There isn't a word in existence that could accurately convey how it felt the moment I received the news of my fellowship acceptance. To know that this one experience and the knowledge gained will put me that much closer to propelling my life quality and career is unmatched. Unknowingly, I have successfully fortified my legacy and am living proof of my ancestors' wildest dreams.
Since the moment I stepped onto the New college campus, I knew this opportunity would not only be life-changing but invaluable. From the mentors to the other fellows in the fellowship, there was a special connection from the very beginning. I went from being the only African American woman in all of my stem classes to being surrounded by amazing women from different backgrounds, and it was extremely refreshing.
On the very first day we hit the ground running, in pure M.I.S.S fashion. From 4 am alarms to packing, baiting, and prepping the boat, I always managed to stop and sneak in glimpses of the spectacular Florida sunrise to remind myself to always stop and smell the flowers. I went from losing gear in the water while setting long lines to becoming an expert on all things shark fishing, each set helped me to grow as a scientist and gain more confidence in the field.
A lot of the time we put such a negative connotation around failing or incorrectly doing a task when really some of the best gains of knowledge and experience have been taught through struggling and critical-thinking. This opportunity gave me exactly that in terms of being able to fail and having the support to learn and try again. Scientists have to do a lot of troubleshooting and problem-solving, which is arguably one of the most important skills you’ll use as a scientist. I was able to hone this skill, and I know that it will be useful in future research experiences.
Understandably there are some things you just can't prepare for and catching over 55+ sharks on our second day of surveying was one of them. The rush mixed with excitement and nerves were jolted right out of my body when the first shark hit the bow, and in an instant it was like my body knew what my brain had never been taught to do. As the instincts kicked in and our instructors' voices guided my hands, I could feel the knots in my stomach rush out in communicative chaos and excitement. One after the other we perfected prepping, working up, and releasing each shark more efficiently each time. While this fellowship was packed with full days and exhausting nights, I wish I could do it all again. After this experience, I can honestly say I swam with an 8.5ft Great Hammerhead we called Genie after Eugenie Clark, got
to name and helped coax two spotted eagle rays, and help an amazing group of summer campers’ learn about Marine Biology, and that is something that most people can only dream of.
I am truly grateful for this opportunity and all it has provided for me as well as the spectacular group of women involved in my personal journey and marine biology career. I have not only gained knowledge and experience but more importantly I have gained mentors that I trust, friends that I will have life long relationships with, and stories my grandkids will hardly believe!
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