Honors Benefits – Mariel Ortega Travel Award

Students participating in the University Honors Program enjoy benefits such as our interdisciplinary emphasis, strong community, and focus on personal, professional and intellectual development (see this link: http://tx.ag/HonorsBenefits).

Another benefit available to students in good standing in the University Honors Program is the Honors Travel Fund, which provides up to 10 awards of $500 each to support activities aligned with the University Honors Program mission of challenging high-achieving undergraduate students to develop the personal, professional, and intellectual skills they will need to address tomorrow’s multifaceted problems.

In this post, senior wildlife and fisheries major Mariel Ortega ’21 from San Antonio describes a research trip funded in part by an Honors Travel Award.

– by Mariel Ortega ’21

We stood, each of us three, under the rapidly receding shade of the pickup truck. It was a summer day in Texas, the kind that’s over 90° and without a cloud in the sky. We had been up since 6 in the morning (again), it was day eleven without a shower, and my sandwich tasted like cooler water. Objectively, I should have been miserable, exhausted. But that wasn’t the case, for that morning I held a bird in my hand, that afternoon I told my favorite joke to two colleagues who are really friends, and that evening we would eat dinner in the gleam of the setting sun. And so it was that I wore not a frown, but an irrepressible grin.

Three weeks in the field. Not only enjoying the embrace of nature, but contributing to our understanding of the world. Bliss. We were there for a PhD student’s study on avian malaria. Songbirds were safely captured in finely woven nets strung between two vertical poles. A quick blood sample was taken (like getting blood drawn in a doctor’s office) and the birds were released. These samples would later be taken to a lab on campus to detect any malaria parasites present in the bird.

White-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus). Photo credit: Katrina Keith.

This wasn’t my first fieldwork experience. I’ve camped in different areas of Texas, California, and even Australia. Each time, the grandeur of nature, the spending time with colleagues I esteem and love, and the awareness that my work contributes to scientific knowledge inspired great joy and fulfillment in me. This time was no exception, but there was an added benefit. Camping in remote Texas with only two others, we were as socially isolated as possible. In the midst of a world that seemed to be falling apart in every possible way, it was a relief to turn off my phone and retreat into a world where our only concerns amounted to leaky tents, poison ivy, and flat tires.

This experience encompasses the reason I chose my career. The traditional ties and heels, clipboard and negotiation, coffee and big cities internship never appealed to me. Rather, I choose the career of sunrises and sunsets, stillness and beauty, granola bars and forests. It’s not for everyone certainly, but for me the joys of nature far eclipse the discomforts.

For more information about the Honors Travel Fund, visit http://to.ag/HonorsTravelFund. 


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