Waking up around 5 AM to go stand in a 40 degree freezer to sort hundreds of pounds of fish may not seem very pleasurable, but for me, it was my favorite way to start the day. For five months, I spent my mornings sorting fish and afternoons assisting with animal shows as an intern at Sea Life Park Hawaii. The animals I worked with included Atlantic and Pacific bottlenose dolphins, California sea lions, and two endangered species, Humboldt penguins and a Hawaiian monk seal. When I started, my main objective was to scrub buckets, set the stage, and make sure everything was ready for the trainers; by the end, I was conducting daily physical exams (DPEs) for the animals, calling and sending back animals during in-water interactions, and asking basic behaviors. My favorite part of the experience was working with the sea lions. I was the only intern in my area cleared to conduct DPEs on sea lions, where I would enter into the sea lion housing area and ask for various behaviors to check over their body and make sure there was nothing of concern. Overall, it was a life-changing, once in a lifetime opportunity that I consider one of my greatest blessings. It pushed me to be more independent and not afraid to step out of my comfort zone.
Now that the adventure is over (for now), I am looking forward to returning to the University of Southern Mississippi to finish my degree in marine biology and psychology. If you would have asked me at the start of my senior year of high school about University of Southern of Mississippi, I would have said I had never heard of it. Now, as a student, I cannot recommend Southern Miss enough when people ask me about my school. From active learning trips to undergraduate thesis writing, the Honors College has helped prepare me for my highly competitive field. In fact, one of the active learning trips I took was an introductory psychology course that traveled to Dolphins Plus in Key Largo, Florida. The course and trip itself was led by Dr. Stan Kuczaj, who is world renowned for dolphin studies. Later on, I would start conducting my thesis research project through Dr. Kuczaj’s Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory. Though the majority of the projects in the lab involve dolphin studies, Dr. Kuczaj was able to set up a project that focused on my preferred (and peculiar) choice of marine mammal to study: the walrus. I never imagined that I would find a school that could tailor so much to my needs—and none of this would have been possible without the Honors College.
I believe the Honors College is one the greatest assets to the University, and I hope the Honors College is able to continue inspiring, pushing students to seek new horizons, and providing the necessary steps to get them there for many years to come.
- Jessica McCord, Class of 2016