BOONE, N.C. — Justin Marks, a senior at Appalachian State University, recently announced on national television he wants to “save the world.” Marks, a sustainable development major with a concentration in community, regional and global development, appeared as a contestant on a March episode of NBC’s “Ellen’s Game of Games,” hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.
Marks said his appearance on the show was just a lark, but his desire to save the world — or at least do his part — is serious. He considers himself a community activist, one who strives to make his community a better place by learning about social issues and the environment, volunteering and educating others about the needs of a community.
Community service and involvement have highlighted Marks’ Appalachian Experience:
- He acts as service chair and philanthropy chair for Phi Gamma Delta, organizing fundraising and work projects at various nonprofit service organizations in the Greater Boone area. Marks increased the fraternity chapter’s number of service hours and was named its New Member of the Year in 2018 in recognition of his work.
- He volunteers for Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT) service experiences in the community and worked as a service adviser in the ACT Community Outreach Center in 2019.
- He serves as a fundraising intern at F.A.R.M. Cafe in Boone, a pay-what-you-can community kitchen that provides high-quality meals to feed all, regardless of means.
- He is employed as a shelter associate at Hospitality House in Boone, a shelter and food provider for people experiencing homelessness.
Todd Carter, director of development at Hospitality House, said he was impressed as Marks transitioned from a regular volunteer to an employee at the center. “We love Justin’s energy. He brings such positivity and just lifts people up,” Carter said.
Shaped by the out-of-doors
A native of Roswell, Georgia, Marks said he spent many of his summers in the Florida Keys, where he snorkeled, fished and enjoyed the outdoors. He also visited family in Blowing Rock, and said he loved the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.
When he heard about the sustainable development (SD) major at App State, he said his college choice was easy.
“App State felt like a perfect fit for me,” Marks said. “I love the planet and want to protect it, and the SD program is one of the big drivers that brought me here.”
Marks said he’d been inspired by Dr. Rebecca Witter and Dr. Brian Burke, assistant professor and associate professor, respectively, in App State’s Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development. Witter’s long-term research focuses on conservation topics in southern Africa, and Burke’s interests include political ecology and activism projects for environmental and socioeconomic change in Latin America and the U.S.
Marks said he was also influenced by Dr. Cuong Mai, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion.
“I think there is overlap between religious studies and sustainable development. We have a lot of interfaith leaders speaking out about climate change and protecting our Earth, and that helps get the message out to people,” Marks said.
Giving back — in Boone and abroad
Learning about the needs of other countries led Marks to participate in an App State Alternative Service Experience during spring break 2019, when he had the opportunity to work at the Las Casas de la Selva sustainable forestry and rainforest enrichment project in Puerto Rico. While there, he learned about sustainable economic development and management of tropical forests, as well as about the lives of the U.S. territory’s people.
“This experience widened my worldview and made me eager to keep learning, to be a student for life,” Marks said. “I feel like I’ve had a great personal transformation during my time at App State.”
“I’ve felt like such a part of the community here, and I wanted to give back,” he said. “When I started learning about social change and active citizenship, I saw how much opportunity there is to help others and cultivate positive change in the community.”
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About the Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development
One of seven departments housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development at Appalachian State University prepares students to thoughtfully analyze human development while focusing on the applied practice of pursuing transformative, community-driven development and social change. It offers a Bachelor of Science degree in sustainable development with concentrations in agroecology and sustainable agriculture; community, regional and global development; and environmental studies; as well as a Bachelor of Arts and minor in sustainable development. Learn more at https://sd.appstate.edu.
About the College of Fine and Applied Arts
Appalachian State University’s College of Fine and Applied Arts is a dynamic and innovative group of seven academic departments, bringing together a variety of perspectives, experiences and real-world education to provide unique opportunities for student success. The college has more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate majors. Its departments are Applied Design, Art, Communication, Military Science and Leadership, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment, and Theatre and Dance. Learn more at https://faa.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.