Eric Kastelic and Megan Mascheri
During the summer of 2019, University of South Florida (USF) Judy Genshaft Honors College sophomores Eric Kastelic and Megan Mascheri were two of four students chosen nationally to participate in the three-week “Climate Change and the Environment” Summer Institute at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom through the Fulbright UK Summer Institute Program. The Fulbright UK Summer Institute Program provides undergraduate students (first-years and sophomores) with opportunities to explore the culture, heritage, and history of the UK while experiencing higher education at a UK university.
At USF, Eric is majoring in Geology with a minor in Geographic Information Systems. Originally from Palm City, Florida, he was drawn to water as a child and sought to understand how water flowed and interacted with the environment. As he grew older, Eric joined the Boy Scouts of America and explored nature with fellow scouters from his hometown and around the world. His leadership experiences with the Boy Scouts and interest in the environment led him to attend USF with the goal of studying geology with a focus on hydrology and the interactions between humans and water.
Through meetings with the Office of National Scholarships (ONS), Eric discovered that the Fulbright UK Summer Institute Program offered coursework on climate change and the environment at the University of Exeter, and he decided to apply. Over the next several months, Eric worked with Dr. Sayandeb Basu, Director of ONS, and Ms. Lauren Chambers, Associate Director of ONS, on his application and interview preparation. Through that process, he learned how to refine his narrative and articulate how that narrative aligned with the theme of the Institute. When he learned that he was chosen as a recipient, his mind was racing. “I was working in the USF Stable Isotope Lab and couldn’t work anymore.” he says. “I was so jittery and excited to explore the UK on my upcoming adventure.”
Much like Eric, Megan’s love of nature began in her childhood. Originally from Orlando, Florida, she first learned about biodiversity and preserving wildlife while attending elementary school field trips to places such as the Indian River Lagoon on the Atlantic coast of Florida. While in high school, she was selected to participate in a summer camp called Saving Earth’s Environment through Knowledge (SEEK), sponsored by the Florida Federation Garden Clubs (FFGC) in Ocala, Florida. Through that experience, Megan realized she could pursue a career that had a positive impact on the world, which led her to choose Environmental Science and Policy as her major at USF.
In fall 2018, Megan enrolled in an upper-level elective course called “Climate Change” at USF and felt she was one step closer to identifying her career goal related to the environment. Soon after, she researched the Fulbright UK Summer Institute Program. Knowing it was exactly the opportunity she had been searching for, Megan decided to apply and chose the “Climate Change and the Environment” Summer Institute at the University of Exeter. Megan worked with Dr. Basu and Ms. Chambers on her application and interview preparation – an experience that Megan compared to completing an intensive academic course. When she learned that she was chosen as a recipient, she was surprised. “It was my first time applying for a national scholarship and my first time going overseas,” she says. “I know that anything is possible now.”
At the Institute, Eric and Megan met with expert scientists at the University of Exeter Geography Department, ranked among the top 25 university geography departments in the world. Their program began under the instruction of Dr. Stephen Sitch, a professor in the Department of Geography and Chair in Climate Change at the University of Exeter, to review the basics of climate change, such as climate tipping points. For their first field trip, Eric and Megan traveled to the Stoke Woods, home to some of the oldest and largest trees in Exeter, where they collected circumference measurements of tree trunks to estimate carbon absorption in the Exeter area. For other field trips at the Institute, Eric and Megan explored sites such as Dartmoor National Park, the Jurassic Coast, The Met Office, and the Eden Project. While visiting the UK’s national weather service (The Met Office), Eric and Megan met with some of the UK’s top climate scientists and while at the Eden Project Biomes, they explored the largest rain forest in captivity.
Reflecting on their time at the Institute, Eric and Megan agreed that they gained new perspectives on climate change and cultural exchange. “It is more than just academics,” says Megan. “It is meant to fully immerse students into a new culture and create connections across different disciplines.”
The Fulbright UK Summer Institutes are three-to-four-week programs for US undergraduate students. There are typically nine different institutes offered at different higher education Institutions in the United Kingdom (UK). Each Institute has a theme, and themes range from climate change and the environment, to identity and nationhood, to film and media, to arts, activism and social justice.