an inclusive cohort,” Austin said.

Fellows are provided with opportunities through research, internships and collaborations to work with local businesses on tackling global issues, such as sustainability. Faculty and business professionals mentor the students throughout the two years, said Shora Moteabbed, an assistant professor in the Business School and Impact Fellows co-faculty director.

“The entire journey as an Impact Fellow has been very rewarding,” said Naila Ahsan, a rising junior studying management. “I got the most supportive teachers and mentors through the program, who constantly encouraged me to be a better version of myself.”

Asli Baskaya, a rising junior studying marketing, said the program introduced her to people in the business world she might not otherwise have met. Having them not only mentor her but befriend her was a bonus, she added.

large group of students working at a table
Mason students Faith Kim, Ashanti Martin, Selassie Fugar, Oishee Mukhopadhyaya, Riley Benecke and Leila Austin help out at the North Carolina Foodbank. Photo by Karen King/School of Business

The program culminated in a trip to North Carolina, during which the students did volunteer work and met with area nonprofits.

Karen King, assistant professor of business, said that the program is part of a global movement to mold a business curriculum that “creates purposeful young people ready to step into their career.”

“I have always had the goal to become an entrepreneur,” said Kevin Jiang, a rising junior studying business analytics. “Being in the program gave me ideas of how I can do good things in the world while running a business.”

Martin said that through the program she grew more interested in helping in the goal of zero hunger, collaborating with the Patriot Pantry and working with the newly formed Be the Change student organization, which is focused on gender equality and upcycling clothing.

Faith Kim, Ashanti Martin, Selassie Fugar, Oishee Mukhopadhyaya, Riley Benecke, Leila Austin“Being an Impact Fellow has made me realize how much I can do in the community to help,” Martin said.

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