Sarah Swiersz '20, an interdisciplinary studies graduate and BHC Scholar, was recently awarded the Order of Pegasus, one of UCF's most prestigious honors. As an undergraduate, she was heavily involved in research, the Russian-American Student Association, Tri-Knights, the Office of Sustainability Initiatives, and student government, among other organizations. In the future, Sarah hopes to contribute to our understanding of the relationship between science and society by serving as a U.S. policy analyst working at the intersection of international relations and science, technology, and environmental policy.

How did you achieve the Order of Pegasus?

At UCF, I’ve had the opportunity to serve in leadership capacities in the Russian-American Student Association, Tri-Knights, the Office of Sustainability Initiatives, the Interdisciplinary Studies Student and Honor Societies, and the executive cabinet of student government. These leadership roles have brought many wonderful opportunities to serve in the Central Florida community—my two favorites have been hosting bike-recycling drives for children in the dependent-care system with the Orlando Bike Fairy and tutoring first-grade OCPS students in English/Spanish reading.

I am extremely grateful for each of my research mentors, and I’ve had the privilege of conducting research related to botany, coastal geoscience, Russian studies, astrochemistry, space law and policy, philosophy of science and religion prison education, and political ecology. This research has been supported by the UCF RAMP, OUR, and Burnett Research Scholars communities. Through research, I’ve gotten to have some really cool experiences I’ll never forget, such as representing the U.S. at the 2017 World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi, Russia, interning with the NSF through the OCEANUS REU program, and reporting on the 2020 AAAS Annual Meeting as a National Association of Science Writers Travel Fellow.

What is your long-term goal, and how will the Order of Pegasus help you get there?

One of my long-term goals is to make a meaningful contribution to our understanding of the relationship between science and society; I imagine a world where science is integrated with other knowledge systems to advance climate justice, processes of decolonization, and the development of a regenerative economy. I believe the Order of Pegasus will help me achieve my goals by serving as a symbolic reminder to reflect and be grateful; to focus on the light that shines through relationships and community building; and to believe in my convictions that the path to “success” is really never as linear or prescribed as prevailing narratives may break it down to be.

What advice do you have for others who may want to achieve the Order of Pegasus?

I strongly encourage any member of the UCF community to engage with the myriad of resources UCF offers—some that have made all the difference for me [include] CAPS, SHS, RWC Group Exercise classes, and stopping by the Arboretum (to hang out with friends, drink lavender tea, take a nap, cry, etc.). On a related note, I’ve found it’s worth it to simply show up and try to never be afraid of being the least knowledgeable person in a room—in fact, I would propose that might be the best kind of place you can end up at UCF! To those of us with the privilege to take risks and show up, let’s work with and support the numerous wonderful people across the UCF community who work tirelessly to build safe spaces where learning and taking risks is an equitable endeavor!

Regarding goal-setting and achievement: I had an awesome honors statistics professor in Fall 2017, whose perspective I always really appreciated. One time, I was expressing concern over an upcoming exam (thank you, major test anxiety), and he basically said, “remember Goodhart’s Law from economics: when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” I will never forget that—life presents many measures and attainments onto which we can attempt to grasp, but, at least for me, it’s very useful to remember that these measures are not the ultimate target.

Favorite books? Hobbies?

Two genres of literature that have made particularly formative impacts on my life are children’s literature and science writing/reflective essays on science (particularly, works related to science and religion and those deconstructing the post-Enlightenment, settler-colonial development of science). Since high school, I’ve also really enjoyed finding and attempting to read books in Spanish and Russian, especially fiction books and poetry collections related to geoscience!

In general, I really enjoy spending time outdoors and exercising; particularly, I love riding my bike! My favorite mental health break is to just scan library shelves.