As the sun rose over the flat sand road, I ran past dilapidated houses and piles of trash, sidestepping the occasional dead snake. I never feared for my safety on these runs – the concept of early-morning exercise was as foreign to the people of Bimini as the idea of regular grocery shipments. At the end of the road I turned left toward a yellow bungalow, whose occupants were rising for a rationed breakfast. Longlines streaked the lawn, gillnets gathered on the dock, and snorkels littered the porch. It was time to begin my day in yet another small corner of the world.
My work at the Bimini Biological Field Station Shark Lab was one of many transformative excursions that I experienced following my graduation from Williams College. In a single year, I traveled to South Africa, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and various European countries, often in pursuit of shark research. With each return home I worked to fund these trips through soccer coaching, freelance writing and curricula development. Every journey contributed to a new aspect of self-discovery. Together, they also provided a concrete understanding of just how privileged I have been.
I was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. My hard-working parents were determined to provide a first-class education that they could barely afford, a fact of which we were reminded constantly as they pushed the limits of their income. The oldest of three children, I felt tremendous pressure to succeed both in and beyond the classroom. At Williams College I found the ideal mixture of competitive athletics, first-rate academics, and liberal thought, and I seemed to fit the mold of the other students who would go on to become financiers and doctors. Like them, I was driven and goal-oriented. However, as my dual degrees in biology and English suggest, my chosen path was slightly unusual.
I can pinpoint the day I decided my career. I was twelve. A family vacation to Florida that year coincided perfectly with Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, and with each trip to the beach I both feared and longed to see what roamed beneath the ocean’s surface. Upon my return home I felt the first twinges of claustrophobia. I wanted to continue to travel, to explore coastlines of countries I couldn’t pronounce and seek out hidden predators in the abyss. I was naïve but optimistic, and somehow this restlessness survived to drive me out of the country immediately following my graduation from Williams, to pursue my passion with much greater purpose.
I am privileged because I am educated. Through academia and exploration, my eyes have been opened. Over the past years I’ve been exposed to brilliant minds, discussed literature with professors and elasmobranch research with international students. I’ve also seen extensive poverty, villages still touched by apartheid, and advertisements for ten-dollar abortions. These vastly different experiences were all borne out of a desire to learn about the marine environment that seemed so foreign to me. Along the way, I also found that education, not location, is the key to driving awareness and action. Because I am privileged, it is therefore my turn to use education as a powerful tool for conservation and policy change, both within and beyond the realm of science. As a future professor, researcher, conservationist and writer, I now have a responsibility to inspire communication, interdisciplinary perspective and international collaboration among others. Based on the values that the Fulbright program advocates, I believe that this research grant would be the first step in establishing myself as a global ambassador for science.