Monday, March 28, 2016

¡Saludos desde Sevilla!

¡Saludos a todos desde Sevilla, España! (Greetings to everyone from Sevilla, Spain!) As the streets of Sevilla are filled to the brim with visitors from all over the world to view the beautiful processions of the Sevillan Semana Santa (Holy Week), it’s nice to take a break from the craziness and relay to y’all some of the remarkable experiences I’ve had in Spain and Europe thus far.

This semester abroad is my very first time in Europe and what an excitement it has been! I landed in Madrid near the end of January, then traveled with my wonderful ISA program friends to Toledo and Sevilla, where I met my incredible host family. I have a host mother, father and a 9 year-old host sister that are absolutely amazing (not to mention that my host mom is the best cook I know in Spain, check out my “Food” album on Facebook for more delicious info). At university I am attending, La Universidad Pablo de Olavide (UPO), I have very intelligent and entertaining professors and have been provided opportunities for Conversational ESL (which I love doing) and socializing events with local Spaniards. Through the UPO I’ve begun to take private flamenco guitar lessons from a professional instructor, that way I can bring some of Spain back with me for y’all to enjoy! Throughout my time in the city I’ve made lasting friendships with many locals, with whom I hang out on the weekends playing instruments, cards, shooting pool, going out to dinner or just conversing with each other. Culturally, I’ve also been able to experience a Sevilla Soccer Club match, become a part of my family’s Catholic church, dine with Spanish families and friends, buy a bullfighting ticket for Feria de Abril and worm my way through the “buyas” (enormous crowds) of people to see the images of Semana Santa.
Pumped for the Sevilla-Levante match!

Playing cards after shooting some pool in Sevilla

One of the images of Semana Santa parading through the streets, carried by 35 men called "costaleros" from underneath
Excited for the upcoming bullfight during Feria de Abril!
Outside of Sevilla, I have been fortunate to be able to travel, from Cádiz to Antequera; Lisbon, Portugal; Berlin, Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark; Malmö, Sweden; and most recently, the Saharan Desert in Morocco. A superb treat while in Berlin was being able to see two fellow Levine Scholars, Eileen and Austin, and be able to traverse the city as any scholarly trio would.
Having a wonderful time in Berlin with Eileen and Austin!
Last week, I spent six days in Morocco, three of which were spent in the Sahara Desert. The trip brought back the awe, adventure and excitement of the NOLS expedition I completed with my LSP cohort and allowed me to catch a glimpse of the third-world, with its barefoot children in trash-ridden streets, jobless masses and inadequate infrastructure. In spite of the negative aspects I observed, I also met some of the friendliest people I’ve encountered in my life, all while taking in the natural beauty and vastness of the country.

Riding through the Sahara with the best camel in the desert, Kalil Hamid
Enjoying the beautiful sunrises and endless sands of the Moroccan desert!
With two months down and two to go, there are so many more people to meet, places to see, experiences to have and lessons to learn! I am so grateful for the Levine Scholars Program and this amazing opportunity they have provided me, now it’s time to make the most of it! 

--Esteban Mendieta, Class of 2018

Friday, February 5, 2016

Finalists' Weekend: Senior and Freshman Perspectives

As Finalists' Weekend comes up, freshman Levine Scholars look forward to meeting Finalists' who are in the same shoes that they were in the previous year, sharing their NOLS and first-year experiences, and looking forward to all the program has to offer in their next three years. Meanwhile, the senior Levine Scholars reflect back on their four years at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and how much their lives have changed since they were seniors in high school interviewing at their own Finalists' Weekend. Regardless of how long ago (or not so long ago) a Scholar was a Finalist, Finalists' Weekend is a time of excitement and enthusiasm for all! In writing this post, I decided to ask a few of the current freshman and seniors about their experiences in the program, and what they are looking forward to in the future.

What are you looking forward to most about this year's Finalists' Weekend?
I am most looking forward to seeing the whole process from the other side, as I was a Finalist last year. It will be very interesting to be able to share my experience both as a Finalist and as a Levine Scholar with the incoming freshmen. One of the most memorable things about my Finalist Weekend was getting to know one of the seniors, Sarah Whitmire, really well and being able to make lasting connections with fellow Scholars that are still valuable even outside of the program, and I hope to find that within the incoming class. It is very exciting to know that twenty of these students will become part of this incredible program that helps us to leave our legacy everywhere from the University to countries all around the world.
-- Sydney Welch, Class of 2019

As a senior, it’s hard to believe that this is my last Finalists' Weekend. I still remember being the prospective student, nervous to be interacting with a lot of college kids who seemed to have their lives all figured out. Now, I’m one of those college kids, and I smile at my high-school self. Finalists' Weekend marks a time to reflect on my experience at UNC Charlotte as a Levine Scholar. Since that first Finalist weekend as seniors in high school, my class has endured the coldest summer in Alaska, traveled the globe, almost completed degrees in every school on campus, and most importantly, learned how to be ethical leaders in society. To reflect on the growth we have undergone is incredible—and that’s what I enjoy most. I love meeting the current seniors in high school who still have so much ahead of them, and I like to think about what they will learn in their four years as Levine Scholars. How will NOLS influence their class dynamic? Which countries will they travel to? Which careers will they choose? How are they going to leave their mark on our campus and in the community? Finalists' Weekend brings reflection—both on the past and on the future. 
--Christie Koehler, Class of 2016

What has been your biggest experience/memory with the Levine Scholars Program? 
My biggest memory would be watching my civic engagement grant project come together, knowing that I organized it from start to finish, with the support from LSP. My civic engagement project was creating a specific exercise program for homeless women that was shown in scientific literature to lower blood pressure. It was a research project as well, so I measured each participant's blood pressure on a weekly basis. I was there for about 3 months, and it was a surreal feeling to take a participant's blood pressure and see their face when they realized that it had gone down. One participant's BP was lowered so much that her physician lowered her dose of medication, which decreased the typical side effects that she was dealing with. I know before I came to UNC Charlotte, I wouldn't have had the courage, organizational skills, or strength to organize a project of that size. 
--Sarah Whitmire, Class of 2016

What do you look forward to most about your future with the Levine Scholars Program?
I am exceptionally excited to continue to develop lasting relationships with the scholars in my cohort as well as those in other classes. I really feel that I joined a huge loving family when I came to UNC Charlotte and I can not wait to see all the amazing things we will become involved in as the years progress. It is this point in the program that we are approaching an alumni group as large as those currently in the program and there are so many interesting ways this could be utilized and applied. We are still growing and have some kinks to work out, but being there through the growing pains and seeing the result of hard work and effort is the most rewarding part.  
--Lazar Trifunovic, Class of 2019

What do you think has changed the most about you since you were a Finalist?
Now that I am on the other side of Finalists' Weekend for the first time, I can look back and see how much I have changed in the past year. The thing that has changed most about me is due to a new-found recognition of the millions of different paths I could take through college. Though daunting, this is also comes with a freedom of feeling. I see now that I am free to do practically whatever I want to, whatever I am passionate about, in college and in life. 
–Eddie Angelbello, Class of 2019

How has the atmosphere of Finalists' Weekend changed since you were a Finalist?
What has changed the most about Levine Finalist Weekend since I was a Finalist is the presence of the current Scholars. Coming in as a Finalist for the third cohort, the roughly 50 Finalists easily outnumbered the two cohorts of Scholars; it was difficult for my cohort of Finalists to speak with current Scholars due to that imbalance. In my experience, speaking with current Scholars is a high priority every year for Finalists as they are trying to gauge what it would be like to be a member of the Program. Ever since the third and fourth cohorts of Scholars were selected, the subsequent Finalist Weekends have finally had the Scholars outnumber the Finalists. Comparing this to my Finalist Weekend, it is now much easier for a Finalist to find a Scholar with whom to converse. I think this has greatly benefited the Program by helping Finalists understand who we are as Scholars and what they can expect if they are selected as a Scholar. It also increases the transparency of the Program from the student’s point-of-view and allows the Finalists to get a better feel for what being a Scholar would be like, rather than just being told what to expect by the Program’s Administration and other Faculty members. It is that personal touch of including the Scholars in the Finalist Weekend, as well as having enough Scholars to interact with all of the Finalists, that I think brings the appeal of the Levine Scholars Program to levels with which other scholarship programs cannot compete." 
--Robby Lankford, Class of 2016

Finalists' Weekend is an event that the Levine Scholars look forward to every year as an opportunity to share their experiences at UNC Charlotte and around the world with prospective new scholars, as well as an opportunity to meet the Finalists' and hear what they hope to accomplish as part of the program. This year's Finalists' Program is just over a week away, and promises to be an exciting and memorable weekend for all involved.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Semester of Aix-cellence

Wow, where do I begin? Hmmm…. Well, I suppose I’ll start off by saying that Aix-en-Provence, France is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’ve been back on American soil for just two days now and am still in awe that the last four months I lived were not just a dream, but were reality.

I arrived in France at the end of August, completely exhausted from the long journey and wondering to myself why I decided to spend a semester abroad where I was going to have to take my classes in a foreign language and learn to live off of baguettes and cheese. I can happily say that it did not take long until I had completely fallen in love with the language and the French cuisine. Each day, my comprehension and speaking skills improved while my pallet also augmented. As much as I missed peanut butter and milk shakes from Cook Out, I must say that I now miss the fresh fruit stands, the daily outdoor markets and the fresh Mediterranean fish more. Displaying thumb_20151003_093645_1024.jpg

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In France, if you want to get somewhere, you walk. I lived in an apartment with my host mom and housemate about a mile uphill (no exaggeration) from my university’s campus. I can now say that I have incredible calf muscles. In all seriousness though, I learned to love my time spent walking, exploring and getting plenty of fresh air. I can also say that the view from my apartment was completely worth the long trek!

Just outside of Aix-en-Provence is a 18km mountain ridge with a hike that leads to a prominent peak at 1011m/3317ft (seen from my apartment) known as Mont Sainte-Victoire. At the summit is a chapel and large cross that can be seen from miles away. I first did the hike with my brother who visited me over Fall break. I became so enthralled by the view that I proceeded to hike it another three times over the course of the semester.

November 13, 2015 came with a sudden shock. On the day of the attacks in Paris, I had just arrived in London for a long weekend with a few friends, but soon found out about the horrific events. Being in Europe during that time was almost surreal. Not only was the nation of France devastated, but all of Europe was thrown into confusion and dismay. However, the European Union took great strides to establish a sense of security and to bring hope.   

(National Gallery, London, photo taken the night after the Paris attacks)

Leaving France and saying goodbye to the close friends whom I made was very difficult. However, my transition back to the U.S. was made much easier, as I got to spend Christmas in Germany with one of my closest friends—an exchange student who became dear to my family during my junior year of high school. I stayed at her house with her family and experienced a real German Christmas, which, fun fact, is celebrated on Christmas Eve.

(Photo taken in Berlin, Brandenburg Gate)

The last four months have truly been an incredible journey. Flying back home and looking out into the vast distance, I thought of all of the experiences that I never could have imagined having, but that are now memories that I could never imagine living without. Vive la France! And God bless the U.S.A.!

Michelle Rudd, Class of 2018

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Destination Deutschland: My Summer Research at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

It has been one week since I returned home from my summer research internship in Germany, and I figured it would be as good a time as any to let you know what I was up to for eight weeks in the land of sausage, potatoes, bread, and chocolate.

Did I mention chocolate?

Let me start by saying that my first time flying in a commercial airplane was when my Levine cohort left Charlotte three years ago for our NOLS excursion in Alaska.  However, my trip to Deutschland marked my first time out of North America, my first international flight, and my very first passport stamp!  And, once I landed in Frankfurt, I also made the abrupt realization that it was my first time being a country where English is not the primary language (Yes, I promise I did know that before I chose this internship, but it still made for an anxious airport experience!).  And to clarify, yes, I did go to Germany without previously speaking any German...

View from my apartment balcony (The church bells rang every morning)

My internship was part of an exchange between UNC Charlotte and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), one of Europe’s largest and most prestigious research and education institutions.  My research project focused on the use of electrochemical battery storage systems in residential applications in an effort to increase renewable energy use and reduce electricity grid inconsistencies or failures.  My papers and documents will provide my colleagues with in-depth information and possibly lead to further projects or publications.  The energy-related research at KIT directly corresponds the variety of exciting sustainability, engineering, and energy projects at UNC Charlotte and in the Charlotte region (one of the prime reasons why I chose UNC Charlotte and the Levine Scholars Program).

Tour of the Smart Energy Home
KIT Battery Lab Visit
My Research Team along with other UNCC Interns
KIT's PV Research Field

I really enjoyed my time exploring Germany and being immersed in the culture.  I will thoroughly miss walking and biking around the city and other aspects of the ingrained, environmentally conscious German lifestyle.  My inner civil-engineering-and-sustainable-development nerd was overwhelmed by the mixture of old and new architecture, high-density and pedestrian-oriented development, integration of the environment with indoor spaces, and the prevalence of city plazas and other populous social gathering places.  The U.S. still has a LOT to learn in this respect.  I will also add that Karlsruhe is known as the “fan city” because of its unique spoke-like street design that leads to the city’s central palace and gardens (my favorite place to people watch)!

Karlsruhe Palace with Levine alumnae Bethany Hyde and Anna Swartz

I will always look back on my summer in Germany with fond memories of people, scholarship, travels, and food.  Thank you EPIC and UNC Charlotte for helping foster such an amazing educational, professional, and social exchange opportunity.

My Favorite Part of Germany?  CASTLES!

My other Favorite Part?  German Food!

My institute really liked to play Foosball (aka "Kicker") - I actually got third place in this tournament 
(only because I had a talented partner...)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Internship with Present Age Ministries

This summer, I am interning with Present Age Ministries, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating the sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of teen girls.  In short, they partner with local law enforcement agencies and the FBI (yeah, I know, that’s awesome) to bring girls out of sex trafficking and provide them with medical, educational, and counseling services while working with them relationally and spiritually.  I just finished my first full week, and I am absolutely thrilled to move forward into the summer!!!  This internship is already one of the best experiences ever!!!!!  I’m so excited; I don’t think I’ve told anyone about my internship without attaching an excessive amount of exclamation points to the end of every sentence.  (I’ll try to refrain, but sometimes I just can’t help it.) 

I started working with Present Age Ministries in February after watching a video explaining the seriousness and prevalence of sex trafficking in the United States and, more specifically, Charlotte, North Carolina.  There are at least 100,000 children used in prostitution, and approximately 100,000-300,000 children at risk for commercial sexual exploitation every year in the United States.  North Carolina is the sixth biggest state for trafficking, and Charlotte is the number one city in North Carolina.  The average age of girls entering the sex industry is 12-14 years old, and these girls are forced to service 15-20 men every single night. 

Go back and read those statistics again slowly. 
Y’all. That is insane. 

And so, I’ve found a cause that adds excitement to my voice and determination to my work.  No task seems like a waste of time.  I’ve spent time speaking to other college students and members of the community to raise awareness about the issue.  I’ve been able to sit in on board meetings and community gatherings to discuss awareness opportunities and prevention strategies.  I’ve also written newsletters and copied stories and poems composed by survivors.  And I am able to leave everyday feeling hopeful that these girls will understand that they are loved and valued despite what lies they have been told in the past.

Being part of a team committed to reclaiming the value of these girls is truly incredible.  Present Age Ministries is doing important and necessary work in the Charlotte area, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store for me!

Also, this is a shameless plug for Present Age Ministries: check them out!!! (
The link to the following video gets to the heart and soul of what Present Age Ministries is all about: (
--Written by Erin Coggins, Levine Scholars Program Class of 2018