Lauren Auer isn’t just smiling for the camera as she graces the cover of the 2012 Phi Kappa Phi national study abroad solicitation.
The photo featuring the senior Honors College student from Mobile, Ala. captures her mood for the duration of her studies in Belize last summer, where she conducted research for her Senior Honor thesis. A 2010 recipient of a Phi Kappa Phi national study abroad scholarship, Auer’s research focuses on arachnids found in Belize’s Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.
“To have been selected for the scholarship was amazing enough, but to then to have been selected from among the 50 national recipients as the featured student for the brochure, I was stunned,” Auer said.
Auer traveled to Belize with Dr. Aimée Thomas’ Tropical Ecology class, where she and Thomas noticed in passing through the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary the lack of an identification resource for arachnids in the region. This provided the inspiration for the research project for her senior honors thesis, which focuses on the incorporation of data from the sanctuary to create a user-friendly identification resource for the native guides and future visitors to the sanctuary.
“Upon returning home from Belize, the intrigue of the Cockscomb Basin stuck with me and my arachnid project was slowly born,” Auer said. “By creating and providing this resource to the sanctuary, it will contribute to the great scope of environmental education by achieving increased awareness of the area’s biodiversity.”
Thomas, an assistant professor of biological sciences, said Auer is excited about all aspects of learning, particularly in the sciences. “Her enthusiastic participation during the travel abroad experience in Belize and subsequent research trip there is testament to her dedication to her studies and quest for knowledge. I think they chose this photo because it exudes euphoria, which is exactly what she was feeling at the time."
The picture used for the brochure of Auer holding a starfish that is used in the brochure was taken by her friend and fellow student, Megan Chevis of Bay St. Louis, at Glover's Reef Atoll off the coast of Belize. Chevis is also a student in the Honors College and a biological sciences major.
“I remember the moments leading up to when Megan took the photo, she and I were snorkeling and we spotted the starfish on a rock bed. This was the first time I had ever seen a starfish in the wild, and I was in awe of the beauty of the tropical reefs,” Auer said.
“I was thinking to myself how amazing is it that a girl from Mobile could be swimming in clear blue waters surrounded by nature I've only seen before in National Geographic magazine. Dr. Thomas swears that I had that same look on my face nearly the entire trip,” she said. “That’s the beauty of study abroad - to be taken out of the textbooks and experience the amazing.”