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Application deadline nears for prestigious Beck Fellowships

Elisabeth Maxwell still thrills at the memory of seeing a pajama shark swim right in front of her as sheElisabeth Maxwell holding puffadder shyshark snorkeled during her internship with the South African Shark Conservancy in Hermanus, South Africa, this summer. She can still picture the gorgeous, smooth-as-glass Breede River during a boat trip to the location where researchers had caught a world-record bull shark not long before.

“There were so many different things that I got to experience,” said the junior biology major from Beaumont. “It wasn’t just on a research level or an academic level but just getting to know the culture itself. Living in another country for three months, you realize there’s more than one way to do things. It’s not that there’s a right way and a wrong way.”

Maxwell was able to participate in the internship as Lamar University’s 2011 David J. Beck Fellow. The university’s most prestigious and generous student award, the David J. Beck Fellowships provide full academic scholarships to Lamar University for one year, covering all tuition, fees, books and on-campus room and board as well as up to $10,000 for summer projects, which may include research, travel, an internship or some other pursuit to help them achieve their personal and professional goals.

Outstanding Lamar University undergraduates have until Oct. 3 to apply for the 2012 fellowships. For the first time since the inception of this elite award, the university will select two Beck Fellows this November.

For Maxwell, the most valuable part of the experience was “gaining confidence in the knowledge I already had. You really do learn a lot in class, but you’re not sure how to apply it to the real world. That’s what I did. I learned how to take what I knew and utilize it in a practical sense.”

During her summer internship, which occurred during South Africa’s winter, Maxwell assisted with outreach programs, went cage-diving with great white sharks, and caught and cared for small sharks endemic to that area, particularly pajama sharks and puffadder shysharks. She also had the opportunity to design a research project for the South African Shark Conservancy to explore the effects of magnetic fields on demersal sharks.

Maxwell said she would advise anyone who considered applying for the fellowship to go for it. “If you don’t figure out something you’re passionate for and believe that you actually could achieve it, then it’s never going to happen. You have to believe in the power of your own dreams,” she said.

Elisabeth Maxwell scuba divingWithout the fellowship, Maxwell said she never would have been able to achieve what she did this summer. “Not just financially, but also the support that I received from people here at Lamar gave me the incentive and a little bit of confidence to say I can apply for an international internship and maybe get it. Knowing I had that support made me feel comfortable to say ‘OK, I can do this.’”

The university’s first Beck Fellow, Jennifer Mikel, a nursing major from Sweeny, completed a nursing internship in rural Ghana as her summer project. The second, Michael Zarzosa, a biology major from Lumberton, completed an independent research project in Belize.

The David J. Beck Fellowships were made possible by a $1 million gift from distinguished alumnus David J. Beck. A former regent of the Lamar University System, Beck is a founding partner in a premier Houston law firm, Beck Redden & Secrest. A Port Arthur native, he credits Lamar University with giving him the opportunity to attend college and gain a foundation for future success.

Students are encouraged to pick up application packets as soon as possible to allow adequate time to complete all required documentation and to secure necessary recommendations. Applicants must be full-time Lamar University undergraduates in any major with grade-point averages of 3.5 or higher. Because the fellowship year follows the calendar year, applicants should plan to graduate from LU no earlier than December 2012. Fellows will be selected based upon their complete application packets, including proposed summer project, academic record and financial need.

Application packets are available in the offices of the senior associate provost (Plummer 104), Honors Program (Honors Building) or each college dean. For more information, visit lamar.edu/beckfellowships or call (409) 880-8400.