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May 28, 2014

Passion for environmental research leads to little idle time

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“It was one of the most unique things. I was the only English-speaking person on the bus,” said Thompson.

Her first stop was to a tiny undeveloped island, called Koh Smach, which only 25 people inhabited, including two project coordinators - a man named Jack and a woman named Gen Labram, and a couple of stray dogs.  Thompson spent a week with the pair studying the fish found in the island’s coral reef so she could assist with a fish survey.

“It’s like taking a fish or coral census,” she said. “The reason for the research was that tourist development was taking place across the bay of the Gulf of Thailand and it could have a negative impact on the reef.”

Thompson’s living arrangements included no electricity or running water. She drank rainwater and bathed with a bucket of water drawn from a well. It also included open-air sleeping on a hammock in a small shack.

“I think one of my favorite parts of the trip was living on the island. We caught fish for dinner by throwing out nets,” said Thompson. “I think the other was teaching English to the kids.”

Her teaching duties started with a 12-hour ride, in a crammed van, across the country with Lambram to Siem Reap, where the pair assisted with teaching English to children. The pair stayed in a two-story house owned by the Society of Environmental Exploration. Their modes of transportation were bicycles to school each day. 

Once they arrived at the school, Thompson and Labram served as teaching assistants to approximately 200 students, ages 4-18. They spent 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in instruction each day in classrooms, many of which were outdoors.

It was certainly a bonding experience for Thompson and the children.

“The kids put on a big Christmas celebration when we arrived,” Thompson said. “I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Christmas break. It was a beautiful place and it was amazing to work with the kids and see areas where most people wouldn’t get to see.”

Thompson is a Fred and Mary Pfeffer Scholarship winner in biology for 2013 and 2014 and a Francisco-Hatchett Scholarship winner in biology for 2014.

She is a member of the University Honors Program, McNairs Scholars Program and NASA Fellowship Program and has consistently made the President’s Honor Roll from 2011 to present.

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