Liz S.

Graduate Recipient

"Life can be a series of challenges or opportunities depending on how you approach it. As you enter adulthood, how have you conquered a difficult task to turn it into an opportunity? As part of your essay, please explain the significance of your creative presentation to your journey with CF."

Life is a series of beautiful conflicts. My conflict arises from the desire to pursue endeavors that the physical limitations of cystic fibrosis won't allow. I grew up in Florida, where the languid St. Johns River flows into the sea, and this coastal proximity inspired a lifelong quest to study and conserve these habitats that I hold dear. Knowing I was born to be a marine biologist, it was a rude awakening the day I was told that SCUBA-diving was out of the question. How was I supposed to save the ocean if I couldn't even be in it? It was the first real limitation of CF I'd faced. It seemed a devastating blow.

Until I found freediving - descending to depth on a single breath. Freediving became the reason to perform daily treatments, and paradoxically, CF became my motivation to freedive - my lungs felt stronger, my airways clearer. I trained until I could hold my breath 5 minutes, and descend 100ft. Floating above a reef, I realized my inability to SCUBA-dive is what led me to this physically, mentally, and emotionally empowering activity that I love. Resolving this conflict between managing a chronic illness and following my passion was a critical moment in my life, and it inspired me to write "Singin' Song." It represents accepting life's challenges, following your song-line through those low and high tides, and embracing everything life has to offer. Included is footage of moments in my life that were similarly inspiring.


Liz S.'s Artwork

Liz S.'s Achievements

  • Ocean Navigator (docent) at the Sant Ocean Hall in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. - April 2015 - present. I volunteer at the Ocean Hall to help engage visitors and guide them through the exhibits. I sought this opportunity because I am passionate about the critical role that education and outreach play in conservation.
  • Experiential Learning and Teaching Assistant for University of Maryland's College Park Scholars Program (Environment, Technology, Economy) - 2013 - 2015. I help students connect the importance of community involvement and sustainability to different aspects of their lives.
  • Teaching Assistant for Duke University's Talent Identification Program - Summers 2010 - 2014. I spend my summer vacations teaching high school students the scientific method and sensory biology of marine organisms, providing them hands-on instruction covering field techniques, data collection, marine animal training, and the development of independent research projects. It's an incredibly intense "vacation," and typically necessitates 16-18 hr work days.
  • Volunteer Independent Researcher, investigating the use of goats to control invasive vegetation, 2013 - present. Despite working and attending graduate school full-time, I am also conducting independent research in my spare time to study whether allowing goats to graze back invasive vegetation is an effective alternative to herbicides or manual labor. I presented initial findings at the 2014 Student Conference on Conservation Science in New York City, winning third place for speed-talks.
  • Volunteer Weed Warrior, Montgomery County, MD - 2015. By undergoing training and participating in this program, I am certified to remove harmful invasive vegetation from parks and natural areas.
  • Volunteer on Career Panel for the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, Cantonsville, Maryland - Spring 2015. I participated in a career advice panel for approximately 100 high school students, providing academic and professional advice for students interested in pursuing scientific disciplines.
  • Snore and Roar Host at the Smithsonian National Zoo, Washington D.C. - 2014 - 2015. I lead guided overnight camps and tours at the zoo, teaching visitors about zoos' roles in the conservation of endangered species while they go behind the scenes at the different exhibits.
  • Volunteer intern at the Environmental Research Institute, Calabash Caye Field Station, Belize - Summer 2014. I spent the summer assisting University of Belize's ERI, helping conduct field research on mangroves, sea grasses, and coral reefs. This research is used to help conserve and protect Belize's natural resources.
  • Volunteer at outreach events for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissions, Florida Keys - 2009 - 2013. During local events such as seafood festivals, I helped set up interactive displays involving touch tanks, standing by them all day answering questions. I loved these events, as they were an invaluable opportunity to educate the public about local ecosystems and the conservation efforts of FWC.
  • Completion of Tough Mudder, 13 mile obstacle race, October 2014. I consider myself an athlete, and I strive to motivate my friends and families to push themselves and achieve their respective fitness goals. Completing the Tough Mudder was a significant achievement for me, and hope it served as inspiration to others.