GWU Student Selected for National Field Trip & Internship Experiences

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Wendy Harmon Studies Aquatic Ecosystems at Trout Lake Station in Wisconsin and in Plymouth Bay, Mass. 

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – Wendy Harmon grew up with the mountains, rivers, lakes, and streams of western North Carolina at her back door.  Born and raised in Rutherfordton, N.C., some of her fondest memories are of outdoor exploratory excursions with her parents, Tommy and Darlene Harmon, where she literally first got her feet wet in ecology—the study of how organisms interact with their environments.

When Harmon began looking at colleges, she wanted to find a place where she could further develop her love for science, biology, and ecology.  “My mom graduated from Gardner-Webb and told me I needed to visit,” Harmon recalled.  “Initially, I thought it might be a little too close to home, but after I came to campus, I knew this was the place I needed to be.”

Harmon just completed her first year at GWU; although she will soon be classified as a junior due to college credits earned through honors classes in high school.  During her Christmas break, she devoted much of her free time to applying for summer internships, based on advice she had received from biology professor and honors program associate dean, Dr. Tom Jones.

“He knew I wasn’t yet an upperclassman, and he told me if I wanted to land one summer internship, I needed to apply for 20,” Harmon explained.  “So I set a goal of completing 20 applications during the holiday break.”  By early January, she had sent off more than 16 applications, hoping that at least one opportunity would be offered.

Her hard work paid off.  Not only did she earn a spot in the four-day SEEDS National Field Trip to Trout Lake Station in Wisconsin, but she landed her dream summer internship studying humpback whales and other aquatic life with the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA) in Plymouth Bay, Mass.

“I had to take one of my finals early so that I could depart for Wisconsin in time for the trip,” Harmon reflected.  She also had to pack for her summer internship, since she was leaving for Massachusetts as soon as her SEEDS program trip was complete. She believes the direct comparison between limnology (the study of inland waters) and marine ecology will help her make some important future decisions.

“The SEEDS experience prepared me for the NECWA internship in ways I did not expect,” she said.  “I have always been torn between my desire to study limnology versus marine ecology.  My transition from the lakes to the ocean has been interesting, to say the least.  Since arriving in Plymouth Bay, the whales and other aquatic creatures have wooed me, but I am quickly learning that I may be more interested in returning to the mountains of North Carolina for my career than I had previously admitted to myself.  Overall, I am prepared that I may have a major turn in my interests around the corner.”

Harmon fully understands that her future success depends upon her willingness to take advantage of every opportunity and resource offered during her time at Gardner-Webb.  She has discovered a level of support and personal concern she believes has been instrumental to her accomplishments.

“Since Gardner-Webb is a small university, I have the luxury of my professors investing in me as an individual,” she shared.  “The science department has been absolutely wonderful to me, and I consider many of them role models.  They may never know how truly thankful I am for each and every one of them.”

Harmon encourages her peers to secure internships, trips, and other related experiential opportunities as soon as possible to give themselves a competitive edge.

“Internships demonstrate that students can remove themselves from the mold of a college student and insert themselves into a professional position,” she explained.  “The willingness to venture beyond one’s comfort zone, and the ability to excel in a challenging position can be factors that attest to that student’s true passion for their field.  Opportunities such as these provide me with valuable field experience that many other candidates my age will not have.”

The core SEEDS program components offer hands-on, engaging experiences with ecology that exhibit the relevance and applications of the science. Each experience also provides opportunities to interact with a diverse group of ecologists and other motivated students to both broaden and deepen students’ understanding of ecology and potential careers. The Ecological Society of America (ESA), a non-partisan, nonprofit organization of scientists founded in 1915. As the nation’s leading professional society of ecologists, ESA’s mission is to promote ecological science by improving communication among ecologists; raise public awareness of the importance of ecological science; increase the resources available for the conduct of ecological science; and foster the diffusion of scientific and technical knowledge, and its use.

The New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA) is a non-profit environmental organization based in southeastern Massachusetts. The NECWA is staffed by volunteers who dedicate their efforts to the protection and conservation of marine wildlife that live and feed in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine. NECWA focuses on local issues in the New England area and collaborates with various private, government and non-government organizations to achieve its many goals. Through research projects and educational outreach activities, the alliance works to protect the whales, dolphins, seabirds, seals, basking sharks, ocean sunfish and other unique coastal marine wildlife off New England.

Located in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb University blends a liberal arts core curriculum with more than 55 major and minor professional programs of study, a comprehensive academic experience that flows from our Christian commitment to intellectual freedom, service and leadership.