2019 – Emma Stange


I have been accepted into the Namibian Dolphin Project internship in Walvis Bay, Namibia in Africa. Immediately after the tropical biology and conservation course in Borneo, I will be flying to Namibia for the entire month of June. I will be stopping in Singapore and Johannesburg along the way, as there is no direct flight between the two locations. I will be spending the last few days of May in Johannesburg, getting to experience an African safari for the first time. Once in Namibia, I will be involved in assisting with stranding events, collecting eDNA samples, deploying acoustic devices, and gathering acoustic, behavioral, and photo ID data of two species of dolphins. I plan to keep a journal of my experiences and thoughts as I travel. I will be traveling through Johannesburg again on the way back to my hometown of Houston. Traveling to all of these places, including Borneo, all started out as a dream of mine. I have always wanted to travel to see as much of the world as possible and to experience new ways of life. I am more than ecstatic that my lifelong journey of traveling the world is now coming to fruition.

2017 – Victoria Sunseri

Sri Lanka

From Victoria’s essay:
“During my hike to the Buddhist monastery, I was transformed. I was alone, engulfed in early morning fog, and surrounded by sprawling tea fields. Yet, I was unafraid. This hike could not have taken more than 40 minutes but I will never forget the way it made me feel. As I walked, I allowed existential thoughts to flood over me: Why do we build barriers? To protect others? To protect ourselves? Sometimes, what is the difference?  I watched the ground disappear into the fog, the green, the mountains, the world slide and obscure from view; in this moment, I was aware of the transcendence of nature, the clearest object in sight, a victory bell.

 An overwhelming sense of peace, belonging, oneness, and understanding rushed over me. From my toes to my head I felt as though I had touched an electrical outlet. It was as though there was a buzzing of ozone in my lungs and lightness in my bones. This was when I sloughed off many of the fears I wasn’t even aware of fostering. As I emerged from the fog, quietly allowing the chaos of the world to return, I made the conscious decision to be more careful about what fears I accepted as my own personal truths, and those that are not my burdens to bear.”

2016 – Faith Taylor


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.”

2015 – Griffin Guinta

Dublin, Ireland

An excerpt from Griffin’s blog he wrote daily while in Ireland.

“Before I begin, I have to start by saying that Ireland is amazing. The people are incredibly friendly, the food is spectacularly bland, and the scenery is unbeatable. Life is perfect here, it would seem.

For some, though, Ireland isn’t seen through rose-colored glasses. In the city today, I spotted a myriad of homeless individuals in some of the more tourist-centric areas. You may not have noticed them if you weren’t looking, however. Most were cloistered up in some kind of sleeping bag or blanket, “turtling” inside their makeshift forts to escape the harsh Dublin winds. When they did peek out, it was only to check if anyone had tossed a few euros in their Styrofoam cups.

Before I approached any of the homeless individuals, I stopped by Focus Ireland, a non-profit organization that seeks to get people off the street and return them back to the workforce. A representative named Melissa agreed to meet with me for an interview later in the week. I’m hoping she can provide some insight as to what exactly is being done to help remedy the highly apparent issue. From what I’ve gleaned so far, it doesn’t seem to be a lot.

Two homeless individuals in particular stood out to me today: Keith and Steven. Keith gave me a brilliant interview at the modest price of a few crisps and a soda, and Steven had written a poem in chalk about unnecessary judgement of homeless people. From what they told me, neither were into drugs, alcohol or other addictions. They were instead caught in a catch 22 wherein they could not hold a steady job. In order to have a job in Dublin, one must have a permanent address. However, all the money that they saved for a permanent home had to be used for food, clothing, and temporary housing.  Speaking of which, both Keith and Steven feel that there is a distinct lack of housing options for low-income individuals. I haven’t fact checked this yet, but Steven even claimed that some of the temporary hostels encouraged drug use as a means of coping.”

2014 – Eden Frazer

Great Britain

Eden Frazier ’16 has trained in classical ballet for 14 years, but this summer she chose to study dance from a different angle.

Frazier spent three weeks with Gloucestershire Dance, or GDance, a mixed-ability dance company based in Gloucester, England. GDance promotes inclusive practice and strategic collaboration with national and local art and education partners, Frazier explained.

Frazier, an applied dance and physics double major with a minor in mathematics, said the focus of her trip was inspired by what she was learning through Professor Susan Taylor Lennon’s dance program, which highlights the incorporation of everyone, all abilities, into dance.

“We tend to compartmentalize dancers thinking only the skinniest and most flexible are best suited,” Frazier said. “We don’t think of double amputees, but they are still creative when given the opportunity to express themselves.”

Frazier discovered GDance while listening to a BBC radio special.

“I looked up the company and was enthralled by what I saw. Dancers in wheelchairs, dancers missing limbs, dancers with learning disabilities: I had never seen anything quite like it before,” Frazier wrote in her application for the award. “I immediately felt remorse for all the times I had complained about my aching feet; here were people dancing their hearts out who could not even use their feet. With that feeling of remorse came a feeling of motivation. I knew I would love to work with such inspirational dancers to better appreciate the amazing work they do and to encourage myself to become a better dancer.”

Frazier helped with a variety of tasks for GDance’s administrative office as well as with the production of a travelling piece the company was performing, offering everything from tech support and marketing research to mending costumes and observing and participating in dance classes and symposiums.

2013 – Katelyn Edwards


In Ghana, Katelyn Edwards first noticed the pothole, polka dot roads with street vendors walking precariously through the lines of traffic. Once she got outside the urban buzz of Kumasi, the warmth of hospitality took over.

Edwards, an English major with art and economics minors, was in Ghana this July as a volunteer with Smile Train, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide free cleft surgery to children in developing countries, train doctors and medical professionals, and provide speech therapy, dentistry and orthodontics.

Edwards stayed with Dr. Solomon Obiri-Yeboah, a plastic surgeon at Smile Train’s sponsored partnership, Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital.

“More than simply offering me a place to stay, the entire Yeboah family treated me as one of their own,” Edwards said. “The children called me Auntie Kate.”

Despite the 5:30 a.m. rooster wake up call, Edwards said she enjoyed her host family, helping get the children ready for school before she headed to the hospital with Yeboah. Edwards joined surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses to observe the cleft surgeries, blogging about the experience for Smile Train and photographing before and after photos of the children as well as gathering informal data from the children’s mothers. In the afternoons, Edwards joined the hospital social worker on follow-up calls to healing patients in rural communities.

Edwards, of Orlando, was this year’s recipient of the Timothy M. Smith Inspiration Through Exploration Award. The award was established to honor the life of Smith, a lawyer by trade, whose true passion was traveling the world.

Edwards wanted to work with Smile Train because she grew up in a family that supported the organization. Edwards’ younger brother, Spencer, was born with a cleft lip and palate; however her family was able to cover the expenses to cover his necessary surgeries. Smile Train helps families that aren’t so fortunate, and the Edwards are long-time supporters.

“This cause has always been near and dear to our hearts, and to get a chance to do something so hands-on is amazing,” Edwards said.

In addition to her UT travel scholarship, she has raised more than $4,500 to cover additional travel expenses as well as cleft surgeries for eight Ghanaian children. Her advocacy efforts are important to changing the stigma of those born with clefs.

“In a developing world where superstition supplants science, people do not understand that a cleft is caused either by genetics or environmental influences, such as maternal smoking or alcohol consumption,” Edwards said. “Through my work with the Smile Train and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, I hope that we can dispel such an ignorant understanding of clefts.”

2012 – Sommer Kuhn


When Sommer Kuhn ’13 was a child, she traveled from Wisconsin with her family to Orlando’s Sea World. At the first sight of the dolphins, she was hooked.

“I fell in love with them,” said Kuhn, a marine biology major with a minor in psychology, who has since immersed herself in learning about the mammals. “I’ve come to really respect these amazing creatures.”

Kuhn was this year’s recipient of the Timothy M. Smith Inspiration Through Exploration Award, an annual grant given to stimulate international travel and writing among Honors Program students. The award was established to honor the life of Smith, a lawyer by trade, whose true passion was traveling the world.s

She cast a wide net in search of facilities that offered dolphin-assisted therapy, an approach that integrates swimming with dolphins and one-on-one therapy. She wanted to spend her two weeks observing how people with challenges like autism, cerebral palsy and even depression, respond with this type of therapy. She found Dolphinland in Antalya, Turkey, and spent May 13-28 in the water with dolphins and on land, exploring the blended European and Middle Eastern culture in Turkey.

“It’s not a super scientific therapy, but it opens the door to other therapies, aiding with things like socialization,” said Kuhn.

Her 16-year-old brother’s autism and a search for an alternative to traditional therapies is what piqued her interested in the method. While in Turkey, she observed a 7-year-old German girl who had come to Dolphinland with her family to give dolphin therapy a try. Kuhn was able to be in the water with the girl and observe her change over the course of two weeks.

“To be able to share in the experience with her – in her joy and laughter – was a whole different reaction than I had seen in her arrival,” said Kuhn. “Being able to have an opportunity like this also brings her family together again in a shared experience.”

Professor Gary Luter, Honors Program director, said students who receive the Timothy M. Smith Award gain new perspectives through cross-cultural experiences and expand their understanding of global diversity.

“Most significantly, they leave their personal comfort zone and risk the unfamiliar,” said Luter. “This last idea is key to becoming a truly educated person.”

Kuhn, who is interning at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium this summer, said she’d like to find a career that marries her passions for special needs children and dolphins, and this experience in Turkey helped confirm her direction.

“It was an amazing and scary and awesome experience all at the same time,” said Kuhn, who was caught off guard the first time she heard the melodic Muslim call to prayer, seeing the mountains and Mediterranean waters in Olympus and enjoying conversations with a diverse group of travelers she met along the way. “It was very enriching to experience the culture there.”

2011 – Kaushal Vaddiraj

Sri Lanka

Excerpt from Kaushal’s blog
The last two weeks passed really quickly and I am really going to miss MEF a lot( not the dung cleaning part though). I headed east last night on a train from Polgahawela to Trincomalee. Trincomalee is the largest port in the country and has two natural harbors. The city has been developed on the peninsula that divides these two harbors. My train reached early in the morning at around six. Deciding to immediately go and cover the Konneshwaram temple during the morning pooja I hired an auto.  After a lengthy exercise in translation I managed to get him to understand where exactly I wanted to go but he still dropped me only at the base of the hill. I did manage to hike up(I haven’t done any climbing whatsoever since the Guadalupe escape!)  I hadn’t really done my research on the temple so I was pleasantly surprised to find the temple on top of a hill which gives a panoramic view of both the harbors in Trincomalee. What I found quite interesting was one of the bays is known as Chinabay, simply because of the Chinese trade taking place here since the time of the Dutch. Though it had been destroyed several times by different colonialists, the temple always had been rebuilt by the generous donations of the Tamil population in Trincomalee.