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Emma Steigerwald 2013-2014

Emma Steigerwald, Cornelius Scholar, Lanier Leadership Scholar, Truman scholar, and graduating senior, has been named the 2013 recipient of Vanderbilt University's Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship.

The goal of the fellowship is to develop future leaders through world travel and experiential learning. Graduating seniors awarded the fellowship have the opportunity to pursue an idea or an issue, about which they are impassioned, in the context of daily life in communities around the world.

Steigerwald, who is from Atlanta, GA, graduated in December 2012 from the College of Arts and Science with a major in Molecular and Cellular Biology. She is spending this spring semester working on a scarlet macaw reintroduction project in Chiapas, Mexico. Internships and volunteering in wildlife rehabilitation and ecology-evolution research have made her curious about how successful conservation projects take flight; from initial assessment of an environmental issue, to investigating solutions, ecosystemic and species management, sustainable development work, and political action.

“I feel like a knight setting out on a quest. To be able to witness the richness of life across the globe, and learn how many top-tier conservation projects run, is an idyllic opportunity that I could never have dreamed of. I can’t thank the selection committee enough for making the impossible possible for me,” said Emma. “The perception that wildlife and human interests are antagonistic, particularly in the developing world, is both mistaken and pervasive. I hope my journey illuminates how our relationship with the natural world can and should be symbiotic.”

In her project, entitled “Seeking Samma Ajiva: when life nurtures life,” Steigerwald plans to visit biodiversity hotspots across six continents. She will intern with NGOs and grassroots movements, learn peoples’ opinion of the conservation project in their community, and document her journey through blogged reflections, watercolor, and photography.

“The opportunity for a year’s practical experience, appreciating first-hand the incredible diversity both of nature and of local ecological issues, will give me an invaluable opportunity to understand man’s relationship to nature at a global level, ” said Steigerwald. “Perhaps, across these many successful conservation sites, I will be able to extract universal commonalities. Perhaps, I will just gain a greater appreciation for the incredibly diversity of challenges and solutions.”  

Students must apply for the fellowship by completing an application, submitting a resume and letters of recommendation and proposing a plan of study/travel. A committee of alumni Fellows, faculty, and staff selects the winner.