Environmental studies was a definite for Alex Gordon. But political science was a big surprise.
“It just seemed silly to go anywhere else for environmental studies when I could do it here,” she says.
“But during Autumn Term, a professor encouraged me to take an Intro to Comparative Politics class, and I fell in love with political science.”
Now the double major from Houston has found what she’s really passionate about—environmental justice.
“Two things have motivated me,” she says. “More broadly, looking at the environmental movement and not seeing Black women in that field. And through my work to eliminate single- use plastics, I have been able to find my voice as it relates to the petrochemical industry in Houston.”
Alex took a lead in registering students to vote through Eckerd’s chapter of the Student Public Interest Research Group, organizing sustainability efforts with the Eckerd College Organization of Students and participating in service in Immokalee, Florida. “Alex is a truly remarkable person,” says her mentor Joanna Huxster, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental studies. “She is passionate and driven and has been able to translate those strengths into tangible action.”
“Her work on environmental justice, plastics and registering new voters is so well known,” Dr. Huxster adds, “she’s been asked to speak at national- level meetings and conferences. Alex has an incredible future ahead of her as a leader and organizer.”
Alex’s near-term plans? Nonprofit work, then graduate school to continue her studies in environmental justice.
Finding the right guide
“I knew I was interested in research from the beginning,” recalls Bill Hawthorne.
“I knew I was interested in research from the beginning,” recalls Bill Hawthorne. “So I wanted a place where faculty work with students. That ruled out a lot of large universities,” says the biology graduate with a psychology minor from Okemos, Michigan.
Bill found a kindred spirit in Assistant Professor of Biology Jeff Goessling, Ph.D.
“We took a field trip to the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation. I had already been a kid in love with snakes, and seeing their work on behalf of the eastern indigo snake motivated me to do research with them. My research is looking at how parasites affect the snakes’ immunities and how their bodies mount responses to the infections.”
Bill and Dr. Goessling have published research together— with Bill as first author (a rare feat for an undergraduate student)—in Ichthyology & Herpetology, the scientific journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.
“I met Bill in my very first session of my very first class at Eckerd, and he has been a critical part of my research lab at Eckerd,” Dr. Goessling says. “Bill has grown from a consumer of knowledge to a first-class producer of knowledge. I am proud of the colleague he has become.”
When Bill isn’t publishing, he serves as an environmental scientist for the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute or otherwise works as a conservation biologist.
“One of my other main passions is photography, so I get to travel a lot and see many amazing animals and habitats in Florida. I wanted someplace to be outside looking for animals to photograph all year long.”
When asked about his plans, Bill aspires to land a job in research. “I definitely want to stay in the world of research. I really love it.”
Zeroing in on (two) majors
Mark Yamane was always interested in marine life but hadn’t found a focus.
He also had an interest in computer science and zero experience. “My choices were between Eckerd and a big state school. I knew there would be little opportunity to double-major and that I wouldn’t have the same research opportunities in the other school, so Eckerd was the better option.”
Pursuing research with his faculty mentor showed him that his passions weren’t in competition.
“What’s unique about studying computer science at Eckerd is that we work a lot with faculty in the animal and environmental sciences,” explains Mark’s mentor and research adviser, Assistant Professor of Computer.
Science Michael Hilton, Ph.D. “The opportunities for our students who love nature are really bountiful.”
The two spent hours perfecting an algorithm that detects dolphin whistles recorded in the wild.
Campus research in microplasticss and dolphin acoustics helped Mark win the prestigious National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Hollings Scholarship, which offers sophomores up to $9,500 a year and a federal research internship. He also landed a Barry J. Goldwater Scholarship, which provides a $7,500 scholarship to juniors majoring in the sciences.
“We teach you skills,” Dr. Hilton says. “Only you can discover the exact commands in the exact sequence to make a computer do what you want it to do.”
Leah Totman wants the young women she met in Nepal to have options.
“Education in Nepal for women is still not equal,” says Leah, who studied there with Associate Professor of Religious Studies Amy Langenberg, Ph.D. “Men tend to be educated, and women tend to drop out of school to get married. They don’t get to have careers.”
She worked with students in Nepal through Girl Reports, a nonprofit organization based in Tampa that empowers young girls by teaching writing and publishing skills. “That trip has caused a domino effect in my life and contributed to my choosing a gender studies major,” she says.
“Leah and I share a thirst for thinking about and addressing gender inequality and challenging the power structures that support it,” says Dr. Langenberg.
“She was very moved, as I always am, by the community of young women she met in Lumbini.”
As a sophomore, Leah was selected for the Donald and Christine Eastman Citizenship and Leadership Program, which provides talented, entrepreneurial, intellectually curious students with a $7,500 grant to pursue their goals.
“My top choice for study abroad was Colombia to do a one-month immersion and service-learning program,” says Leah, who plans to go on to graduate school in gender studies. “I hope to teach at a school like Eckerd one day.”