2023 Senior of the Year pursues sustainable peacebuilding


Hannah Adamson knew after an 8th-grade trip to Washington, D.C., that the capital region was the place for her.

Hannah Adamson stands in the middle of a spaced group of trees outside on the Fairfax Campus of George Mason University.
Photo by Ron Aira/Office of University Branding 

Driven by a desire to do good in the world, Adamson—who grew up in New Jersey—saw endless possibilities in the dense concentration of NGOs, nonprofits, and government agencies. George Mason University’s proximity to those opportunities initially hooked her, and its strong sense of community and diversity led her to apply.

In the end, it was the Honors College and the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution that made Adamson’s choice clear. “I found the Carter School at one of the academic browsing sessions, and I was really excited about their approach to building unique skills to navigate global challenges,” she said. Combined with her selection as a University Scholar in the Honors College, Adamson felt empowered by the prospects of the education and support she’d receive at Mason. 

Adamson was named the 2023 Senior of the Year by Mason’s Alumni Association. She is graduating this May with a bachelor of arts in conflict analysis and resolution.

Working alongside Hannah has been a true joy,” said one of her nominators, Nick Sherwood, PhD candidate in conflict analysis and resolution and associate director of the Mary Hoch Center for Reconciliation (MHCR). “In the three years we have served together, I have watched Hannah bloom as a serious student-researcher and impactful peacebuilder. Students like Hannah are one in a million and represent the best qualities of both the Carter School and Mason.”

Adamson is a first-generation American, and memories of her mother’s family farm in Northern Ireland inspire her deep connection to and passion for community-led sustainability and conservation. “[At Mason,] I’ve been able to tailor my academic experience to the kind of change-making I want to do, which is melding social healing and reconciliation processes with a passion for sustainability and environmental justice.”

Adamson has applied this philosophy outside of the classroom to her work and internship experiences, which demonstrate her dedication to change-making through community-based healing at both the local and international levels. She was an active member of Mason’s Student Environmental Justice Alliance and one of the co-founders of the Virginia Environmental Justice Summit. She spent a semester in the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation’s (SMSC) residential program, working with the Virginia Grassland Bird Initiative as part of the Conservation, Biodiversity, and Society program. She has also worked with MHCR since 2020 and found further opportunities with them through the Think Peace Learning and Support Hub, its sister organization.

These experiences have extended far beyond Mason’s campuses, taking her to Finland to support Antti Pentikäinen, director of the MHCR, in his ongoing work with the Indigenous Sámi people; to Spain for a semester to build her intercultural education experience; and to Kenya for a regional workshop on integrating mental health and psychosocial support in ongoing peacebuilding processes in the Horn of Africa.

“I never would have thought, when starting at Mason, that I would have the opportunity to grow in my roles and be so hands-on. I think it’s unique for an organization to tell student employees, ‘you take the lead and run with this.’” Adamson's nominators for Senior of the Year noted that her resume is impressive for an undergraduate student and demonstrative of her character, with her dedication to access and equity informing every action.

As a Carter School buddy, an Honors 110 Peer Mentor, and even through a Peacebuilding Fellows project understanding mental health and wellness within Carter, Adamson pays forward the transformative mentorship and experiences she’s been able to receive by helping empower others. She will continue her work as she transitions into Mason’s Accelerated Master’s program, expecting to earn her MS in conflict analysis and resolution in ‘24.

“It took a degree of confidence I didn’t know that I had to be able to step outside of my major and throw myself into the science while studying at SMSC or to work internationally in the field as a student. And I’m proud of myself for saying ‘yes’ and trying.”

Sherwood said of Adamson, “Folks like Hannah will change the world, not just with what they do, but also with who they are. Hannah is a rock star, plain and simple, and I can’t wait to see her evolution in the years to come.”