Alumni in Action

Eliza Purcell van Dissel

Head Wrangler

Eliza Purcell van Dissel
Class of 2013
Major: Political Science
Minor: Biology
Where are you now and what are you doing?

I just finished an amazing summer as the Head Wrangler at a ranch in Wyoming. I'm currently in a bit of a transition phase. I'm taking full advantage of my time off and have been visiting friends across the country. On a serious note, I've applied to my ideal graduate program, which focuses on global sustainable agribusiness and nutrition.

What does your job entail and how has your Eckerd experience impacted your career?

At Eckerd, teaching students to "think outside" resonates on a multitude of levels, I took it a bit literally. The day after I graduated from Eckerd, I hopped in my car and began the drive to Wyoming; admittedly a bit unsure of where this road would lead. For me, being at Eckerd solidified the importance of balance. In order to succeed at any career, you have to enjoy it and believe in what you're doing. After four years of hitting the books and kayaking between classes, I was ready to stretch my legs before investing myself in a company. A large portion of my time in the "office" was spent leading trail rides for guests from all over the world. I credit my liberal arts education for my ability to hold a conversation about everything from current Russian politics and Armenian history to the plant development of the native species in the Gros Ventre Wilderness Area.

What unique or special opportunities did your Eckerd education provide and how have they impacted your life?

I ran for student government on the platform of converting the elliptical machines in the fitness center to feed back into the power grid. My fellow peers supported the idea, alongside the administration and ASPEC. A bit of paperwork and a few months later, a local company converted all the machines. It's unique that a student has the ability to make a change on that scale at any university or college; it's common at Eckerd.

I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Bangkok, Thailand. I traveled all over South East Asia, learned Thai and received class credit for studying Thai politics and ancient medicine. Traveling abroad is something that the majority of students at Eckerd participate in; doing so granted me the skill set to go anywhere and assimilate to almost any culture.

What makes Eckerd so special or why does it stand out to you as a great college? What does it mean to you now that you have been away for awhile?

The Eckerd mentor program is amazing. After my semester abroad, I walked into my mentors office and told him that I wanted to take some biology classes. He told me that I should get what I want out of my education and helped me figure out which ones to take. I plan to fuse my knowledge of political science and biology within my career, and I know I can still count on my mentor to give me sound advice.

Describe some of the people who had a profound impact on your Eckerd experience.

The entire Eckerd faculty helped me cultivate my undergraduate experience. My two mentors: Professor Brunello and Dr. Flaherty not only helped me pick which classes to take; they both helped guide me through them, with plenty of laughter. I spent my sophomore Winter Term at the UN headquarters in NYC, realizing my own potential while meeting with diplomats. Under the support and direction of Dr. Flaherty, my junior Winter Term was spent working in an Emergency Room and studying hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

The day I was elected to student government I walked into Associate Dean of Students, Fred Sabota's office. I greeted him with a smile and a list of ten (or maybe twenty) goals that I wanted to accomplish within the year. He took a look at my list and patiently told me who to contact for what and how to start each initiative. When I greeted Dean Annarelli with a similar list, he showed the same level of support. Both Dean Annarelli and Dean Sabota had a profound impact not only on my Eckerd experience, but also my post graduate experience.

Are there core Eckerd values you see in most Eckerd students and graduates?

Eckerd instills the belief that work and play don't need to be distantly separated. In order to be the most successful at what you want to achieve, you have to enjoy doing it. A large number of my graduating class is scattered around the globe, doing everything from teaching English in Japan to doing scientific research in the Dominican Republic.

What activities were you involved in while at Eckerd and did they influence what you are involved in now?

Eckerd has an extremely active service learning office, encouraging students to give back to the community, both on a local and global scale. My spare time goes to volunteering with local non-profits.

Eckerd places emphasis on the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle. While on campus students are provided with paddle boards, fitness classes and intramural sports galore. I can't imagine having a sedentary lifestyle, and more often than not, I'm outside taking advantage of where I am.

Why did you choose Eckerd? What advice would you give students who are considering Eckerd?

How many college campuses are surrounded by water on three sides and have an on campus marina specifically for student recreation? When I visited Eckerd as a high school senior, I laughed my way through most of the tour. It was a Saturday and there was slip 'n slide on Kappa field, people grilling out on the beach and students paddling off shore in kayaks. After going on a college tour I always made a 'pros and cons' list of the school. Balance is a big deal for me, I knew that college would involve countless hours in a library and I'd rather live in positive community than be a number at a big university.

If there is any advice I could give a future student, it would be to go to a college that takes an interest in helping you achieve your goals. Students at Eckerd are encouraged to participate in classes and hone their individuality.

Using 5 words or less complete this sentence: Eckerd is…

one of a kind.

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