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For a geology major, hiking a small portion of the Appalachian Trail can be an educational and rewarding experience.

In late May, Honors College rising senior Jennah DiMaggio got a chance to do just that, participating in the Partners in the Parks program coordinated by the National Collegiate Honors Council and the National Park Service. As part of the program, DiMaggio hiked several miles on the trail along with fellow honors students from various colleges and universities from around the United States, learning about the geology, ecology and sociology of the Appalachian Trail.

The Partners in the Park program began in 2007 as a way to offer unique opportunities for college and university honors students and faculty to visit unique landscapes all across the United States. Throughout each expedition, university faculty and park personnel lead seminars pertaining to historical, scientific, cultural and other important topics unique to the area the group is visiting. 

“I was able to make connections with honors students from other universities and learn all about the amazing geology at the Georgia approach of the Appalachian Trail,” said the geology major. “The experience impacted me so much that I plan to thru-hike the trail starting next spring, which will contribute to my honors capstone.”

 Along the nearly 2,200-mile excursion, DiMaggio plans to document geological features from Georgia to Maine, with photographs and notes about rock types and minerals that are present. “When I return to Radford,” she explained, “I am going to create an interactive map with all the data I collected so that people can click on different parts of the trail and see the exact geology of the area.”

Entering her senior year at Radford, DiMaggio is looking toward her future, weighing her options among “a few different career fields,” she said, from karst geology to oceanography “or something I haven’t even thought of yet.”

Whatever she chooses, Radford has prepared her well by providing “a lot of opportunities on and off campus,” she said. “There are so many programs like Research Rookies and club activities to prepare you for real life in a school setting.”

Being part of Honors College has been a tremendous benefit and experience, too, DiMaggio said.

It “is an amazing program, and it is so much more than just academic coursework,” she said. “My honors professors and faculty have supported me so much with both my classes and my studies, and I know I would not be the student I am today without the Honors program.”

The Chico, California, native found her way to Radford to study geology at the encouragement of her mother, a Radford alumna. “She encouraged me to apply,” DiMaggio said of her mother, a 1997 graduate. “I was worried about coming to college, especially so far from home. She told me about her experience at Radford and how Radford felt like a family. Your professors really make an effort to get to know you, and you don’t feel like just a number on campus.

“I am so grateful for it because I love it here.”

When DiMaggio first visited campus, it immediately “felt like home” to her, she said. “I had an amazing Quest experience, meeting new people and talking to professors about the opportunities on campus.”

Those experiences led DiMaggio to become a Quest assistant for the past two years. This summer, she is working as a Quest student director. “Radford feels like a second home,” she said, “and I want to help other students see that Radford is their home, too.”