Inspiration Through Exploration

Published: Nov 9, 2007
Over the course of 11 days next summer, University of Tampa sophomore Lorian Knapp will work aboard a boat in Hervey Bay, Australia, gathering information with a team of researchers from the Pacific Whale Foundation.

Using highly sophisticated marine science equipment, the team will spend eight hours per day locating and collecting data on the Australian humpback whale population.

The resulting research could find its way into any number of scholarly publications and provide influence on environmental policy worldwide.

The overseas voyage is a rare opportunity that Knapp chose to pursue upon her receipt of the Timothy M. Smith Inspiration Through Exploration Award – an annual scholarship awarded by the Faculty Honors Committee. The highly competitive award provides $2,000 to a UT Honors student for travel during the summer to virtually any destination. Upon returning to the U.S., the student is required to write an essay detailing his or her experiences overseas.

“Australia is a place I’ve always wanted to go,” Knapp said. “I was floored when they told me I had won. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think I would get it.”

For Knapp, a native of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., who has never before traveled abroad, the award is one of her more notable achievements in less than two years at UT.

Knapp originally aspired to be an animal trainer at Sea World, so her initial academic interests were focused in the field of marine science. After having participated in an internship at Sea World, however, she decided that knowledge of psychology was essential to understanding animal behavior. Thus, she is now committed to a psychology major with a marine science minor, with aspirations of being a marine field researcher. Most of her extracurricular activities relate to these fields of study.

Among her academic achievements, she has recently started to work with Dr. Jeffrey Klepfer, an associate professor of psychology, in an honors research fellowship study that examines how emotions influence investment decisions.

“I knew it would be beneficial to have a very sharp student to help with the study,” Klepfer said. “Lorian is very bright. She has a lot of initiative and a winsome personality.”

Knapp is involved in all aspects of the study, a complex experiment involving the practice of giving extra credit points to students in UT psychology classes, Klepfer said. In addition to helping design and administer the study, Klepfer said Knapp would also assist with an analysis of the final data and a presentation of the initial results at a January conference. Klepfer added that the final results will likely be published in a peer-reviewed journal in psychology – something he hopes will benefit Knapp in future academic and professional pursuits.

“I would love to see it come to fruition before she graduates,” Klepfer said. “She’s a sophomore and already she has accomplished a lot here at the University. She’s just one of the very best. I would say she is one of the top 10 students I have taught at The University of Tampa, and I’ve been here since ’93 so that really says something.”

In addition to her academic involvement, Knapp serves as a resident assistant in UT’s Smiley Hall, is a violinist in the UT orchestra, an active member of Campus Crusade for Christ and one of the founders of a new group called Active Minds, which strives to raise awareness about students with mental health disorders on college campuses.

She has also participated in several internships and leadership activities that correlate with her interests in marine science and psychology. On a recent leadership excursion, she traveled to Crystal River, FL., to swim with manatees and other sea life.

“I’m used to having a lot of things to do,” Knapp said. “I feel very unproductive if I don’t.”

Knapp’s decision to use the Timothy Smith Award to fund an internship with the Pacific Whale Foundation was one that was particularly impressive to the members of the Faculty Honors Committee, according to Dr. Richard Piper, the Director of the Honors Program.

“Lorian had such a well-described project,” Piper said. “It tied right into her minor. Her’s was the most clearly presented and the best written.”

At the conclusion of her voyage overseas, Knapp will return to the United States and write an essay detailing her experiences for publication in Respondez!, UT’s honors journal. Beyond that, Knapp says she intends to participate in more research fellowships before going onto graduate school.