-Courtesy of Ralph Epifanio-
In her three and a half years at Stetson, Maria Harper has starred on Stetson's cross country team for four seasons, fulfilled all the requirements of her pre-med program, served Stetson as an ambassador par excellence, and still found time to volunteer nearly 1,400 service hours to the Deland community that was her temporary home.
All this has not gone unnoticed. At this year's Stetson Athletics Hattemy Awards, she received the R. Dale Melching Leadership Award (based on leadership and success, both in the classroom and on the playing field), the Wendell N. Jarrard, Sr. Award (for academic success, leadership, and moral values), led the women's cross country team in winning the Hatter Challenge as the university's top team (based upon the team's overall academic success, community engagement, and athletes supporting athletes), and because of her 4.0 GPA, selection as a Rhodes Scholar finalist, and endless hours of community service, Harper was nominated for the title of "Miss Hatter."
As a Stetson student-athlete, Maria has been a leader, and thus she inspired those around her. She has proven herself an innovator, and thus created a legacy for others to live up to. But most importantly, she has aspired to that loftiest of college expectations, to be all that one can be. After she completes her last exam in December 2011, and Maria leaves Stetson with her undergraduate degree, the university will no doubt be left with a void almost impossible to fill.
As a result of everything we do-and everywhere we go-we carry a tangible piece of that experience with us for the rest of our lives. It becomes a part of us, and a part of the person we will be. And thus, in varying degrees, it will affect not only our lives, but also the people we have yet to meet. When Maria leaves us to join the world beyond our college campus, she will no doubt take with her these elements of experience and compassion that will someday enrich society as a whole, as much as she has enriched our quality of life during her time here.
Ralph: "When the women's cross country team accepted the 2010 SAAC trophy as this school's top team, you weren't present. What was so pressing that required your absence?"
Maria: I was at the University of Miami, interviewing for their Medical Program."
Ralph: "Was that your original major?"
Maria: "I came in on this pre-supposed, Pre-Med path. I started getting involved in things, which have a common thread with public health. For example, I helped with Hatter Harvest, the campus Farmer's Market, on Sundays. All of my activities have ended up with a theme."
Ralph: "Why so much time in non-academic pursuits?"
Maria: "I started doing things because they sounded interesting. Over time, I learned that it was all connected (to my studies). I learned to do things, not just to do them--and not just to add to my resume-- but to accomplish something that is important in my life; to get involved, and to find something that I am passionate about and make it meaningful."
Ralph: "Such as Kilometer Kids. Tell me about that program."
Maria: "Colleen Mulholland (2010 graduate and the previous cross country team captain) and I founded Kilometer Kids in the spring of 2009. We were approached by a Stetson trustee about a program established in Atlanta, Georgia; the Atlanta TC. Jill Jenks saw the potential, not only for the community-increasing childhood activity levels-but having student-athletes engage with the community.
"It has been incredibly rewarding for us. We hope that it has been just as rewarding for them."
Ralph: "Was it difficult to facilitate?"
Maria: "(In the beginning) neither of us had any experience working with children, so the task seemed daunting. I am amazed at how much we learned: event planning; child care; giving instructions; and the recruitment of volunteers. Just organizing a program and carrying it to fruition (was a learning experience).
"We started with the Boys and Girls Club of Spring Hill...elementary school kids. Then we expanded it to a second location, at Chisholm Community Center."
Ralph: "How much time do you spend with them?"
Maria: "We would go three days a week--this year it was Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday-for an hour in the afternoon."
Ralph: "What kind of activities do you do?"
Maria: "Basically, we got them moving. We might play 'duck, duck, goose,' 'freeze tag,' or run relays. But also, we incorporate stretching, teach them hydration and good nutrition-avoiding junk food-and trying to promote health through exercise and nutrition."
Ralph: "That seems to be a lot of time in your schedule."
Maria: "I'm at nearly 1400 hours. I work at other sites, too. Maybe 40% of that is Kilometer Kids."
Ralph: "You're also a Bonner Scholar?"
Maria: "Stetson's Bonner Program is a community engagement scholarship program. It was started by Corella and F. Bertram Bonner, "
Note: Their mission statement is to support anti-poverty programs in the area of hunger and education.
Maria: "It is a national organization. They provide scholarships for students in need, and train them to engage with the community and form relationships. Stetson has approximately 60 of these students. "
Ralph: "With your early 'graduation' just days away, what's next? Have you been accepted at Miami?"
Maria: "Yes. I got into their joint MD/MPH program. This is an integrative program in which medical students can also obtain their Master of Public Health in the same four year time frame of med school."
Ralph: "When will you start?"
Maria: "I will, most likely, start medical school in the fall of 2012."
Ralph: "How will someone, who is ordinarily as busy as you, fill your time until then?"
Maria: "I will be relishing in the adventures that life offers-whether that means reading books that have been on my reading list for 3.5 years, visiting family in Italy, or doing medical mission work in the Dominican Republic. In other words, I'm taking a break before diving back into the school books."
Ralph: "You were selected as one of 13 finalists for a Rhodes scholarship. That must have been an exhilarating experience."
Maria: "I was interviewed--in Birmingham--with 13 other students. I had a wonderful time, but ultimately was not chosen as one of the two District 7 Scholars.
"In preparation for the application and interview, however, I really garnered an interest for two masters programs at Oxford, so I will be applying for those and seeking alternate funding. If I am accepted--which in and of itself is a long shot, being that I am applying very late in the season, and for two very competitive programs-and obtain funding, I will defer my acceptance to medical school until those programs are completed."
Ralph: "Will there still be time to run?"
Maria: "While I am still on a little bit of a running hiatus, I plan to pick it back up again soon. As of now, the only race that I really have written on my calendar is the Gasparilla 5K in March. But other things could come up. Maybe I'll try one of (Stetson) Coach Joe Matusczak's Running Obstacle Challenges...who knows?
"I might also get back into soccer, or pole vaulting, but that's just another possibility floating around in my head."
Ralph: "As you stand poised on the threshold of your future role(s) in society, how do you think you will you remember your time at Stetson?"
Maria: "It's hard to believe that my time on this campus is coming to a close, but I couldn't be more thankful for what my stay here has provided. Stetson has served as both the foundation of my success as an undergraduate, and the source of momentum for what I hope will be an exciting future. Through my involvement here-in the Bonner Scholars Program, NCAA athletics, campus ministries, rigorous academics, and so on, I have gained so much more than a diploma. A cliché? Maybe, but it really has been a fun ride."
Ralph: "And we, at Stetson, are richer as a result. Good luck, Maria!"
A final note: Although she will finish in December, Maria will return to Stetson in May for the Class of 2012 commencement ceremony.