Mason Taylor isn’t your typical undergraduate student.
The energy and sustainability policy (ESP) major tried college just after high school. But he wasn’t ready and didn’t have a goal in his sights. Quickly, he dropped out.
But when he left school he took his parents’ advice: If you lack direction, stay productive, and the direction will come.
He stayed productive. With friends he started a laser engraving business that quickly took hold, earning contracts with elite companies in the fashion and skateboarding industry. He took part-time community college classes when his employer offered a steep discount, earning an associate degree. And — after he left his laser engraving business — he found jobs at several fashion companies, including Gucci, where he now works as a client adviser.
Taylor’s unique experiences make the 29-year-old an ideal candidate for mentoring students, which he does as a laureate in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Academy for Global Experience (EMSAGE) program. It’s a unique program that tasks prospective laureates with achieving success in three of the following areas: scholarship, experiential learning and global literacy, and service. Laureates who excel in these three areas become mentors to other students.
Although he’s a Penn State World Campus student, Taylor feels his life experiences offer something to all students.
For starters, he knows what it’s like to not take the traditional path, or to seize on an opportunity — such as starting a small business — when it presents itself.
“If your plan is to go to college right away and be ready to start your career at age 22, then that’s great. That’s your journey,” Taylor said. “But if you want to explore, that’s fine, too. There’s not just a single pathway to life.”
The student experience is much easier for Taylor now that he has an end goal in mind. He wants to become an expert in environmental sustainability so that he can create meaningful change in industry. He grew up in California loving the outdoors and realized that climate change and other factors threatened the recreational activities he enjoys. When he graduates later this year, he hopes to enter the graduate program at the Yale School of the Environment.
Until then, he’ll be mentoring students.
Taylor said he realized during a 2019 Center for Advanced Undergraduate Studies and Experience (CAUSE) trip — the first time he was physically around like-minded students in nearly a decade — that he had a lot to offer fellow students. And they had a lot to offer him. That’s what sparked his interest in becoming a laureate.
“In this program, I feel like I’m getting guidance and I’m giving guidance,” Taylor said. “And that’s the best situation to be in.”
Grace Kimzey, a senior majoring in meteorology and atmospheric science and a laureate, said the program for her is a way to inspire others to follow their passions through learning, service and travel. She said that’s how she made the most of her Penn State experience, and she wants to pass that on.
Through EMS and the Air Force ROTC program, she found numerous learning opportunities in service, conferences, leadership positions and study abroad experiences. She’s studied renewable energy in Iceland, sustainability in Australia and ocean conservation in Belize.
Kimzey said she knew right away that she wanted to become a laureate because she saw the caliber of student it represented. Those students helped her throughout college, and she’s excited to pay it forward.
The EMSAGE program began in 2009 as a way to honor the college’s elite undergraduate leaders upon graduation but since then morphed to recognize these students before graduation so they could serve as mentors before graduating. It also expanded to include EMSAGE protégés, who are early in their academic career but already have plans to be laureates, and EMSAGE practitioners, who are further along in their quest to be laureates. By creating a community of students at varying points in their Penn State experience, the program fosters relationships where students at each level can play a role in mentoring their peers.
Donovan Moses, a senior majoring in materials science and engineering and a laureate, also was inspired by the last generation of laureates who are recognized on the wall inside the college’s Ryan Family Student Center. He first became an EMSAGE practitioner before becoming a laureate.
As a Millennium Scholar and McNair Scholar at Penn State, Moses has plenty of chances to work with others and expand his education opportunities. But, he said, the EMSAGE program is different because it allows him to build connections across the college and with people outside of his major.
This diverse group of student leaders means students can find help through mentors for just about anything related to the collegiate experience.
“One thing that EMSAGE laureates are trying to do is collective mentoring, where students can pick and choose different aspects and skills that they like from multiple mentors to get exactly what they need,” Moses said. That’s why the college is a perfect environment for mentoring among students.”
And these connections don’t stop at graduation.
“It’s a huge advantage that the EMSAGE community stays together even after graduation, so I’m already building a great network of like-minded people that I can contact whenever I need help in the future,” Moses said.
Karen Marosi, director of student engagement for the college, said in addition to the mentorship network, laureates get to show others that they’re not just good students, they have other valuable skills. And because students are encouraged to find their own unique way to earn achievements in the three key EMSAGE categories, they might find more nontraditional ways of earning their spot. Some students might be active in their community, the military or have had unique life experiences.
Marosi said it’s the close-knit feel of the college that makes the program work.
“Because we are small, we can do this right,” Marosi said. “Our size allows us to have a program like this, really celebrate it, and have it be meaningful for the students. This is just another special way that EMS can foster engagement and recognize it.”
Listed below are the college’s laureates honored in November during a virtual ceremony:
- Cove Klaas-Bentley, petroleum and natural gas engineering
- Amanda Byrd, geography
- Natalie Cummings, materials science and engineering
- Christian Erikson, Earth sciences
- Salix Iverson, meteorology and atmospheric science
- Kelsey Jenkins, materials science and engineering
- Grace Kimzey, meteorology and atmospheric science
- Grant LaChat, meteorology and atmospheric science
- Christopher Long, meteorology and atmospheric science
- Kayla McCauley, meteorology and atmospheric science
- Natalie Mamrol, materials science and engineering
- Elizabeth McIntyre, materials science and engineering
- Jacob Morse, meteorology and atmospheric science
- Donovan Moses, materials science and engineering
- Theresa Novak, materials science and engineering
- Talia Potochny, geography
- Harman Singh, geography
- Mason Taylor, energy and sustainability policy
- Sophie Tessier, geography
- Isabella Urbina, materials science and engineering
- Madeline Vailhe, materials science and engineering
- Nathaniel Vislosky, petroleum and natural gas engineering
- Kaylen Woods, meteorology and atmospheric science