When Faith Taylor ’19 decided to research coral in the Bahamas, the first thing she had to do was learn how to breathe underwater.
“I had never snorkeled before, so I had to learn how not to drown,” laughed Taylor, of Columbia, MD.
The marine science–biology major, who was the 2016 recipient of the Timothy M. Smith Inspiration Through Exploration Award, spent five days on the Abaco Islands, where she compared the current health of a reef that had been studied 52 years prior.
Taylor heard about the award through her Pathways to Honors course as a first-year student where she was required to write a draft application for practice. When she received positive feedback from her professor, Taylor decided to submit it for real.
“I didn’t think I’d get it as a freshman,” she said. “Having that relationship with my professors was incredibly helpful.”
Taylor’s Introduction to Marine Science professor, Michael Slattery, helped Taylor craft her research project and assisted in its implementation in the Bahamas. The two hope to continue researching the area in summers to come and present their findings at a conference and in an academic journal.
“It was amazing that he was able to help along the way,” said Taylor, a President’s Leadership Fellow and vice president of UT’s Environment Protection Coalition. “I learned a lot, and that it’s hard to do alone.”
Slattery and his wife were planning on taking a vacation anyway, so the opportunity aligned well, and he saw it as an opportunity to facilitate the professional growth of a student.
“When you have the opportunity to engage with a student having Faith’s drive to get involved with marine science and ability (proactively on her own in this case) you just can’t let that chance pass you by,” said Slattery. “For me it’s an opportunity to further engage with a delightful student showing incredible promise as a professional. Ultimately, it’s a lot of fun getting involved with students outside the classroom and serves as a learning experience for me as much as them.”
Slattery said what Taylor learns in the classroom sets a good foundation for what she can apply in the real world.
“Doing independent or even closely monitored research takes that applied knowledge to the next level and further increases the student’s chance of success as a professional,” he said. “These skills to conduct research (field research, lab research and analysis) are coveted by employers and graduate schools.”
Taylor, a member of UT’s track team with a school record for the 4×4, has volunteered and interned in aquariums, attracted to their beauty and with respect for the work nonprofits do. She is spending this semester as a coral education intern at the Florida Aquarium. She rides her bicycle there three days a week, facilitating the touch tanks where guests dip their hands into shallow tanks to feel bamboo sharks, stingrays, anemones and sea stars. She also coordinates interactive programs for guests.
“Working at the aquarium has changed my career goals,” said Taylor, who now sees herself possibly pursuing a career in academia. “I love animals, but I learned that I love educating people. Animals are fun, but more so when you know more about them.”
Taylor said her time in the Bahamas gave her a deep appreciation for the need for conservation.
“I’ve never been able to take my marine science outside of the aquarium until now,” said Taylor, thankful for her firsthand experience and concerned about future generations’ ability to do so. “It’s just so different seeing animals in their natural habitat.”