For this graduate, exploration and investigation are a way of life

woman at the Washington monument
Mason biology major Natalie VanderNoot says her experiences as a Mason Ambassador made the greatest impact on her. Photo provided

George Mason University senior Natalie VanderNoot’s college experience has been defined by the supportive community of friends she found in the University Scholars program at the Honors College.

“Many of the people that I now consider my lifelong friends are members of my Scholars cohort,” VanderNoot said.

Graduating with a bachelor of science in biology and minor in health, disease, and culture, VanderNoot is headed to Brown University this fall to pursue a master’s degree in public health.

To VanderNoot, public health is a way to connect science with important social issues. She is particularly interested in the ways chemical exposures early in life or during embryonic development affect child development through adolescence.

woman in mask in front of research poster
Natalie VanderNoot presenting her research. Photo by Evan Cantwell/ Creative Services

"Because these scientific questions are inextricably linked with environmental justice and vulnerable communities, I’ve decided to pursue a public health degree to be a well-rounded researcher,” VanderNoot said.

After completing clinical research at Inova Fairfax Hospital through Mason’s HHS 49 Clinical Research Internship, VanderNoot continued working there through the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program of the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR). She enjoyed the opportunity to take on increasing levels of independence and ask her own research questions.

“Natalie is truly, at her core, a researcher,” said Eva Bramesco, director of the University Scholars Program. “Exploration and investigation are her way of life. Natalie is naturally curious, skilled at uncovering and identifying valuable insights, and gifted in her ability to consider a question or issue fully."

VanderNoot made the most of the opportunities that came her way.

“Natalie’s work ethic and flexibility allowed her to create meaningful research experiences during her undergraduate studies,” said Ali Weinstein, associate professor of Global and Community Health. “These experiences have really set her up to hit the ground running in her graduate studies.”

VanderNoot applied the same curiosity and enthusiasm toward her extracurricular activities, which included Patriots for Health Assistance, the Honors College Recruitment Team, and serving as an undergraduate research peer leader in OSCAR.

But she says her experiences as a Mason Ambassador made the greatest impact on her.

“I came to college very nervous about meeting new people far from home, and I joined ambassadors to push myself outside my comfort zone,” said VanderNoot. She is grateful for the people she met and the skills she developed.

Even though Mason is the largest public research university in Virginia, VanderNoot said that the campus feels like a small world. After spending several semesters studying remotely in her home state of New Hampshire during the pandemic, VanderNoot was ready to return to Mason in person.

“I loved coming back to campus and running into people from classes, clubs, my old residence halls, or friends of friends,” she said. “Even at a university so large, it’s impossible to come to campus without running into someone I know. I will miss the sense of welcome and familiarity that go along with that.”