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Study abroad transforms APSU student’s outlook on academia, humanity

By: Brian Dunn September 13, 2023

From the left are Ariana Lovings, Jordan Spencer and Hyeok Kim.

An Austin Peay State University senior who spent her summer conducting research in Europe as part of the International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program says the opportunity provided invaluable lessons both professionally and personally.

Ariana Lovings, 21, was one of six Austin Peay students to participate in the fully funded summer program that sends undergraduates to other countries to gain hands-on research experience.

The IRES program, funded by a three-year, $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, provides a unique opportunity for Austin Peay students to broaden their academic and cultural horizons. Each year, a select group of STEM students embarks on a transformative journey, conducting research at partner universities in the Czech Republic, France and Poland. These students gain invaluable research experience in glass science and immerse themselves in diverse cultures, fostering personal growth and global perspectives.

Although initially doubtful she would be accepted into the competitive program as a geosciences major with limited lab experience, Lovings pushed past her uncertainties and applied anyway.

“Whenever you think you’re like not experienced enough for a program, always just apply anyway because you – if you think you’re not experienced enough you’re never going to get the experience because you’re too afraid to apply,” Lovings said.


Hands-on research in European laboratories

In Europe, Lovings studied the chemical composition of volcanic rock samples from eruptions in the western U.S. millions of years ago. Using specialized equipment at the European universities, she analyzed the samples and presented her research findings at a symposium in Warsaw alongside fellow IRES participants. She also created a 10-minute documentary about her research. She called navigating unfamiliar labs and procedures her biggest challenge.

“When working in your own lab, you have your own practices and procedures that you follow. Another fellow scientist may have similar or different methods to tackling research tasks,” Lovings said. “It was valuable for me to learn how to work with and around others in multiple labs. I feel this is a skill necessary in my professional career.”

Excerpt from Lovings' video

Transcending science: learning from culture and history

Beyond honing her scientific talents, Lovings said experiencing Europe’s centuries-old culture and history showed her the importance of an international mindset.

“Having an open mind about other perspectives is how we respect other cultures and encourage international understanding, and I think that’s probably the most valuable lesson I learned on this trip – to broaden my mindset and try to have more international understanding and sympathy,” she remarked after visiting locations like Warsaw’s Old Town and the Royal Castle.

Lovings called her summer abroad “easily the most bittersweet moment I have ever experienced in my life,” as she built bonds with fellow researchers from around the globe. She encourages future students – regardless of major – to pursue similar opportunities.

“Do not doubt your capabilities, you are not supposed to start this program with knowledge, you are supposed to end the program with knowledge,” Lovings said.


Looking forward: inspired by an international collaborative experience

With graduation fast approaching next spring, Lovings feels reinvigorated by her eye-opening experience to continue her studies in graduate school.

“This experience did not change my career aspirations, but it did magnify my passion for the field I am in. I have always been serious about higher education and want to pursue my graduate degree after my time at APSU,” she said. “On this trip, I became more confident in my abilities to pursue this goal and made me more excited for my career ahead. I cannot wait to collaborate internationally again in my future.”

As she reflects on her memories in Europe, Lovings holds tight to the bonds she built with peers thousands of miles from home, the research capabilities she gained, and the cultural lessons she learned about empathy, understanding and interconnection.

“It does not matter where you are born or what language you speak, people are more alike than different,” Lovings said. “I think it is important people realize this.”

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