Blake Mitchell: Science, Society, and Service-Learning in Rwanda

As I walk down the bustling city streets of Kigali, I am coming face to face with individuals who twenty-five years ago held a machete in their hands hacking their neighbors to death. I am shaking the same hands that were once dripping with innocent blood. I have really wrestled with this conundrum. Were people seeking refuge in this very room? Was someone standing outside my very door, machete in hand, waiting for their next victim? Everywhere I look I am plagued with the thoughts that not too long ago someone was likely viciously murdered in this very spot. The amount of forgiveness each Rwandan has had to display to one another is hard for me to fathom. I really do not know if I could summon up so much forgiveness. I’m sure hurt and anger still remain in the hearts of many Rwandans, but the forgiveness is there. It may be sometimes clouded by other emotions that come with grief, but it is there.

In partnership with UCA Study Abroad, I spent a month of my summer in Rwanda learning about issues such as the colonial creation of race, modernity, material culture, literature, environmentalism and society, and the 1994 Rwandan genocide. I participated in projects that addressed quality education, environmental conservation, and social entrepreneurship.

Visiting the Rwandan 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi memorials was personally one of the most impactful and emotional events of the entire trip. The harrowing images seen at these memorials will forever be engrained in my memory. It is hard to define the emotions I felt: sadness, anger, remorse. This was worse than the scariest horror film you’ve seen. Seeing the countless number of caskets stuffed full of an even greater countless number of women, men, and children murdered was utterly gut-wrenching. Many of these skeletons remain unidentified, leaving countless of surviving family members still searching. Yet thanks to science, many victims have been identified. Our readings and discussions focused on how science can be used to bring social justice. Clea Koff, a forensic anthropologist who worked to unearth evidence in Rwanda, authored a book that details her experiences. She highlights how bones can talk. The bones tell a story that has furthered our understanding of the 1994 genocide and the grueling inner workings of the genocide. Science – most importantly raw data and evidence – can speak volumes. In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, the use of forensic science brought forth justice for those murdered in the genocide.

Most of the people I encountered and interacted with while in Rwanda have been affected by the genocide in some way. Each Rwandan has a unique story about their experiences, both past and present, with the genocide. Our group was lucky to have the opportunity to speak with Manzi Gaudence Uwera, a survivor of the genocide. Manzi’s entire family was slaughtered in the genocide leaving her as the lone survivor. As the story unfolded she fidgeted with the silver chain necklace around her neck, stumbling over her words, while we stared back with tear-filled eyes. Manzi brought a message of forgiveness and reconciliation. The most evocative part of her story was when she told us how her brother and sister “were begging [to their killers] for forgiveness of something they didn’t even know.” As I was hearing her tell her story I was burdened with one question: how could you ever forgive anyone who murdered your family? Fortunately, the use of science helped bring justice to Manzi as she recently found her brother and sister in 2017. Her grieving process is still ongoing but her attempt at forgiveness and reconciliation is evident.

The larger theme that we often discussed was the connection between genocide and dehumanization. This concept of dehumanization was reoccurring in many of our experiences. The act of dehumanization was fundamental for the genocide. Our readings and discussions revealed how dehumanization is the key aspect of all genocides. At each genocide memorial we saw the haunting effects of dehumanization and how dehumanization is fabricated. Colonization promotes and normalizes dehumanization which often results in tragedies such as genocides.

The detrimental effects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi still taint Rwanda. People are still searching for their loved ones; still waiting for that moment when they can begin to heal. Young adults are still struggling to redefine their self-definition without their mom and dad. Communities are still working so diligently to rebuild what was demolished during the genocide. It is an ongoing process defined by the terms of unity and reconciliation. But the silver lining of it all is that through and through the people are always smiling – such happy people.

Daniela Castillo: Health, Happiness, and Longevity in Costa Rica

This summer, I traveled alongside a group of Nursing and Occupational Therapy students to Costa Rica for 10 days to study the keys of health and well-being in the Nicoya Peninsula. The Nicoya Peninsula was chosen due to the fact that it is known as a “Blue Zone,” which is a place with a population that lives longer and healthier lives than the average person. During our experience, we traveled to 6 out of the 7 provinces in Costa Rica, and were met with an array of welcoming faces at every stop we made.

The first stop that our group made was at the Centro Nacional De Rehabilitacionâ —a national rehabilitation center. There we met with a doctor who gave us a crash course on the healthcare system in Costa Rica. He explained to us that Costa Rica takes pride in their universal healthcare, and stated that 95% of those referred to that specific hospital will receive medical attention—this includes foreign visitors! The design of the hospital itself is intriguing, due to the fact that there was so much open space. Doors are open and light floods in from the pockets of open spaces known as their green areas.The doctor explained to us that they encourage independence with their patients; the patients are able to eat outside, bask in the sun in the green areas, and are even able to visit their homes on the weekends. Alongside the green areas, the patients even have courts to play soccer and basketball with the other patients.

A common saying in Costa Rica is “pura vida,” which can be translated as either simple or pure life. Although a simple saying, it means much more to the people. Pura vida can be used as a greeting, a farewell, an acceptance of a difficult situation, or a statement of encouragement. This saying became a staple in our vocabulary when anything out of the ordinary happened to our group. During our third day we went white water rafting in the Sarapiqui river which has a history of being used for exporting goods to and from Nicaragua. Our very enthusiastic guide ingrained “pura vida” into our brains during this rafting trip. After we went through extremely rough currents, holding onto dear life, he would make us high-five our paddles together and repeat after him: “pura vida!” Another instance our group used this saying was when we went on our hike. Although we were warned that Costa Rica was in the beginning of the rainy season, not many took this information to heart. After the end of a gruesome hike up to a scenic view, it rained, hard. What at first was muddy trails became pools of sludge and terror. At the end of the day, the only way we accepted our adventure was by reiterating the same two words we all came to love—pura vida.

Then, the most important part of our experience came: the centenarians! Before going into their homes, Jorge Vindas Lopez, one of the many researches looking into the Blue Zone phenomenon, spoke to us about the studies specific to the Blue Zone in the Nicoya Peninsula. He taught our group about the main factors that he finds to be crucial to their long life: healthy diet, natural movement, life purpose, no dwelling on stress, and spirituality to name a few. We got to meet with the most energetic, self-sufficient people in an elderly day center and in the homes of some of the famous centenarians of Costa Rica. The day center accepts those ages 65+, and is funded through donations from the community. After personally speaking with some of the participants, I learned of their activities they enjoy doing, such as: sewing, playing bingo, and even running! We also had the opportunity to meet our first centenarian at this day center, Don Jose of 104 years of age. Don Jose has a tendency to tell everyone he is 105. We asked our guide why he keeps telling everyone a different age, and he told us unlike the United States, Costa Ricans are proud to be older and healthier than any young person can ever claim, so they often round up their age! The following day, our group went to three centenarian homes. Ranging from ages 103-105, the centenarians told us about their childhood, work ethic, views on the environment, and their love for life, all with a smile on their faces. What amazed our group the most was how much they appreciated life itself—they never spoke negatively of their past.

Costa Rica gave to us a country of people who are prideful in who they are and what their country represents. It is covered in beauty from the land to the people themselves. Though our trip was short, it was well worth it. As I pursue my work in the healthcare field—a field that relies heavily on its complex technological advances and marred with professional jargon—I will consistently go back to the simplicity of Costa Rican living and remember the words that make all sense in the world, pura vida!

Emily Brians: New York City Museum Study

This summer I had the opportunity to travel to New York City to explore several art museums and exhibits. While I was there, my goal was to learn from the work of artists from around the world, with a special emphasis on women artists, as well as further my understanding of American culture. I was able to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Color Factory.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a massive collection of works from different cultures, spread out over 60,000 square feet. This museum was awe inspiring. The entrance was massive, with grand arches and high ceilings. There were large columns throughout the building, which were just as beautiful as some of the art collected there. I took three days to walk through every room, taking time to consider the pieces I was experiencing as I went. I was able to see works by Van Gogh, Degas, and many more.

After three days walking through the Met, the Museum of Natural History was a welcome change. The architecture was equally beautiful and impressively massive, although not quite as sprawling as the Met. The Museum of Natural History contained an impressive collection of fossils and statues, along with biology, astronomy, and anthropology exhibits. The curation method employed in this museum was especially interesting to me, as they utilized replicas throughout their collection. This allowed the museum to educate the public about various cultures and histories while also allowing them to keep their invaluable artifacts.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was also a unique experience. The museum was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and it was a piece of art in and of itself. The layout was easily navigated and consisted of clean, white architecture spiraling in a single open space. While we were there, there was an exhibition on display which was curated by artists, entitled Artistic License. This exhibition was thoroughly enjoyable and educational, as each section of the museum was prefaced by a short essay drawing attention to what the curator wanted viewers to gain from the collection. The essays were engaging and brought up interesting points on the purpose of art and the place of women and people of color in the artistic community.

The Brooklyn Museum contained a substantial collection of interesting works of art and historical artifacts as well. This museum was especially interesting for the floor containing the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. I first learned of this exhibition through a Women in Art History class at the University of Central Arkansas. Learning about a particular work, entitled the Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, piqued my interest as a feminist and woman artist. Seeing this massive work in person was an indescribable experience. Exploring the rest of the Feminist Art collection helped to further my understanding of the history of the struggle of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. This collection contained many powerful works of art that I was extremely thankful to experience in person.

Towards end of my trip I discovered a contemporary museum called the Color Factory. This museum was an interactive exhibit designed to encourage the viewer to explore their connection to color and other people through hands on activities that engaged all of the senses. This museum was an entirely unique experience, and very powerfully demonstrated how people of all ages and from all walks of life can enjoy art. People attending the exhibit were extremely varied, consisting of a diverse collection of ages, ethnicities, and communities. However, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Most people seemed to let loose and play with the different exhibits and enjoying snacks and treats throughout the museum. At the end of almost two weeks of studying traditional art in serious museums, the Color Factory was a reminder of the diverse applicability of art and how directly it can impact someone’s life.

Throughout my stay in New York City I also attended different cultural events, such as a viewing party for the democratic primary debates, a Broadway show, the LGBTQ+ pride parade, Battery Park, Washington Square Park, the Charging Bull Statue, viewing the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and more. These events allowed me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and learn about culture in large cities, as well as the American culture overall. Seeing the diverse crowds walking around the city every day was a unique experience which helped me understand another way of life and the melting pot that truly creates America.

Kane York: Retinofugal Projections In Nine-Banded Armadillo

Last year I attended an academic conference in Washington D.C., the Society For Neuroscience annual meeting. Neuroscientists from around the globe gather to present research and discuss the current status of the discipline. This year, over 30,000 people attended, and approximately 13,000 posters were presented. The numbers do not mean much when reading them, but take it from me: I have attended conferences in the past; most were smaller regional conferences, and they pale in comparison to the scope of this one. At previous events, I could easily go to every poster and attend almost all the presentations. However, in D.C. I had to select a small number to attend.  Much of my research at UCA is about the neuroanatomy of understudied animals, but I spent most of my time in the cognition section, specifically language. There was one poster discussing pragmatics. This aspect of language is when we can decipher meaning beyond the words and syntax. For example, if your friend is telling you about an uncomfortable subject you have no interest in hearing about (details of a surgery, death, etc.), you could change the subject by mentioning something totally unrelated. This signals that you want to change the conversation despite neither of you explicitly stating this. For the purposes of the poster, the researchers had participants of different linguistic backgrounds read sentences in their native tongues that communicate some pragmatic meaning. They found that Japanese subjects had different areas of activation in comparison to those that spoke romantic languages—Spanish, French, Italian, etc. This is very fascinating to me, because one of my areas of interest for research in graduate school is the linguistic differences in the brain. So, after listening to the presenter, I made sure to exchange emails.

Research aside, I did not anticipate to grow such a strong bond with some of my lab partners. While I see them regularly, rooming with them only served to strengthen the relationships we had established. My project lead, in particular, was one that I really connected with.  This trip, with all its meals, science, and tourist appeals, allowed us to go beyond the artificiality of just being on the same project.
Finally, I was able to meet a number of institutional representatives. The principle investigator of my lab offered to take a few of his students out to dinner alongside his colleagues. My project lead and I along with another undergraduate worker decided to go. While there, I was able to meet scientists with connections to universities that I have considered applying to for graduate school. Surprisingly, after only one dinner together, one of them offered to write me a letter of recommendation if I applied for a graduate program she has been affiliated with. This was wonderful news. I had worried that I had not networked effectively. I was glad to be proved wrong.
I’d say the trip was a success. I presented research at an international conference, found institutions that line up with my research interests, established stronger relationships with my lab partners, and made contacts that serve to benefit me in my academic career.

Karlie Galarza: IDEAS, Guatemala

Last summer, I had the pleasure of going to Oaxaca, Mexico, to study geopolitics and Spanish for two months. I studied at a local organization called Servicios Universitarios y Redes de Conocimientos en Oaxaca A.C. (SURCO). We had classes about politics, resistance movements, environmental justice, history and Spanish classes. The program was about 8 weeks long, with the last two weeks dedicated to research. The coursework was broken up into equal parts classroom time, and equal parts field trips. Often we would learn about an event or topic, then travel within Oaxaca to where the event took place. We were also taught how to properly interview people, observe events, and how to formally do participant observations. All of this was to help prepare us to choose a research topic, and then conduct our own research individually. I chose to do my research project over sea turtles and ecotourism on the coast of Oaxaca.
I knew I wanted to research this topic after our field trip to the coast. We went to a local pueblo for a couple days, but after that we ditched the professors and went to the beach for the weekend! While we were there, we went to a sea turtle release. The organization protects eggs until they hatch, then tourists can pay 100 pesos ($5 US dollars) to release the baby turtles. After we watched that, I started to wonder if this type of organization is really helping the sea turtle population. I decided to research ecotourism and the sea turtle population. Not only did I get to research a fascinating topic, but I also got to spend eight more days on the beautiful coast.
Once our two weeks started for our research projects, a fellow student and I journeyed down to the coast once more. We were both studying ecotourism, so we ended up helping each other with interviews and research. Our first stop was Puerto Escondido to revisit the sea turtle release organization called Vive Mar. We were able to get in touch with the head of the sea turtle release organization, Hugo. He invited us to help him search for sea turtle eggs one night. We scoured the beach until one in the morning, but our vigilance paid off! We found eighty-four eggs that night! Hugo showed us how to find the nests, collect the eggs and the “turtle camps” where they are kept until they hatch. He also gave us a lot of information about sea turtles in general. The next day we went back to the sea turtle release to officially observe the tourists, as well as interview another volunteer, Kike. Kike told us that there has been a spike in the sea turtle population since the organization opened eight years ago. It’s easy to track, because female sea turtles go back to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs. He said that they are having more and more sea turtles return each year. After hearing this information, I started to feel some hope that maybe this wasn’t just about money after all.
Our next stop was about an hour away, in the sleepy little beach town of Mazunte. Mazunte has a dark history with sea turtles. Until 1990 it was legal to capture sea turtles for their meat, skin and shells. That market basically depleted the sea turtle population. Then in 1990, the federal government stepped in and banned the trade of sea turtle products. Mazunte had a huge sea turtle processing factory and most of the town worked there. Once that was shut down, many people were out of a job. The government funded a sea turtle center to provide alternative work for people, as well as help the sea turtles recover. We went to tour this center, and found it to be more of a turtle zoo. There were a few sea turtles in tanks and many kinds of land turtles in tanks outside. This wasn’t what we were expecting, but we decided to interview a worker to gather more information. After closing, we went back to interview Miraye. Miraye has been working at the center since 1995. She reiterated that the center was a way to help people that lost their jobs because of the ban. The center also has educational programs designed to inform people about endangered turtles and the harmful effects of plastics. She agreed with Hugo and Kike that the population has started to bounce back.
After interviewing both organizations and researching the different effects of ecotourism, I concluded that the sea turtle population is benefiting from ecotourism.
The program allowed me to complete this amazing research project, but it also allowed me to do so much more. I got to go shop at local markets, learn how to negotiate with taxi drivers, tour mezcal distilleries, and so much more. This trip was truly life changing, and I’m so grateful for the Honors College for making this opportunity happen.

Al VanSickle: Sibling Rivalry Press


This past summer, I was able to work as an intern editor for Sibling Rivalry Press, a small poetry and fiction press in Little Rock, Arkansas. I am a creative writing major, and I’ve done my fair share of peer critiquing and editing for students, but this was the first time I would be put to the test by editing for adults in a professional environment. Though I was excited, I was also terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do the job justice.

Over the course of the summer, I edited for a few poets that I’ve been fans of for some time. The most worthwhile experience for me, however, was during the Kaleidoscope LGBT film and culture festival. At that festival, I got to help a new author debut their first collection as well as talk with many old and new customers for the press. It was awesome being able to talk to people about what they love and what they struggle with and give them book suggestions based off of that. At that same festival, I got to meet Randi Romo, author of Othered, and she talked a lot about how she has been an activist for the LGBT community for many years and how that’s impacted her as a queer writer. For her, writing was another form of activism, but it was also a way for her to confront all that she’s faced in a healthy way.

Talking with Romo and other authors throughout my internship about their experiences and their writing taught me about how writers write for different reasons. Romo writes for activism and as a way to confront her past obstacles. Allison Joseph, author of Corporal Muse, writes because she loves to write and capture the beauty of everyday things. Collin Kelley, Bryan Borland, Seth Pennington, Savannah Sipple, Allison Joseph, and Randi Romo all write poetry, but it is not the same poetry, and it is not for the same reasons that they write poetry. This experience has forced me to ask myself the question: why do I write poetry?

I started writing poetry when I was about 8 years old in the form of songs and for Christmas cards that I would give to my parents. I didn’t know that poetry could exist for poetry’s sake until I was a bit older, and I read Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. It wasn’t until high school that I was confronted with poetry that didn’t rhyme and wasn’t defined by meter. I had found my poetry then. Even so, it wasn’t until I started working with the press that I understood the goal I had with my poetry, conveniently set as the press motto: disturb and enrapture. I had found my goal. I wanted to write poetry that made people wince, maybe even cry, but also share it with everyone they know. I wanted to write poetry like Theresa Davis, who can have you laughing and crying all at once and for sure sharing it to all your facebook followers.

But I am not Theresa Davis, and a goal is not always the same as a purpose. I still work with the press today, and it’s been over a year since I started with them. The most impactful experience I’ve been given by working over all of that time with Sibling Rivalry Press has not been engaging with the writers, reading drafts of poetry, or even sharing my own work with the press by my side. It’s been the readers. With every event I have gotten to meet and shake hands with readers of poetry, new and old. The thing about poetry is that it’s intimate, and readers have all different reasons to read it. Some of them read to be angry, some for comfort, some because they don’t have the time for a full-length novel. It’s by meeting all of these readers that I’ve found my purpose in writing, which is simply sharing my stories.

I write to share a part of myself in the most beautiful way I know how. I write, not to work through anything, but to share that I’ve worked it through. I write to show others all the pieces of myself and what I find interesting and disturbing. I write to share what I am enraptured by in the hopes that I will enrapture others, and someone may have a moment of, “hey, me too.” I am grateful to Sibling Rivalry Press for giving me the amazing opportunity to find that in myself and to the Honors program for helping give me the time to dedicate toward that purpose.

Erica Smith: Optimization of Microfluidic Paper Analytical Devices to Detect Low Concentrations of Tetracycline in Agricultural Settings

This summer, I participated in Chemistry Undergraduate Research here at the University of Central Arkansas with Dr. Nathan Meredith. My project’s goal was to investigate new detection methods for pharmaceuticals present in agricultural runoff. By using microfluidic paper-based analytical devices, we developed a test that quantifies trace amounts of the antibiotic tetracycline in water samples. Tetracycline is commonly used in concentrated animal feeding operations, where overuse of antibiotics contributes to the issue of antimicrobial resistance, a significant problem affecting the overall human population today. This research engages environmental health science, which describes how environmental factors affect human health. I plan to use the results of my lab research in my Honors Capstone Project this fall.

I am very passionate about my research because the issue of antimicrobial resistance is not something we should overlook. It is imperative that we take preventative measures toward this dilemma before the rise of antibiotic resistant strains become irreversible. I enjoy the topic of my project because it incorporates my disciplinary background in chemistry as well as the science of biology. After completing my degree, I plan to attend pharmacy school. This research experience will benefit me practically in that I will have experience working in a research lab, which will also strengthen my marketability to pharmacy programs. While conducting primary and secondary research for my capstone project, I have been able to branch out into other science departments besides my own, providing important professional networking and relationships. I have enjoyed meeting new faculty and members of my community who are also passionate about fighting antimicrobial resistance. I hope to incorporate these people’s perspectives in my written capstone project as well.

The main purpose for investigating these new detection methods for antibiotics is to create a more simple approach so that the method we produces can be done in the field by someone without a science background. Current testing for pharmaceuticals in water sources is time consuming, expensive, and requires experienced users to complete. Our study is valuable in that our new method is quick and efficient, inexpensive, and will not require great amounts of scientific training or equipment to be done. Overall, the importance of my project stems from its ability to benefit all people, including both science professionals and laypersons as well as the overall human population. Chemists, biologists, and farmers or regulators will be able to monitor the emergence of antibiotics in local water sources over both time and location.

In the laboratory, we used microfluidic paper analytical devices to detect the presence of the antibiotic tetracycline. The devices are made of filter paper and printed wax designs. We designed the wax devices on a program, CorelDraw, and printed them using a Xerox Colorqube Solid Ink Printer, which uses wax instead of ink or toner. The devices were then melted on a hot plate so that the wax design fully permeated through the paper. These designs work well with solution testing because the wax acts as a barrier to contain the solutions. Some devices were used for what we call flow tests, while others were used for spot tests. Flow tests involve devices in the shape of a line, while spot tests involve circles. Testing proved that the spot test worked best. After a test was done, we analyzed the fluorescence of the reaction. Using a blacklight to activate fluorescence, we took a picture of the device we planned to analyze using a digital camera. We then uploaded the photo to be analyzed by ImageJ, an image processing program that allowed us to extract quantitative data from the image. We used this data to develop a calibration curve through Microsoft Excel.

My research has helped me to learn more about my field of study. As I delved deeper into new techniques and analysis of the data collected during the project, I found myself developing new skills that will potentially benefit me in pharmacy school and my future career. Future work in this project can make a real world difference in our fight against the rise of antibiotic resistance strains of bacteria because a greater level of awareness and understanding of this problem will lead to a greater effort to prevent the transfer of antibiotic resistant bacteria to water sources and humans. I am thankful for this experience and that I was able to lay down the foundation for this project.

Brittany Fair: Hiking among the Hoodoos

I traveled to southern Utah during July 29th- August 5th as part of a Partners in the Parks program. Eleven honors students from around the country and two Southern Utah University (SUU) leaders met to “rough it” in Bryce Canyon National park. We camped in Cedar City at Three Peaks the first night. The second day we drove two hours to the park, set up camp, and hiked to the amphitheater rim. The view will forever be engraved in my memory. Neither words nor pictures do it justice. Bryce’s hoodoos, or spires of rock, develop after years of being chipped away by wind and weather. They are unusual and spectacular. At the end of each day, we told the group a rose, bud, and thorn. A rose was something you enjoyed, a bud something you looked forward to, and a thorn something that troubled you. That first view remained my true rose throughout the trip. On day three, artist Arlene Braithwaite inspired us to find a solitude location and use watercolor to paint a depiction of Bryce. I’m not ashamed to admit that a fourth grader could give me a run for my money in a painting contest. That afternoon included a beautiful, informative, and exhausting hike of Navajo Loop with Biologist Sam Wells from SUU. I already know I am out of shape, but hiking 8,000 feet above sea level is no joke! On the plus side, I can pick out some edible plants now and got great pictures. Sam also taught us about Utah’s native Ponderosa Pine and the effect of fire on the tree. The thick bark of older trees is relatively fire resistant and the base of a burnt pine puts off a vanilla fragrance. The fourth day marked the beginning of our backpacking adventure. We hiked with National Park Service employee Eric Vasquez to Riggs Spring Group Site in the back-country. As part of our service project, Eric asked us to recommend a better tent site at a campsite along the way. The original spot was beside a trail with high animal traffic. It was evident that a bear had been scratching on a tree about 10 feet away. Furthermore, the site was less than 20 feet from a lightning scarred tree. At our group site, Eric explained the negative effects of an invasive plant called Bull Thistle and provided us with tools to remove it. The rest of the afternoon was spent waiting on storms to pass and learning how to cook beans/rice and brownies on WhisperLite Stoves. Our excellent group leader Kelly Goonan taught us the importance of maintaining waste in the back-country. Bodily waste should be expelled about 200 feet from the campsite and any natural water source. You must dig a cat hole that is at least 4 inches deep, cover it up, and leave no paper behind. Before leaving the campsite, we searched for trash left behind by previous backpackers. Always leave a place better than you found it! Unfortunately, a campfire escaped several years ago at the site and killed much of the plant life in the area. It is actually against the rules to start a campfire in the back-country. We hiked back out the next morning. Once again, the high elevation gave me a reality check. It rained the rest of the day and we missed our scheduled astronomy program. The next highlight of my trip occurred on the sixth day. Moe the mule carried me several thousand feet to the bottom of the amphitheater. I’m very proud of Moe, but I’m not proud that he probably smelled better than I did. (Hey, don’t worry, I took my shower the next day at my hotel.) After the horseback ride, we traveled back to Cedar City and set up our tents for the last time. Before calling it a night we each shared our favorite part of the trip, what we would take away, and how we would share our experience with others. It was physically and mentally challenging. It rained each day. I did not shower all week. I developed blisters on my feet. I got much colder at night than I came prepared for. However, the number of thorns could not compare to the beauty of my roses. I gained knowledge about the outdoors. I’m more confident about hiking and backpacking. I developed friendships that I hope last a lifetime. It is a trip I will never forget. If you get the chance, take Dr. Allison Wallace’s National Parks seminar and then go hike among the hoodoos.

Allison Finneseth: Adventures Across Asia

This past semester, my sister and I had the opportunity to spend four months studying abroad in Thailand. While we were in Asia, we also got to spend some time experiencing the culture, customs, and chaos of India, Laos, Vietnam, and China. I previously assumed that the countries in Asia were fairly similar to one another; however, I quickly learned that each had its own unique flavor. Although it’s impossible to explain all of the differences in a short blog post, I wanted to give you a taste of my adventure abroad.

Thailand- Traveling up north to Chiang Mai, we visit the Karen Hill Tribe, one of the largest minority groups in Thailand. The Karen tribe is the only tribe that has grown up working with and caring for elephants on their land. We visited their village and not only had the chance to feed, bathe, and play with the elephants, but also learn about their heritage and way of life. The Karen people speak one of the Tibeto-Burman languages, which is completely unique from any other dialect spoken in Thailand. All of the Karen are completely self-sufficient and live off of the land around them. Their food comes from the rice they plant, the trees they grow, and the animals they raise. Clothes are woven and dyed using colors from the plants nearby, and their medicines are completely herbal. The village has its own school and Christian church, and many young children drive motorbikes wherever they please. Their houses looked like wooden shacks and the toys consisted of rocks and sticks, but the kids couldn’t have been happier. I’m still fascinated by their lifestyle and reminded of how much our culture shapes our definitions of “normal” and “abnormal.”

Laos- My sister and I had finally arrived after what seemed to be a never-ending overnight bus and needed to get our visas on arrival. We filled out our paperwork, handed over our passports, and were ready to get inside a minivan for another three hour drive to our destination for the weekend. A sweet lady showed us to the right van, but the driver wasn’t ready to take us quite yet. He was sitting around a table with some of his friends eating lunch with what looked like a pretty empty bowl of soup sitting in front of him. He said he needed to finish and let his soup settle, so we should come back in an hour and see if he’s ready by then. My sister and I walked to a café across the street and said, “One hour?! It looked like he was done with his lunch! I guess we’ll just wait here and hope he’s ready to go when we head back.” Luckily he was ready to take off shortly after we got in the van, and after some long and windy roads we arrived safely. Fast forward to late that afternoon and we were trying to figure out which tour to book for the next day. We were searching through a book at our hostel and asked the worker if he could arrange one of the hiking tours for us. He was more than happy to do so and called the company to get it arranged, but came back with some unfortunate news. He said, “The hike you want to do is a fairly long trek, and none of the guides want to walk that far tomorrow. Is there a different tour you’d like to do?” We couldn’t help but laugh and of course chose a shorter, less strenuous hike for the next day. Laos definitely tested my patience and desire for structure, but it also made me question the strain of our fast pace.

China- My family and I were walking around Tiananmen Square while our tour guide was filling our heads with facts about the late Mao Zedong, founding father of the People’s Republic of China. We were amazed by the vastness of the Square itself, as well as the two ancient gates on either side of it, but then something unusual caught our eyes. Three locals around 60 years old were staring at the four of us and whispering amongst each other. One of the men smiled and shouted in Mandarin to our tour guide, after which she told us they wanted a group picture with our family. We willingly obliged, and afterwards they thanked each of us personally before once again briefly talking with our guide. Before our tour continued, the guide informed us that the “locals” were actually rural farmers who had never seen foreigners before in their lives. That struck me because I immediately realized two things. First, these farmers had been surrounded by people who looked like them, talked like them, and acted like them their entire life. Second, I had always taken the beauty of diversity for granted. Diversity was something I grew up with and assumed everyone else did as well; however, it is such a sweet gift that I will continue to remind myself of and treasure forever.

I have countless more stories to share, but Asia has changed me in so many ways. I’m forever thankful for this opportunity to explore the vast world in which we live. I couldn’t agree more with Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Asia, I hope to see you again.

Jules Merguie:  Effects of Confidence on Visual Perception

This semester I traveled to Houston, Texas, to participate in the Southwestern Psychological Association conference from April 12th to the 15th. I have been working on research throughout the year in Dr. Ken Sobel’s lab, and my lab partner and I were accepted to give a talk at the conference. This was the first time I had gone to any sort of professional conference in my field, much less give a talk about our research in front of a group of people, so I was very nervous the Friday of our talk. I had no idea what to expect as we were traveling to Houston, but I was just thankful to be presenting with my lab partner.

The conference’s theme this year dealt with how psychology might be helpful when it comes to future challenges, such as climate change and geopolitical issues. The first lecture I attended featured one of the invited speakers and ended up being one of my favorite talks of the whole weekend. The speaker discussed engaged psychology and how paying attention to the element of human thought processes and behavior instead of focusing only involved numbers would be helpful in preventing things like the bubble pop in 2007 from happening again. The speaker incorporated how the field I am interested in could be used in multidisciplinary collaboration, and that was incredibly useful for me to hear. After that speaker’s talk, I went to look around the main floor to check out some of the research posters on display and some of the graduate schools that were there advertising to undergraduates. It was genuinely fun being able to talk to professionals about their different graduate schools, but I ended up camping out at the UCA booth a little more than I should have because my professors were there talking to potential grad students.

As the day progressed, it started to sink in that I was going to be presenting my research soon, so I was thankful that I had the opportunity to present in front of Dr. Sobel beforehand because I knew he would be upfront with me. After tweaking some my presentation and moving things around, my lab partner, Aisha, and I were about as ready as we could have been. The talk went so much better than I thought it would, not because it was free from errors, but because the tone I could have with the crowd was more conversational than I expected. We are researching a phenomenon that tends to be a little bit more comical than other concepts in psychology, so as we presented our audience seemed to be laughing with us. I think after noticing how fun and genuinely interested our crowd was, it allowed me to take a more casual tone with the people I was speaking to. This big, scary, formal presentation turned into something much more fun and memorable than I expected because of the audience participation. I was so touched to see that many of my professors that were at the conference had made it to our talk, and they had conversations with me about the research we were doing and added their own expertise to the conversation.

The rest of the conference continued without a hitch. I was excited to see a plethora of topics covered by talks or poster sessions throughout the conference. My favorite session was one of the clinical poster sessions because of the genuine curiosity and wonder it sparked within me. It was incredible considering the time and hard work that went into all that these people were doing, and it was inspiring for me to think about how this could definitely be my future.