Through science we see how everything is connected – Meagan Vanderbeck, FGCU Class of ’17

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Meagan Vanderbeck’s story begins with, “I have always had a strong interest in the outdoors.” This quality led her to be deeply curious about our unique natural environment in Southwest Florida, even as a young child. At Punta Gorda Middle School, her teacher, Ms. Booher guided her passion for the native outdoors toward participating in a science fair. In the 7th grade, Meagan was a Finalist at the regional Kiwanis Science and Engineering Fair. Her Earth Sciences project focused on Southwest Florida and fed her enduring desire to better understand our ecology and what it means to live here. One of the obstacles she faced in doing her project was the lack of academic research that existed in peer-reviewed abstracts that were relevant to the Florida landscape.

Her story shows not all successful competitors at the regional Kiwanis Science and Engineering Fair go on to be scientists. Her graduation from the Lugert College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is imminent. Her field of study is Marketing. But her love of the outdoors and her desire to know more about the natural texture of Southwest Florida continues and grows.

She served for two years as a Campus Naturalist for the FGCU Colloquium (an academic seminar). At FGCU all students are expected to gain an ecological perspective by completing this required course of study on the ecology of local living space and the interrelationships between humans and nature. This study is valuable even to those who don’t love science. Meagan was trained as a liaison to coach students in the Colloquium course work. She taught and guided field trips for upper level students that built knowledge on the local environment and encouraged sustainable lifestyle practices. She learned to demonstrate the relevance of the Colloquium by tweaking the material to show how the Southwest Florida environment affects each of their lives.

While at FGCU she studied environmental biology, marine studies, and environmental humanities and took a series of math courses up to calculus. At college she was to pursue her attachment to animal welfare by volunteering at a primate retreat for abandoned, abused, ill or neglected primates. This concern and love for animals also is shown in her personal life by “Edward”, her pet leopard gecko.

Her work in science gives her “a more positive outlook on life itself. Through science we see how everything is connected.” She refers to this as the “triple bottom line; the environmental, social and economic.”

Meagan said that the science fair process is user friendly. Every step is interesting, with clear standards and a good experience regardless of learning style. As a visual learner herself, she always thrived on the aesthetics of her project display. She believes given the “hands on” nature of science fairs, all kinds of learners can succeed in these competitions.

She is fervent about curing cancer based on the experience of family members. For eight years she has participated in Relay for Life, the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Association. In addition to playing a leadership role in the Relay, she has composed and performed songs written for survivors. She believes it possible that students participating today in science fair could be part of the answer in solving the multiple mysteries of cancer.

Her advice to science fair competitors? “Go in with an open mind, not for just a grade. Make it your own. Shine in the process. Show your creativity.”

When asked how she sees science fitting into her life in the future, she replied. “I will teach my friends and future children to appreciate the value of science. I will keep studying it myself.” From naturalist, to cancer, to primate care, to gecko, it is who she is. She will continue to put herself in situations driven by her love of science.

Authored by Jim Helms, Thomas A. Edison Regional Science and Inventors Fair Steering Committee

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