Skip to main content

Sustainability student finds his niche

Student Max Scott poses holding Pitchfork Award
April 11, 2012

Sustainability senior Max Scott has a lot to be proud of. As the president and founder of the country’s first Honor Society for Sustainability, he recently won the Outstanding Student Leader award at the Pitchfork Awards for demonstrating excellence in leadership.

A humble leader, Scott considers the award a victory for his collective team and their group’s efforts.

“I was really surprised that I won," he says. "It was the first award I’ve ever gotten and it was an outstanding victory for my team and my organization. I have made mistakes in the past and haven’t always done my best, but I have realized my potential and used that to do something positive. I hope that my story helps others to realize their own potential.”

When he graduates next month, he will proudly wear an Honor Society for Sustainability stole made from 100 percent recycled bottles. The society’s stoles will be the first of their kind in the world.

Forming the Honor Society for Sustainability

Last year Scott had plans to start a sustainable agriculture consulting company, but couldn’t pull together a solid team of students to support his efforts.

“I knew at the School of Sustainability there were brilliant students with an entrepreneurial drive who wanted to make a difference," he says. "I wondered what those students could do if we put that ambition and drive together and made a network of students."

When he learned that no such organization existed, he decided to create one.

With help from faculty across the University and the Association of College Honor Societies, Scott played a key role in designing how they would implement the project over the next several years.

He credits an “awesome team of motivated students” for helping get the honors society going in its early days. They regularly have about a dozen students at each meeting, with plans to grow and expand to other schools.

“Any student that wants to make a difference in sustainability can amplify that difference by working with others,” Scott says. “Joining the Honor Society for Sustainability connects you with other students and soon, others around the country, who can get together and work for the collective good.”

Scott also credits the guidance of mentor Nalini Chhetri, a Senior Sustainability Scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability and teaching faculty at the School of Sustainability.

“Nalini believes in sustainability and it shows," Scott says. "She believes in social change and that students and society can make a difference. We as students share that belief. She has applied her wisdom to educate us in a realistic way, while safeguarding our activism from those who seek to undermine it."

Path to ASU

Born in Alabama, Scott and his military family moved 10 times in 20 years. He has lived in half a dozen states, Puerto Rico and England.

In 2008, Scott’s father, a helicopter pilot with the United States Coast Guard, retired to Mesa and his son made plans to attend ASU after spending a year at a local community college.

Although Scott describes moving around so many times growing up as “fun and cool,” he also classifies it as a learning experience and one of personal growth.

After getting his pilot’s license when he moved to Arizona, Scott realized that his passions lay elsewhere and decided not to become a helicopter pilot like his father.  

A lover of learning, Scott enrolled in ASU after its interdisciplinary learning curriculum drew him in. He studied history for one year because he thought he wanted to be a history professor. At the end of his first year as a Sun Devil, he contemplated changing his major. He became a double major in sustainability and political science.

Next year he will attend the London School of Economics and study international relations. Scott plans to enroll in the school’s dual-degree program with George Washington University. He aspires to become a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department.

“When I moved around growing up, I learned how to make friends and manage people," he says. "I could call upon those skills to achieve diplomatic goals for my country. I can adapt to change and use leadership and management skills to catalyze global change."

Scott is thankful for the guidance and wisdom he received from influential mentors during his time at ASU.

“ASU changed my life because the people I met here didn’t tell me ‘no’ when I had dreams. Because of the mentorship at ASU, and the way they’ve believed in me, I was able to believe in myself.  With that, I completed 46 credit hours this school year and didn’t get less than A-. I ran in the Rock n’ Roll marathon.”

Outside the classroom

This summer will be the third that Scott spends in Alaska as an emergency fire fighter for the Alaska Fire Service. After being contracted to drive a support truck of helicopter gear from New Mexico to Alaska several years ago, this position with the Bureau of Land Management fell into place.

“I believe in the value of protecting our wilderness and our natural places,” he says. “I want to do my part to sustain those areas and I enjoy hard work; I enjoy the challenge of being far away from home.”

For the last three years, he has worked with autistic and mentally challenged children. His work includes hand-eye coordination, teaching how to read and write, daily life skills, and more.

“One of the things I’m most proud of in my life is over the course of the last three years, the child I work with was re-diagnosed from moderate to mild retardation," he says.

Looking ahead

His advice to future leaders in and out of sustainability is to discover their passions early on and work hard to achieve their goals.

“Success is different for every person," Scott says. "I’m very ambitious and I have clear goals. Figure out what you’re good at, what in your heart is going to make you happy. Figure out what your niche in life is and how you’re going to pursue that. Don’t make any excuses for why you’re not whole-heartedly in pursuit of that goal."

Scott is in a much different place in his life now than he was a few years ago.

“Five years ago I was worried about not graduating high school. I attribute my success to the relationships I’ve had with faculty and staff at the School of Sustainability and other team members in the honor society,” he says. “It shows that if you believe in yourself and you don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, you stop making excuses and you can do anything. Anything is possible.”

Written by Kathleen Gormley

Media contact:
Carol Hughes