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UT Students Awarded for Immersing Themselves in Education

Published: April 18, 2012
Samantha Macks ’12 won the award for leadership. Among her roles, she served as co-president of the Global Public Health Brigades and helped lead a trip to Honduras where the team painted an inaugural UT rock on their departure.
Samantha Macks ’12 won the award for leadership. Among her roles, she served as co-president of the Global Public Health Brigades and helped lead a trip to Honduras where the team painted an inaugural UT rock on their departure.

This past year, several University of Tampa students blew off the doors of traditional classroom learning and dove head first into foreign cultures, into scientific discovery and into relationships where volunteering ignited connection and true growth.

Daniel Mixa ’12 worked on his Mandarin Chinese while helping create the English-language version of a Beijing magazine.

Nikki Donahue ’12 helped at-risk middle-school girls train for a 5K race, boosting their confidence and self-image.

And Elizabeth Kowalski ’12 discovered that the tiger eye color phenotype in Puerto Rican Paso Fino horses is inherited as a recessive trait.

These are just three students living out the principal of fully immersing themselves in their education. This type of learning, called experiential education, is promoted at The University of Tampa through many aspects ranging from opportunities in internships, service learning, undergraduate research, education abroad and leadership.

At the Leadership Awards Night in April, five students were recognized for the new experiential education awards.

“Our mission is to enhance and promote experiential education at UT and to recognize and celebrate our students’ achievements,” said Stephanie Thomason, associate dean of the Sykes College of Business. “We are proud of these students for making the most out of their educational experience as it is through experiential education that real academic impacts are made and more importantly, memories are created that last a lifetime.”

The winners are as follows:

Nikki Donahue ’12, criminal justice major
As part of her Juvenile Delinquency course, Nikki Donahue spent the spring of 2011 volunteering as a head coach at the Town ’N Country Recreation Center with its Girls on the Run program, training the girls to complete in a 5K race but also improving their confidence and self-image.

“I saw every girl that was involved change over the course of the program and grow into very self-confidant and motivated young women,” said Donahue.

Education Abroad
Dory Estrada ’13, environmental science
Dory Estrada studied sustainable development, biological diversity, eco-tourism and conservation at Universidad Latina in Heredia, Costa Rica.Her classes took her hiking through nearby forest reserves where they searched for amphibian diversity while examining the difference in old-growth and secondary forests.

“Though we had discussed in class how amphibian decline is a major conservation issue, it was this trip that widened my perspective about the changing conditions in the environment that are causing this decline,” said Estrada, who for one week also volunteered at ANDAR EcoFinca, an organic, sustainable farm in rural Guapiles, Costa Rica. She plans to return to assist with a large-scale organic community being built in the surrounding area.

“I truly feel like my connection there was soul-filling and educationally rewarding,” said Estrada, who stayed with a host family and absorbed both the culture and the Spanish language. “I feel it is almost like my calling to return to this beautiful location and give my assistance to a place that needs it.”

Elizabeth Kowalski ’12, biochemistry major

She was a freshman when Elizabeth Kowalski walked into Associate Professor Rebecca Bellone’s lab. It took her just one year to move from assisting on Bellone’s research to being mentored on her own project, which the graduating senior will publish and has presented at several international conferences as Investigation of Genetic Cause for Eye Color Variation in Puerto Rican Paso Fino Horses.

“My research has helped me greatly in understanding both basic and complex concepts of biochemistry that have made me excel in upper level courses,” said Kowalski. “The research methodology I have learned from this work has also improved my understanding of all my upper level science courses because I understand experimental design, implementation and analysis to such a great degree.”

Kowalski’s research has changed her future.

“Conducting research with Dr. Bellone has shaped my career path to not only be involved in the medical field, but help improve it through my dedication to biomedical research,” she said.

Samantha Macks ’12, marine science biology

Samantha Macks believes that being a leader and being a role model are one in the same.

“It is my personal belief that being a good leader not only allows you to achieve a common goal but it also means providing a personal guide, someone to confide in and an individual to look up to,” Macks said.

Macks has served in several leadership capacities in UT organizations like the Global Public Health Brigade and Global Medical Brigade, Spartan Rock Climbing Club and Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society. She played for four years on UT’s volleyball team, this year as senior captain, leading the women to the Sunshine State Conference Championship, All South Region Championship, NCAA Division II Women’s Volleyball Elite Eight and finally to the NCAA Division II Championships.

Macks worked as a teaching assistant in several biology courses, helping students and mentoring them along the way, and with several wildlife research projects with Associate Professor Heather Masonjones.

Daniel Mixa ’12, international business and management

It didn’t matter that Daniel Mixa didn’t completely understand his coworkers – that was half the reason he was interning in China.

With the exception of one of his coworkers and his supervisor, none of his other coworkers could speak English, forcing Mixa to practice the Mandarin Chinese he had studied for eight months prior at two universities in Shanghai.

“I plan on living and working in China after I graduate,” said Mixa. “My internship at China Entrepreneur has helped me understand Chinese business, culture and work settings and allowed me to gain invaluable language and communication skills.”

Mixa interned at China Entrepreneur last summer. Located in downtown Beijing, his job was to assist with the editing and creation of China Entrepreneur’s first online English edition, proofreading translated articles, providing captions for magazine segments, contacting foreign sources and light translation.


For information on the awards and a downloadable application packet, visit

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