Uncertain Start at UCF Sends Student Around the World

Steven Carrion never thought UCF would be the foundation for the rest of his future. When he was graduating from high school, he almost didn’t apply to the school at all. Dreaming of far-off places, and thinking success would come away from home, Carrion applied reluctantly, as a last-minute decision. As it turned out, UCF was the stepping stone to a scientific journey across the globe.

Carrion has seized every opportunity offered to him since he first stepped foot on campus. He has met former president Barack Obama, led marine science research and traveled to Australia, South Korea, Australia, Italy and the Maldives. He’s been to 19 countries total. He’s now about to begin his doctoral education after attending university in Europe, ready to share his vision of a more inclusive and transdisciplinary scientific field with the world.

“I think attending UCF was the best decision I made,” Carrion said. “I was able to stay close to my family, and ended up meeting so many passionate and ambitious people I call friends now. UCF served as a platform where I could grow immensely, not only personally but also academically.”

He participated in the interdisciplinary sciences program, which introduced him to the field of marine science and inspired him to become a scientist.

“At first, becoming a scientist didn’t seem like an achievable goal,” he said. “’That’s only for geniuses!’ I thought. But within a few months at UCF, I was chasing snakes through the moonlit marshes, following dolphins across the Atlantic coast of Florida, trekking through swamps to help map plant communities with a government agency, interviewing people about the socioeconomics of sea turtle conservation and assisting with small-critter identification as part of a road ecology project.”

‘Involved’ is an understatement. Through the College Democrats at UCF, Carrion met the Obamas and Bill Nye the Science Guy while he led a collaboration with OCEANA to bring awareness to air-gun sonar testing and off-shore drilling risks in Florida. He took part in 10 different organizations while here, from Volunteer UCF to SGA to Pre-Med AMSA. He even participated in a National Science Foundation summer research program.

“That opportunity changed my life,” he said. “I lived the life of a researcher, and I knew this is what I wanted as a career.”

During the program, Carrion had the opportunity to study the BP oil spill up close and personal in Louisiana. It also inspired him to continue undergraduate research, investigating his own topics.

“I ended up becoming interested in jellyfish and their sturdiness amongst human-driven environmental degradation,” he said. “It led me, with the help of the McNair program at UCF, to travel to Italy to do two projects on jellyfish.”

While in Italy, Carrion also took part in conferences involving NGO, various health organizations, government stakeholders and five different cross-Mediterranean partner groups to discuss issues regarding human and jellyfish relations. Two scientific papers from the research he was involved with in Italy were accepted and published in scientific publications.

Alvin Wang, Ph.D., was the dean of the Burnett Honors College at the time. After looking at Carrion’s involvement in research and environmental advocacy, Wang encouraged him to apply for the prestigious Udall Foundation Scholarship.

“I did, and became the first UCF student to be chosen to receive the scholarship from a nationwide pool of nominated students,” Carrion said.

The scholarship recognized his dedication to a career in the environment and public service, something which he encouraged in others during his time at UCF, as well. Carrion was involved in research in the Coastal and Estuarine Ecology Lab led by Linda Walters, Ph.D., where he conducted his honors thesis.

“One of my fondest memories was when I began a collaboration with the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research as a site leader for the Alternative Break Program, and ended up planning the first week-long trip engaging student participants in both service and marine research at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Mississippi,” he said. “After the trip, participants wrote about this experience for their successful medical and veterinary school applications.”

He became a contributing author on a chapter called “IgKnighting Volunteerism” in National Service and Volunteerism: Achieving Impact in Our Communities.

While at UCF, Carrion also founded the Mad Scientists Research Society to help other students experience the joys and benefits of research. The society offered a peer-to-peer research mentoring program, as well as a web series profiling undergraduate research adventures, and a campus-wide presentation competition during research week.

“My favorite time of the year each year was Research Week at UCF,” he said. “There was always so much excitement in the air. The Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence brought together so many passionate and ambitious students from all majors, who had been working hard on their projects and were finally showcasing them. I loved stopping at their posters and learning about what cool things they were up to.”

It’s no surprise that someone who enjoys supporting the work of those around him took a job to do that full-time. While he figures out where he goes next for his future doctoral degree, Carrion is currently working with the American Geophysical Union in Washington D.C.

“I’m excited about this opportunity as it allows me to continue what I love doing: helping others achieve their goals, especially in research,” he said.

He’ll be assisting with preparation of their fall conference, as well as assisting with managing programs designed to provide opportunities for aspiring or current student researchers. He also hopes to continue his own research while he pursues his doctoral education, thanks to the research foundation he was able to build while attending UCF.

“I went from someone who didn’t know what I was doing in life, to knowing what I wanted and achieving so many things,” Carrion said. “When I realized I wanted to become a scientist, UCF gave me the opportunity to chase those dreams. I am so happy I decided to follow my passion of working with communities and the environment.”

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