Student profile: Justin Mason, MSUS '19

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 While some cities in Pennsylvania, such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, have enthusiastically adopted clean energy sources, not all corners of the Commonwealth are quite on board. Take Northwest PA, home to the City of Erie, where Master of Sustainability student Justin Mason, MSUS ’19 is from, and where, Mason says, “there is a proverbial blackout on solar.” 

“Erie is home to the poorest ZIP Code in Pennsylvania,” says Mason. “The price of utilities there needs to be addressed, since a higher utility bill can mean less money for food and medicine.”  

According to Mason, one solution to this challenge could be solar power for low-to-moderate-income families—the focus of his master’s thesis with advisor, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Technology Iris Grossmann, Ph.D.

“Chatham provided me with academic mentors that were receptive to my blue-collar background and supportive of my green-collar aspirations,” he says.

While finishing his thesis, Mason is installing solar panels for an Erie-based solar energy company called Solar Revolution, where he’s working to make a change from the inside. Solar Revolution is primarily focused on commercial solar panel installation, but “I’m trying to convince my boss that smaller-scale solar energy production in households or neighborhoods—what we call ‘community solar’—is the right direction for us,” he says. Mason also works to convince state and local government leaders of the viability of solar energy by campaigning for green legislation and more sustainable mandates for corporations.

There are, of course, critics of Mason’s ideas. “I have heard a statement to the effect of ‘community solar doesn't matter to someone living in a low-income living situation’. My question is how doesn't it matter?” Mason says. “Everyone wants cleaner air, soil, and water. Just because someone is living economically challenged does not mean they do not care about the environment.” In addition to its material benefits, sustainable energy has cultural positives. “Solar is not only sustainable, it’s inspiring,” Mason says. “A young person sees panels on a roof and they just might be inspired to live sustainably. They might want to be a solar-cell scientist.”

As for Mason’s future, he’s open to possibility. “Who knows, maybe one day work I’ll in the motorsports industry encouraging environmental preservation. For now, I am going to continue to work towards advancing renewable energies, specifically solar, in my region.”