For Helena Souffrant '21, Morning Meeting on Feb. 16 began just like any other. She stood with her classmates and sang the alma mater, listened to announcements and watched as the latecomers filed into their rows. It wasn't until Laura Guerard, Black Swamp Bird Observatory Educational Director (BSBO), began speaking at the podium that Souffrant began to suspect something special was taking place.
Unbeknownst to Souffrant, over the course of two weeks, Guerard and the BSBO had been coordinating with WRA and Helena's family to present her with the prestigious Victor Emanuel Nature Tours' Theodore A. Parker III Memorial Scholarship. Awarded to one young birder from Ohio each year, this full scholarship allows students the opportunity to attend Camp Chiricahua, the first-ever young birder camp in the U.S., and one of the most sought-after camps due to its ecological diversity.
"She thought I was just there promoting the scholarship," Guerard said. "When I read her name, the look on her face was sheer shock and then delight. From my end it was such a thrill to be a part of."
Souffrant said winning the award took her completely by surprise.
"When Lauren said 'one of your classmates was chosen,' I was just sitting down with my mouth hanging open!" she recalled.
During the submission process, Souffrant was required to fill out an application form, provide a letter of recommendation, and respond to five essay questions, all of which were evaluated anonymously.
What caught the attention of the scholarship committee members, according to Guerard, was Souffrant's dedication to community service, and the awards she has won for her commitment to helping others.
"Everyone was speechless – they were wowed," said Guerard. The fact that she seeks out opportunities to donate her time is very admirable."
Souffrant attributes her interest in birding to the moment she saw a Ruby Throated Hummingbird for the first time at 11 years old. The bird's bright red and iridescent green body enchanted her, and while flipping through a field guide in an attempt to identify the species, Bev Walborn, Co-Advisor of the Ohio Young Birders Club's (OYBC) Northeast Chapter, saw Souffrant and let her know about the club. After attending one of the OYBC field trips, she enjoyed her time so much that she decided to sign up.
With all expenses covered by her scholarship, Souffrant will have the opportunity to explore the rich bird, animal and plant life of Southeastern Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains from July 11 –22. She is most interested in adding to her Bird Life List – a running tally of each unique species a birder has identified, as well as learning about different bird habitats.
When asked about what she loves most about birding, Souffrant said she's fascinated by how each species is so different
"I don't think most people understand how interesting birds are," Souffrant said. "With all of their many colors, sizes, sounds, species and migration patterns, I don't think most people understand how amazing birds are. I think they are a hidden gem."
Thanks to our Deans Office, we were able to capture the ceremony on video — including the moment Helena received the good news. Please enjoy the clip, posted below.