This winter graduate is leaving a legacy of community

Jason Mercado sits on the steps of the Johnson Center with his stoll, Honors medal, and graduation cap.
Photo provided. 

From the moment Jason Mercado, a biology major in the College of Science and a member of the Honors College, came to George Mason University as part of the Student Transition Empowerment Program (STEP), he embraced all the possibilities of campus involvement. From being an orientation leader to working as an environmental field interpreter for school programs, Mercado made the most of his time at Mason. He’s graduating this week with his eyes toward a healthier future for all. 

What made you choose Mason and your major?

First, the diversity. Not just of the student population, but also the diversity of the faculty and staff, the diversity of experiences, and the diversity in all the ways to learn. It was also affordable for me and my family, and it was close to home. 

I picked biology because I’m passionate about research and learning about our ecosystems and the health of our communities. Initially, my goal was to go to medical school, but after learning more about epidemiology, I decided I was more interested in the community-based approach to public health. Every community faces the threat of disease, but they’re affected in different proportions. Like how Latino communities were affected more by COVID-19 than other communities. I think studying those discrepancies and figuring out why that happens will lead to us being able to get those communities the resources they need. So I added the public health minor.

What’s one accomplishment you’re proud of from your time at Mason?

I had the honor of being the president of what is now called the Latino Student Association. I feel very proud of being able to spearhead the largest Latino organization on campus and help the community academically, professionally, and socially. Under my leadership, we created the Unidos Scholarship to give back to our community. We started hosting professional events for members to network with alumni. I think of those things as my legacy. 

What was your favorite event hosted by the Latino Student Association?

Every year we put on Bienvenida Latina to celebrate the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. We collaborate with Mason Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment, Mason First-Gen+, and all the other Latino and Hispanic organizations. We have music and food from different countries.  People sing, play instruments, perform poetry, dance.  It’s a day to celebrate our identity as Latino and share our cultures with the whole campus. 

What is one thing you’ll take from your Mason education and bring to your future career?

My biology degree has definitely strengthened my research capabilities and improved my general knowledge, which will help me pursue a graduate degree. 

I think also the different perspectives that you can get here at Mason have taught me to be more empathetic and approach more situations with an open mind. Mason's not a monolith; there’s a great diversity of perspectives and experiences. I’ve listened to and learned from students and faculty from such diverse backgrounds. Being able to empathize with people and being able to understand where they come from, why they think a certain way, is something I’ll definitely be able to take into wherever I work. 

What are your plans for after graduation?

My plan is to go to graduate school for epidemiology. After that, hopefully I’ll work in a local or state health department. Maybe the Centers for Disease Control. I want to work with and help vulnerable communities. 

If you could give a first-year student advice on how to navigate college, what would you say?  

Get involved. I’ve met and worked with a lot of great people that have helped me land certain jobs at Mason, all because I got to know my faculty and classmates and got involved. So find an organization that interests you, or that relates to your major, and commit to it. Get to know people and run for leadership positions; it’s all valuable experience and connections that can help you later.