The scholarship, offered through the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, is designed to encourage global engagement among students from diverse backgrounds. Downs will take part in ecological field studies where she will gain experience in sampling, data analysis and presentation skills. 

“As a participant in this program I will develop my professional skills, acquire hands-on experience in the field, obtain credit towards my degree, form relationships with scientific experts, experience a new culture and live out one my childhood dreams—studying and exploring the natural world,” said Downs. 

She has already logged in hours of field work through volunteering with a USD biology graduate student studying bird migrations at Spirit Mound Historic Prairie north of Vermillion as well as tagging deer with South Dakota Game Fish and Parks in Rapid City. Downs says her future plans involve summer internships doing field work and research outdoors and eventually landing a job in a field related to biology.

In his supporting letter for Downs' scholarship application, Kerby mentioned that Downs gained his attention by earning one of the top grades in his introductory biology course of more than 250 students.

“She is an absolute joy to be around and an empathetic soul,” Kerby said. “When this personality is paired with natural intelligence it makes for an extraordinary person.”

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