Spotlight on Our Students: Sommer Stephens
The University Honors and Scholars Program (UHSP) interviews Sommer Stephens, a senior from Walkertown, N.C. majoring in animal sciences. Read on to learn more about some of the HON seminars she loved, her research interests and her upcoming adventures at the University of Maryland this summer.
By Chester Brewer
UHSP: Sommer, thanks for agreeing to chat with us. We are looking forward to learning more about your experiences in the program and your research interests. To get us going, would you tell us about the most interesting HON seminar you took and why?
SS: The most interesting honors seminar I took was HON 202 Data and the Human with Dr. Fyfe. In this course, we evaluated the development of technology over the last few decades and how it has incorporated itself into our daily lives. At first, I was skeptical of my ability to add to the discussion as the topic is out of my field of study but, over time I learned that I would be able to provide a unique perspective to our discussion which strengthened my appreciation for interdisciplinary thinking. Learning about the capabilities of artificial intelligence, the lack of awareness society has for how much of our lives are shared on the internet, and the racial biases that exist in technological development were very eye-opening.
UHSP: That really does sound fascinating! So, we hear you’re doing some field research. What sparked your interest in that?
SS: I think my passion for science and nature sparked my interest in field research. I have always loved exploring the world and have a mind that is always asking questions. With research, I am able to engage both of these and I am excited to be working this summer in the SOARE program at the University of Maryland studying public health and veterinary epidemiology to get a glimpse into this career path.
UHSP: That sounds awesome! What do you hope to learn from this experience?
SS: I hope to learn more about research projects that are happening in my field of interest to increase my experience and network. I also hope that this experience will confirm my desire to start a career in research and that I am able to build on skills that can be applied in future experiences.
UHSP: Well it certainly sounds like a unique opportunity to learn more about your research interests and whether or not they are a good fit for your future career aspirations. What else does the program entail?
SS: I begin my internship at the end of May and another interesting component of the SOARE program, outside of doing research, is that it helps students prepare for higher education such as graduate school and doctoral programs. As a student interested in both, I am excited to learn more about the application process and program identification process. I anticipate it will be some of a challenge adjusting to living in a new state for a few months but, I am excited to step out of my comfort zone. My hope is that I will gain clarity about myself, what I do and do not like about research, how well I can adapt to changing environments, and if I could see myself doing this type of work long-term.
UHSP: How has your time in the UHSP prepared you for this experience?
SS: My time in the University Honors and Scholars Program has provided me with many skills such as public speaking and critical thinking skills, and even provided me with my first research experience during fall 2021. Learning to converse with students and colleagues from different disciplines in a way that encourages higher thinking is a skill I’ve built upon in each of the HON seminars I took as well as through my experiences with the Scholars Forum and it’s a very important skill to have as you enter the workforce.
UHSP: It sounds like your time in the UHSP has given you opportunities to develop skills that will help you make the most of this experience through reflection. What would you tell other students about how to prepare for experiences like this?
SS: For other students preparing for internships and experiences similar to mine, I would recommend taking advantage of the resources and free time you have. Take courses that will challenge you, that engage your interests and hobbies — not confining yourself to your major — and reach out to professors and other professionals who are doing the work that you want to do.
UHSP: That is certainly solid advice. In closing, what would you say is the best advice you’ve ever received Sommer?
SS: The best piece of advice I’ve received is that you should always keep an open mind. There will be many times in life when you come across an opportunity that doesn’t directly align with your interests but it could prove to give you skills that will help you in the future. Taking advantage of these opportunities and recognizing their potential will help you to stand out amongst others.
UHSP: Yes, sometimes it is just as valuable to learn what you don’t like or don’t want to do with a career as it is to learn what you do want to do. We appreciate your time Sommer and we wish you the best of luck this summer as you participate in SOARE.