Student Reflection - Brice Lawley (OX'13)

Many of my peers often talk of “which college they chose” for the next step of their academic career. This was not my case; I strongly feel that my college, Oxford, chose me. My initial application to Emory was actually more out of necessity rather than a desire to attend a prestigious university. Financially speaking, college was not the most realistic goal for me. My family, despite being rich in knowledge, is not a wealthy one. The financial aid package for Emory is unrivaled. Families are expected to pay according to what they are able to afford; loans are capped depending on parents’ income brackets. Determination, skill, and intelligence alone determine one’s worthiness to study at Emory. It isn’t hard to imagine how devastated I was when I was told that I was being waitlisted rather than accepted at Emory College.

Despite being waitlisted at Emory’s Atlanta campus, my application to Oxford was accepted. Now that I have spent almost equal time at both Atlanta and Oxford campuses, it is clear that the Oxford experience is atypical when compared to most collegiate experiences. It is for this uniqueness that I am glad that I first attended Oxford College. I feel Oxford prepared me for challenges both on and beyond the Atlanta campus. Oxford places incredible academic responsibilities and demands on its students. The workload is daunting and difficult. Much of this rigor is achieved by the smallness of the Oxford community. Professors are able to individually shepherd each student to excellence while peers are forced to act as a supportive, collaborative network. Oxford’s policy is definitely one of “tough love.”  Herculean expectations are placed on students, but achievement is met with high praise and individualized feedback. Dr. Stephen Henderson, my favorite Oxford College professor, perhaps best captures the spirit of Oxford. Dr. Henderson is a kind professor with limitless time and patience for any student, yet he holds each one to high expectations regarding the comprehension of material covered in his courses. Prior to taking a course with him, I had never had an individual place so much work on me while simultaneously having complete, unfaltering faith that I would succeed.

Despite having passed the trials of Oxford, I was initially nervous to continue onward to Emory College. Thankfully, the practices that I picked up during my freshman and sophomore years at Oxford have allowed me to excel at Emory College as well. This has led me to the college experience which I feel has made the most impact on me, my honors research. As Oxford students only spend two years at each campus, we become accustomed to understanding our time in whatever the academic equivalent of “dog years” may be. After one semester, I felt I had adequately gained my bearings at this new campus. After briefly asking my peers and the Environmental Sciences faculty, I discovered Dr. Berry Brosi’s lab. I quickly inquired about a position in the lab and potential summer research opportunities. Dr. Brosi was kind enough to welcome me into the lab that semester and into the field the following summer. Despite feeling at the time that I was a surefire choice for both positions, I will admit that, in hindsight, Dr. Brosi must have placed a great deal of faith in me. I am thankful that he has- and continues- to give me such incredible opportunities.

Of these opportunities, my honors research under the guidance of Dr. Brosi is my most valued. My research began the summer after my junior year. I was to assist in the field with a multi-institutional project under one of Dr. Brosi’s graduate students, Dave Gruenewald, and a hired avian field technician, Rachel Gardner. The overarching project sought to understand how the US Government’s mandates to increase pine-based biofuel production will change the ecological landscape of affected environments. I personally chose to investigate how bee’s pollen carriage patterns and compositions changed with varying management conditions in the pine cultivation environment. Currently, I am processing these field-collected data. My summer resulted in a great deal of growth. As expected, I gained valuable knowledge concerning terminology and techniques associated with field work, but I also unexpectedly experienced a great deal of personal growth. There is something deeply satisfying in walking through verdancy and into the heart of a forest to gain some understanding of the place. Further, I knew that I was a member of a team; my research and the multi-institutional project’s research depended on my ability to gather data from our test sites. My personal failure might also result in hindering others’ research.

My Emory experience has been rich in so many ways. I enjoy talking with my peers and the professors of the Environmental Sciences department. Compared to many other departments, ours is much more open and welcoming. It isn’t uncommon for professors to have their office doors open or socialize in a common area of the department and invite discussion from students or other professors.  As a student of the Environmental Sciences department, one cannot help but feel an immense sense of community- be it in the form of an impromptu lecture, a musical discussion, or enjoying free waffles on Thursdays.