The mission of the Honors College at East Carolina University is to prepare tomorrow's leaders through the recruitment, engagement, and retention of exceptionally talented students of character in a diverse intellectual living-learning community and to challenge them to attain high levels of academic achievement.
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The Honors College Living & Learning Blog
When I applied to the Italy Intensives program last spring, I was excited to finally have an opportunity to expand my horizons and see the rich history and culture that Italy had to offer. I had never traveled by plane, and the farthest I had ever been from home was Florida, I must admit. This trip was not just about exploring a culture; it was about maturing and discovering what I could do on my own. On September 15th, I finally arrived in the fast-paced city of Rome, and within that first week I was blown away by the ancient historical buildings, which amazingly, were still standing. The Pantheon, the Coliseum, the triumphal arches, the Vatican, and Saint Peter’s Basilica were the first places we visited, and there was much more to come!
We lived and studied in the quiet medieval Tuscan village of Certaldo Alto, about a 45 minute train ride from Siena or Florence. The next three months consisted of weekly art history classes in various Italian cities actually viewing the masterpieces for ourselves as we talked about the artists and how they made the artwork. I took a book arts making class and we even had the opportunity to learn the trade of jewelry making. Every night our entire group of students ate family style at a local Italian restaurant and shared our awe at how beautiful the Tuscan hillside was and our disbelief at being able to experience it. We visited Monterroso in Cinque Terre and swam in the clear cool Mediterranean waters, we hiked Mount Vesuvius and toured Pompeii, we saw hand-carved alabaster in Volterra, toured the Amalfi coast by boat, saw The Birth of Venus in person, toured the Vatican, and so much more.
Even so, perhaps the most memorable portion was sitting down with the local Italian people and just talking to them and socializing like I never had the opportunity to in America. In America, we’re always living in a fast-paced society surrounded by technology. I learned to unplug and relax and cherish the stories of those around me while sitting in the local Piazza (Plaza). My time there will never be forgotten and it is a time in my life that I believe I’ll cherish forever. When I left Italy, I not only left with a better understanding of the history that the world had to offer, I left touched by the people I had met and become close to in Italy. I left behind a new family, and I know that one day I will go back. This program opened my eyes and has encouraged me to want to travel more and to get in touch with those around me because I learned that a culture is not just its history, but also the stories of its people.
The Honors College would like to extend warm wishes for a safe and restful holiday season. Thank you for being a member of our Honors College family, and we hope you enjoy the video!
By: Erika Dietrick, Honors College Junior
Applying for the ECU Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement (URCA) award was similar to every other “first” I have had as a student new to research—confusing, overwhelming, and in the end, extremely rewarding.
I began my research on the endangered plant species Thalictrum cooleyi Ahles, or Cooley’s meadowrue, this fall after a semester of volunteering in the laboratory. Volunteering consisted of learning laboratory protocol, listening to and participating in group meetings, gaining familiarity with commonly used equipment, and assisting in any hands-on or data-related tasks that needed to be completed. It was difficult to be at ease at times in the laboratory because I started with almost zero knowledge of plants, but I had been interested in Dr. Claudia Jolls’ lab because she was a patient, helpful, and effective instructor in the Honors Research Colloquium.
By the end of that semester, I had signed up for Field Botany and Plant Biology for the fall, sketched out a rough plan for my Senior Honors Project, and agreed to work as a Field Assistant for graduate student Renee Fortner. Suddenly, my life was plants, and I had no idea what I was in for.
Working in the pine savannas of Pender and Onslow counties is what solidified my confidence and interest. Every week or so, Renee and I would make the 2-hour drive to the site of Cooley’s meadowrue to gather information on sex ratios, pollination limitation, and density. With each trip, I gained a newfound appreciation for the species and the protection of the pine savanna ecosystem in general. There were so many memories made, from accidentally shattering a window of the biology truck to touching a venus fly trap for the first time. The savannas were gorgeous and made working in the blazing heat of a North Carolina summer worth it.
Despite the experience gained up to that point, this semester in the laboratory was still very much a challenge. I quickly realized how much thought, care, and work went into a quality research project. There are things professors will tell you in your required lab courses, such as keep a detailed lab notebook or read and plan the experimental procedures ahead of time, that you think aren’t a necessity. I couldn’t have been more wrong! It’s the attention to detail (along with several other admirable qualities) that make answering such significant scientific questions possible.
In addition to learning through experience what I should have learned the first time, I was also encouraged to apply for an URCA award by Dr. Jolls. (Follow link for more info.) Through many revisions, I attempted to convey in very few words the essence of my project: I wished to use stereo- and scanning electron microscopy to view seed embryos under different environmental conditions and determine the plant’s potential for a seed bank. This would accomplish three things: a) help us to determine what causes this mystery species to germinate b) possibly save this endangered species and c) protect the integrity of the pine savanna ecosystem.
I have to admit that I was not optimistic. I knew that the attitude towards plants was generally negative, so I thought they may think my project less worthy of funding than say, something in chemistry, medicine, etc. However, I can’t describe in words the excitement and pride I felt when I received that e-mail—I would be receiving a $1,000 stipend for the spring semester and a $625 materials budget. I was ecstatic!
I have been hard at work ever since, and I hope to present my research findings thus far at the Association of Southeastern Biologists Conference in April. I am extremely grateful to the URCA committee, Dr. Jolls, Dr. Fink (who manages the microscopes) and the ECU Honors College for where I am today and where I am headed. If it weren’t for the Honors College, I never would have even considered conducting research; and now I’m getting paid to do it!