Constance Sartor’s parents put a mask and fins on her when she was 3, and she’s never turned back. These days, you’ll often find the New College student diving in the shark tank at Sarasota’s nearby Mote Marine Aquarium.
Her next stop: a summer internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sartor is a winner of the nationwide Ernest F. Hollings Scholarships for 2016, which provide two years of tuition assistance and a paid internship at an NOAA research facility. She is one of 127 winners nationally, and the only one from a Florida public college.
The second-year New College student, from Orlando, is a natural for the Hollings award. She has had a lifelong passion for science and environmental conservation. She’s kept her own insect collection since she was 10, and last year got a permit to capture invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades.
Sartor currently is part of a National Science Foundation-funded research program for undergraduates at Mote. Over spring break, she traveled to Buck Island Reef, St. Croix, for a coral epidemiology project. She did 10 scuba dives daily to survey the spread of yellow-band disease, and is now analyzing the data in GIS to create disease prevalence maps.
She says New College has made this kind of educational experience possible.
“The self-driven nature of studying at New College has encouraged me to seek out educational opportunities whenever I have free time,” she said. For example, during the College’s January Independent Study Project (ISP) term, she painted a 43′ squid mural at Mote Marine Laboratory – which led to more commissioned murals, including one she will paint at Yellowstone National Park this summer.
Her shark-diving at Mote and the spring project in St. Croix are other examples of taking advantage of New College’s flexibility.
“Due to the freedom in course selection and the encouragement from my professors – something I would never have experienced had I gone to a school with 200-plus student class sizes – I have had the opportunity to do an internship every semester that I’ve been at New College,” she said.
“I think that New College has prepared me best for the field of environmental science/research by inspiring me to be a ‘go-getter.’ I constantly encounter hardworking students doing fascinating research – which I think stems from the fact that New College has ISPs and theses – and I feel the need to do the same.
“I could have never imagined how well an approach like New College’s could prepare me for the field of environmental science – or any field for that matter,” she said.
While she still has two more years at New College, Sartor is looking at graduate studies and a career in a field known as ecological engineering, using low-impact methods of conservation that utilize the environment. But she knows her Hollings scholarship may change that: “My experience with NOAA may take this path in a new direction – we’ll see!”