A new Shenandoah alumna, who received the alumni award for Outstanding Senior in the College of Arts and Sciences at May commencement, also won a prestigious state award in mid-May for environmental research conducted during her undergraduate studies.
Sydney Vonada ’16 received the Harvill Award for Best Student Presentation conferred by the Botany Section of the Virginia Academy of Science (VAS) on May 19 at the VAS’s 94th annual meeting, which she attended with eight Shenandoah environmental studies undergraduates and Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology Woodward Bousquet, Ph.D.
The number of botany presentations at the meeting, held in Fredericksburg, was the highest it has been in at least two decades, according to Bousquet, who presided at the VAS Botany Section’s presentations and was elected Botany Section Chair for 2016-17.
Vonada presented on a year-long project in which she investigated and described ecologically significant natural communities at the Shenandoah University River Campus at Cool Spring Battlefield with the help of a grant from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) and private donations to the environmental studies program. Dr. Bousquet supervised her research, on which they collaborated with Gary Fleming, vegetation ecologist with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program. A diagram she created will be displayed in the Cool Spring lodge.
Vonada, of Midlothian, was in shock when she learned she had won the Harvill Award, because her primary motivation for presenting was to share her research to a room filled with scientists and strangers. “The award did more than recognize my hard work; it boosted my confidence in confirming that I had chosen the right field to study for my undergraduate degree. Pun intended, I blossomed in the environmental field and couldn’t have felt more proud to represent Shenandoah University’s environmental studies program up against the larger schools. The pride I felt extended to the individuals who helped immensely with making my research possible and making it the quality that I was able to present that day. So the award for me extends to the incredible people I worked with for the year and I’m thankful for the experience with them.”
Shenandoah’s environmental science professors truly make the program special, she added. “Dr. Bousquet and Dr. Kincaid are not only great professors and mentors, but they want all their students to succeed in the work world by making us marketable. Their lessons are skills-based AND we did the majority of our learning outside. One can only read so much about the environment – we all become so much more curious when we’re standing in nature observing it. Dr. Bousquet and Dr. Kincaid put together some great field trips that my peers and I reflect on often because they were so much fun, whether they took a few hours or an entire weekend. This coming fall, when the 25th anniversary of the program brings together alumni from various years, those moments will be the ones we share with each other.”
Vonada is now looking toward a future of unlimited opportunity. “I’m interested in a lot – from conservation, education and research to outdoor recreation and policy. My overall aspiration is to be an inspiration to others and make a difference in how people view the environment, and that can be accomplished in so many different ways. A few short-term goals that I’ve told my friends and family about a number of times are that I want to join the Peace Corps and also to hike the Appalachian Trail. I feel more confident in accomplishing these because of my studies and experiences I had at Shenandoah.”