From HATS to Hatter graduate

Jennifer Cherry, first HATS graduate to graduate from Stetson University
Jennifer Cherry, former HATS graduate, now official Hatter graduate

As I sit today as a recent Stetson graduate reading the quote by Walt Disney printed on the back of my 2006 HATS program t-shirt, I realize that this quote has defined my life: “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” I participated in Stetson University’s HATS (High Achieving Talented Students) program, founded by former Stetson Education Professor Cindy Lovell, ’94, M.A. ’96, Ph.D., in 1999. Dr. Lovell always encourages bright students to create their own pathways to success. I started my journey in the HATS program when I reached fourth grade and continued through the program until eighth grade, participating in a variety of programs that aided in my year-round academic enrichment for high-achieving and gifted students.

In my first exposure to Stetson University in fourth grade, I remember spinning around in the Palm Court with lunchbox in hand and creative mind ready to explore the possibilities of the day, while excitedly stating to my mom, “This is where I want to go to college.” My mom would always respond that since Stetson was a private university that this option was out of the question. Throughout my journey through the HATS program, my love for the values of Stetson, the professors I came into contact with, and the future education that I would receive from this institution only increased.

Cherry began her journey in environmental sciences in the HATS program.
Cherry began her journey in environmental sciences in the HATS program.

After working extremely hard in high school, continuing forward with my passion of environmental stewardship and academic excellence instilled upon me through the HATS program, it was now time to apply for college. I took a leap of faith and this determined high school senior applied to become a Stetson Hatter. Confidently I composed my essay portion of the application, finished up the loose ends of the application and submitted my application to the Admissions office. The phone rang on my 18th birthday and it was my admissions recruiter Mr. Andy Baker calling to inform me that I had been accepted to Stetson. When I received this news I instantly was brought back to the little fourth grader spinning in the Palm Court, now realizing my dream of attending this academically rigorous university was about to come true.

Four years later, my journey throughout Stetson has been far from what I would call easy, but I am beyond thankful for all of the opportunities both academically and professionally that I have been exposed to both in the classroom and in the field. I have many people to thank for this opportunity, especially those who have financially assisted in the costs—particularly, the Honorable Hyatt and Cici Brown, the academic scholarship program at Stetson and the HATS Scholarship. Through the HATS program my love and passion for science and the environment were definitely heightened through the marine biology and environmental science HATS programs. Those science programs were taught by Mrs. Laura French, and the forensic science program was taught by Mrs. Lynn Albinson, now the current director of the HATS program. From seine netting at the local springs, taking hikes at wildlife areas, including Tiger Bay and Lyonia Preserve, practicing fingerprinting skills and increasing observation skills, I thank the HATS program for my Stetson education, and for making me an advocate for the environment.

While at Stetson I worked with the Student Ambassador program and assisted prospective students and families. I worked at the local Walgreens and interned with the Volusia County Environmental Management, working part-time at the Lyonia Preserve where I assisted with environmental education. Through my Conservation Biology course under Dr. Kirsten Work, I assisted with eel grass restoration projects at Blue Spring and assisted in the development of an Amendment 1 Forum with Mr. Clay Henderson, as well as various other environmentally-based projects through the Stetson Environmental Club.

My passion for sea turtles in particular was the topic of my senior research project entitled “Temporal and Spatial Trends in Sea Turtle Stranding and Nesting in Volusia County from 1989-2012.” With the help of my research advisor Dr. John Jett, I was invited to present my thesis at the Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Meeting at Jekyll Island, Ga., in February 2015, in addition to presenting at Stetson’s Senior Showcase event held in May.

The overall goal of my internship with the Volusia County Environmental Management was to support the goals of the Volusia County Sea Turtle Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and to help minimize and mitigate any potential impacts to the threatened and endangered species. My main responsibilities included conducting sea turtle nesting surveys, completing data entry programs for tracking purposes of sea turtle nest locations across Volusia County. Additionally, I became a member of the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Team in Volusia County. These programs allowed me to monitor other coastal wildlife and respond to marine mammal and sea turtle strandings. Throughout the duration of the internship, I necropsied several bottlenose dolphins under the supervision of the HUBBS-SeaWorld team of experts. My exposure to wildlife continued as I participated in multiple migratory and shore-bird surveys under the supervision of the Audubon Society and members from the Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary.

Having grown up in Florida, I’m aware of the many negative anthropogenic effects seen on the environment, especially those inflicting our threatened and endangered species, which is why I follow the conservation measures and policies enacted to preserve these species and habitats. When I’m asked what I want to do when I grow up, I can confidently say that it is my duty to be the voice for the environment. The combined impact coming from my role models, Rachel Carson, Archie Carr and Jacques Cousteau, plus the impact of my years participating in Stetson’s HATS Program, plus living in constant connection with the environment through my academic career, I can attest that I will live my life with the curiosity, leadership, confidence and significance that Walt Disney wrote about and I dreamed about from the fourth grade til now.

By Jennifer Lynn Cherry, former HATS graduate