Like a lot of college students, Shannon Boyle enrolled with a career path in mind. But over the course of her four-year undergraduate career, she discovered a passion that steered her in another direction. The vehicle that helped her navigate her journey: internships and research opportunities.
“I started college thinking I’d go to veterinary school,” says the senior biology major, who complemented her classroom learning with real-world lessons at a lion sanctuary in South Africa, a sea turtle conservation program in Punta Gorda and a research project studying giraffes at the Naples Zoo. “I fell completely in love with the animal behavior aspect as opposed to the medical side. I wouldn’t have found that without these opportunities.”
At the annual Undergraduate Natural Sciences Symposium on April 20, Boyle will join about 90 peers presenting posters and videos highlighting their scholarship and experiential learning. The showcase takes place from 3 to 6 p.m. throughout the first floor of Whitaker Hall and provides the campus community and the general public an opportunity to see and appreciate the value of what FGCU students are researching and learning outside the classroom.
“Internships provide students with an in-depth opportunity to experience working in the real world, at the same time providing nearly 150 hours of direct support to our community partners,” says Environmental Studies Internship Coordinator Mary Kay Cassani, Ed.D, an instructor and co-program leader in the Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences. “In many cases, networking during the internship leads to job offers in the same or related organizations.”
The symposium features wide-ranging projects involving animal behavior, plant science, bacteriology, breast cancer, gene encoding and much more. Boyle’s presentation, “Composition and Function of All-Male Herds of Thornicroft’s Giraffe,” is the culmination of about 45 hours of observation at the Naples Zoo as well as data analysis and scholarship to help understand how male giraffes transition from herd living as adolescents to solitary existence as adults. She compared the frequency of behaviors in captivity to those in the wild.
“Besides being my favorite animal, they’re the largest land animal and are captivating to watch. I absolutely loved it,” says Boyle, who ultimately chose a concentration in organismal biology and ecology for her bachelor’s degree.
Her project built on research conducted several years ago by another student working with her mentor, Associate Professor Charles Gunnels, Ph.D, who’s also director of the Office of Undergraduate Scholarship and FGCUScholars.
“Undergraduate research in biology ensures that students actually participate in science, instead of just learning about the discoveries of others,” Gunnels says. “The experience requires students to develop thinking and problem solving that they will use in their life after graduation. In so many ways, this is the most impactful experience that students will encounter during their undergraduate career at FGCU.”
Boyle certainly agrees, adding that her field experience enhanced her personal growth as well as her breadth of knowledge. It should give her an edge as she applies for graduate programs or jobs after receiving her bachelor’s degree in May.
“The research I did at FGCU and the internships I was part of in my four years as an undergraduate gave me the experience to be competitive in a field of candidates,” she says. “Maybe I’ll get picked over someone who pursued purely academic studies rather than immerse themselves in the nitty-gritty of the research experience. It’s not something you learn in classroom.”