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Written by Kate Peppiatt, '23.

Over the past four years at JMU, senior Emily Thompson has explored her passion for biology, developed as a researcher, welcomed new individuals into the Honors College, and formed lasting friendships. Emily - a Biology major with a concentration in Ecology and Environmental Biology and minors in Environmental Science, Mathematics, and Honors Disciplinary Studies - has certainly used these past four years to capture every opportunity and leave her mark at JMU.

Emily originally came to JMU because “[she] knew [she] wanted to go to school for biology.” When she visited campus with her parents, she “just fell in love with it.” She connected to the immediate sense of community and the initial interactions she had with the biology department. Emily “knew [she] wanted to join Honors because [she holds herself] to a very high standard and [she] wanted to apply the academic rigor that [she] had in high school to [her] studies in college.”

Emily credits Honors for many of the opportunities she has had throughout her time at JMU: “Almost all of the experiences that I’ve had at JMU wouldn’t have been possible without Honors.” As a first-year, Emily lived in Shenandoah Hall, the Honors Living Learning community, and met her best friends. Then, as a sophomore and junior, Emily served as a RA in Shenandoah “trying to facilitate that same sense of community to incoming first-year students.” Through an Honors seminar abroad, Emily also had the opportunity to travel to Barcelona, Spain. Emily says, “there are so many opportunities, friendships, and doors that have been open because of Honors.”

One of the most impactful experiences Emily has had at JMU is through her Honors Capstone project. For her Capstone project, Emily is “investigating the microbiome of the garter snake system to see if it’s influenced by sex and mating.” She elaborates that the “microbiome is the amalgamation of microorganisms - bacteria, fungi, viruses - that live in or on an organism’s body, and they’re really integral to an organism’s function.” To study the microbiome of garter snakes, Emily traveled to Manitoba, Canada for two years. The amount of garter snakes in Manitoba represents the “largest gathering of reptiles in the world.” Emily describes it as a “carpet of snakes” that is “incredible and humbling to see in person.” Emily is also in the process of getting her research, which she jokes is “forty-three pages of talking about snakes,” published.

In addition to that major accomplishment, Emily is also one of JMU’s 2021 valedictorians. She credits the people that have helped and supported her along the way - like family, friends, and professors - because she “couldn’t have achieved the success [she] has without them.” Looking to the future, Emily is currently exploring career paths and hopes to attend graduate school one day. However, in whatever field she chooses, she hopes to “help address the climate crisis in some way.” Emily will continue to thrive and leave her mark, just as she has done at JMU. 

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