Heidi Waite ’17, BHC Scholar, biology alumna, and Ford Diversity Fellow, is now pursuing her Ph.D. at UC-Irvine studying marine biology! During undergrad, she was heavily involved in research, having conducted her Honors in the Major thesis on microplastics found in oysters and mud crabs while under the CEELab. Heidi’s future goals include working in conservation research and/or in science outreach and communication.

What leadership positions, research experiences, internship experiences, study abroad experiences did you have while at UCF? What did you learn from them - how do you think they helped get you where you are today?

As an undergraduate student at UCF, I was a historian and secretary of Honors Congress. As a board member, I learned a lot about collaboration and community building. I also participated as a mentor in the Seedlings Mentoring Program. [There,] I learned how to give advice and work with people of different backgrounds. [Additionally,] I was involved with Habitat for Humanity and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science.

I was also a student researcher and Honors in the Major student in Dr. Linda Walters’ Coastal and Estuarine Ecology Lab (CEELab). This was my most important experience as an undergraduate. Dr. Walters’ support and mentorship really molded my career plans. I learned many crucial research skills including research design, analysis, presentation, and science writing. Without these, I would not have been competitive for graduate school.

What is your long-term goal/future plans? How did the BHC help achieve these goals? 

I hope to pursue a career in conservation research and/or science outreach and communication. BHC was instrumental in creating a path to where I am now. I was tightly involved in Honors Congress as a committee member, and then [as a] board member. The BHC provided me the support and community I needed to succeed at UCF and beyond. I created lasting friendships that have been life changing. Additionally, the Honors in the Major program prepared me for graduate school and a career in research.

What advice do you have for other students who may want to follow a similar path?

Take risks! Opportunities will present themselves and even though they may feel scary and impossible, take that leap. It will be worth it. Sometimes you’ll learn that you don’t want to go down that road. Learning you don’t want to do something is just as valuable as finding what you do like.

Who is a famous person you’ve met?

I briefly met Malala Yousafzai while studying at the University of Oxford, U.K. – though I don’t know if you can count it as meeting. She sat next to me at a burrito spot. We briefly exchanged words while her bodyguards watched from a corner:

“May I sit here?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Thank you.”

It’s still my claim to fame. She is truly an inspiration!