As an undergraduate student at Radford University Honors College, Luc White shares their undergraduate experience. Luc is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Studio Art .
Luc grew up and went to a big high school in rural Virginia. With the help of engaged teachers, Luc developed a passion for science and art & photography.
As a high achieving student, they chose to attend Radford University Honors College as a First Gen student.
Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:
Episode Title: Luc White of Radford University Honors College: Biology and Studio Art, President Honors Student Council, and Lots of UG Research.
Luc grew up and went to a big high school in rural Virginia. With the help of engaged teachers, Luc developed a passion for science and art & photography.
As a high achieving student, they chose to attend Radford University Honors College as a First Gen student.
Luc joins our podcast to share their undergraduate honors college journey at Radford University, UG Research experiences, Study Abroad, Honors Student Council, and Advice for college-bound students.
In particular, we discuss the following with them:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Memorable Quote: “...but advocate for yourself, if you really have a need, or you really have a question, or you really need something, there will be someone there who will listen and who will help you get that. So be, you know, be a polite thorn in someone's side”. Luc White.
Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
And I'm a pretty tall person. And so I was like, Oh, I'll try it out. I'll see how far it can go. Because, you know, my instructor is like it can't be that deep. So I started going out there and you know, first it's only coming up to my knees and you know, have the waders on so I feel fine. And I take a step and I drop probably a foot and a half a while and the water comes up to about my mid chest. I don't fall in or anything but the water goes into my waders I'm freezing cold. And I'm like, Well, I'm here now. And so a turner, you know, I say over my shoulder. I'm like, Oh, just throw me the vials. I'll go and get all of our samples since I'm wet. So no one else has to get wet. And I turn around and they're all taking pictures of me just standing in the water.
That is Lucas White, who is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Studio Art at Radford University Honors College in Virginia.
Hello! I am your host Venkat Raman.
Luc grew up and went to a big high school in rural Virginia.
With the guidance of engaged teachers, Luc developed a passion for science and art & photography.
They also did some courses in the local community college.
As a high achieving student, they chose to attend Radford University Honors College as a First Gen student.
Venkat Raman 1:39
Luc joins our podcast to share their undergraduate honors college journey at Radford University, UG Research experiences, Study Abroad, Student Council, and Advice for college-bound students.
Venkat Raman 1:54
Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives, Five Highlights from the podcast:
[Overall Radford Honors College Experience]
I've really enjoyed my experience with honors have I when I first came in, I came in like everyone else I applaud. And then I was asked at a point if I'd step up to be in involved in the Honors Student Council, and then from then asked to be the president. And so my experience so far has been that I've loved it, obviously, I'm really invested in it.
[Why Radford HC?]
Or I chose Radford and I chose the Honors College again because they they reached out to me directly and they said, Hey, we're interested in you make an application and come in. And so I wasn't aware of the Honors College until they reached out but again, it was sort of like you're gonna you're thinking about applying to Radford also apply to the Honors College.
[Transition to Radford]
In terms of like the courses and stuff, I'm definitely more rigorous and more challenging than my courses in high school. But again, I was you know, I am I feel like I'm a very engaged and curious student. So I I usually incur and encourage more work on myself.
My adviser at the time, was very interested in protein structures, and how we visualize proteins. And so it was kind of a natural fit for me when I was talking to them that I was very interested in how we visualize you know, I'm an artist, I like to see things move on very 3d. And chemistry is also very 3d and so I worked with my instructor for a little bit on sort of visualizing proteins
[Advice for High Schoolers]
and then also like advocating for yourself and that's and that's a hard that's a you know, much more easier said than done situation I from experience. But if you have the capacity to ingrain that in yourself of like you are college students at these colleges, and you know, when I say you deserve attention, you deserve the your questions answered.
Venkat Raman 4:11
These were the Hi5s, brought to you by College Matters. Alma Matters.
Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Venkat Raman 4:22
Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Luc.
So without further ado, here is Lucas White!
Venkat Raman 4:32
So if you're ready, Luc, we can jump right in.
Luc W 4:36
Yeah, that's That sounds perfect.
Venkat Raman 4:38
Awesome. So maybe the best place to start is give us sort of an overview of the Radford Honors College so far and we can go from there.
Yeah, so um, I think also I should say that I am. So at Radford in addition to being in the Honors College I am the president didn't have the honor student council. And so I also serve on the honors Advisory Committee.
And so all that, that means all that that means is that I'm really involved in honors, I've really enjoyed my experience with honors. Have I when I first came in, I came in like everyone else I applied. And then I was asked at a point if I'd step up to be involved in the Honors Student Council, and then from then asked to be the president. And so my experience so far has been that I've loved it, obviously, I'm really invested in it. I like that.
Well, I should say in preface I do. I do love the Honors College. And so I want it to be the best version of itself that it can be always. So I'm in the in my classes, and my coursework honors, in general, always demands and asked students to think critically. And so I felt that one of my courses, right, smaller classes, by definition, most I think, all of my honors classes have been anywhere from 15 to 20 students. And so it offers real intimacy that I think some courses wouldn't allow for by nature.
And so there's been that that's a big plus, often not always the case, but often, their same honors courses have been, you know, very response based and discussion based. So in most of them, I've never had, you know, there's no final exam, that ain't exams littered throughout the semester, it's more about write a response. And so that's, I've, I've loved that aspect about it, because it takes sort of that anxiety and that stress away about having to study for an exam or remember all of these things, and it's more conducive to learning to the way that you learn rather than, you know, this formulaic cookie cutter, you know, remember these things go on to the world, you know, whatever.
I'm working with honors, as a Advisory Committee, undergraduate representative, and as the honor student council president, to ensure that we're meeting the needs of students from underrepresented populations, because at present, we're not meeting those marks. And so again, honors, always ask the students, I'm a student of honors, to think critically about the classes wearing the things we're doing. And so that forces me to also think critically about the Honors College, and that's been met with very open response.
And so that's another thing that I think has been good about my experience is that in they that the director, and the organization in whole is very responsive to those critical self reflections about what the what is the Honors College and what can it do.
Venkat Raman 7:50
So let's start a little bit back and talk about why you picked Radford and how you ended up in the Honors College.
Yeah. Also, again, more perspective about me. So I am from a small town in southwest Virginia. So anyone familiar with Virginia, it is a triangular shaped state. And in the very tip of it is where the mountains are. The halt my hometown, the hometown, where I was born only has 400 people in it. The town that I went to high school has 4000 people in it, I think is like, you know, since the state of 2019. So give us a very small town, very southern, and all the things that that brings with it.
And so my high school education was put out of public school. And as I was thinking about college, I'm a first generation college student, so it was all the legwork kind of had to be on my own. Yeah. And when I actually and this is something I would never recommend to a high school student, but something I did, I only applied to two colleges coming out of high school. One of them was referred, obviously, and the other was the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I've always been interested in art. And that's sort of what I wanted to pursue at the time. It was actually journalism, and sort of journalistic documented of photography.
And SAIC offers a very competitive, very cool program. And so in my mind, I was like, actually, I applied to that school first. And then my friends, she is my saving grace was like, Maybe you should apply to one more college just in case you don't get in or just, you know, you know, just have options. And so I was like, Sure, I'll do that. And I was very lucky to get into both actually. SAIC offered me a full ride full scholarships, and very a hard thing to turn down.
And so I got accepted into Radford, and with that because my high school I was the salutatorian and so I had the second highest GPA in my graduating class. And because of that, because where I fell into that out of Mackley got an email from the Honors College saying, you know, you should consider applying simply because you meet the parameters that we think make good on our students. And so with that I applied to the Honors College, and got in. And so I had a decision to make of which school to take.
And you know, at the time in my head, I was like, Well, of course, I'm gonna go to Chicago, because that's what I do. But then after really weighing the options, and cost especially, and you know, being so far away from home.
To make a long story short, I chose Radford and I chose the Honors College again, because they reach out to me directly, and they said, Hey, we're interested in you make an application and come in. And so I wasn't aware of the Honors College until they reached out. But again, it was sort of like you're gonna, you're thinking about applying to Radford also apply to the Honors College.
And so that's sort of how I came to that decision. It was just a lot of us had a lot of friends coming. And I had all these things that swayed me to come to Radford, and then additionally to stay in the Honors College and apply to the Honors College. And so that's sort of how I found my way here.
Venkat Raman 11:10
Okay, so let's talk a little bit about your high school interests. Tell me about sort of, what kind of interests you had outside of classroom and also what kind of courses and stuff you were interested in.
Yeah, so my high school, unfortunately, suffered, suffers from the general you know, poor town, poor region, public school system, so it was really underfunded. And offered, I hate to say it, but the bare minimum for students.
I will say I was very lucky that I that the instructors and the teachers I had there were very, were very in tune to what students wanted and students needed and very engaged with the students there. So at our high school, you had the option of doing like a standard diploma or advanced diploma, and you think based off of me, I'd have done the advanced, but actually, I did the standard. So with that just came taken, you know, just your basic your math, your science, your English, your history, and so on and so forth.
I in high school, we have a community college, just up the road, South Virginia Community College. And so there was an option for dual enrollment, which was a really big thing, right? Like you could take college credits. And so I did a few of those. In high school, while I was I would say high achieving, right, like I was very wanted to make good grades, I needed to make good grades just because again, first generation, so I was really like schools, like the thing you need to do and succeed at. And so I just, I did some dual enrollment courses that kind of helped me transition into college a little bit. And help me sort of prepare my mindset for it.
Because I will say my high school experience was very different from has been my college experience and the sort of how the classes are set up. And you know, all of that, which that's to be expected. But I think I was most lucky for my school, even with its really limited resources, that my instructors were very engaged and open and honest with what they thought I should do and how they were to support me to get there.
There's, you know, it's a small town in the south. So there's many things that could be said and could be gleaned from that location in the region. But I will say, I'm lucky that the instructors were very much like you want to go to college, here's our experience with that, here's maybe what you need to do to think about it and, and go from there. And so I had a lot of support in saying I want to go there and my instructors, and teachers say, Well, you know, I took all the art classes that I could. And my, my art instructor was like, you know, you need to do this. And then I had a few science instructors that were like you are interested in this, think about doing a double major, and in all this other information that I really didn't have.
And so all I knew, though, in high school was that I wanted and needed to go to college. I liked taking pictures. I liked photography and art, and I liked science. And that's sort of what set me up for thinking about how to go to college.
Venkat Raman 14:20
How was your transition to college then, From high school?
Lord, it was difficult, I will be honest, it was. Again, I've said a few times, but you know, I'm a first generation college student, so I didn't have like any you know, as much as my family could help. They really couldn't. And that's no diss or anything to my my folks but that's just the you know, the reality of it.
And so it was a lot of filling out my FAFSA. It was like, I had to go to the schools library, to my high school's library. I had to ask like 10 people what these things meant. Both of my parents I should say my, my mother passed away in 2009. So she wasn't around to sort of help with any of that. But both my parents have their GED, so they didn't finish high school.
And so and my dad works in skilled labor. So he his tax information is interesting. And I had my own thing where I was living with my grandmother and was awarded the state technically. So I had a lot of these exceptions and a lot of this weirdness with my FAFSA. And so that was my biggest thing, like, I need money to go to college. I can't write for college.
And so that was a big hurdle, like a big hurdle. Just what is this weird thing on this computer that I have to type all this information in that I don't, you know, and so there's just that, I guess, that biggest obstacle that I guess some people might not realize, I'm just like, What are these words? What are these things? How do I search this? And again, I'm very lucky that I had 10 people saying, like, well, this is what FAFSA is, this is what you're, you know, all that stuff, in terms of the coursework, settling into also the college, you know, culture and the college lifestyle, you know, I grew up with two siblings, I'm a middle child, if that's not counted in itself, and I grew up in sort of a big family.
My immediate family was sort of small, but my, you know, my dad has a bunch of siblings, my mom has a bunch of family. So you know, big family. And, you know, largely a poor family. And so come to college, where I was interfacing with people who were different at different classes than me different backgrounds than me, you know, all this other stuff was sort of like a culture shock in a way not not in a bad way, but sort of like, oh my gosh, I can walk to I can walk, you know, a minute away and get food or I can go to this bookstore, where there's things and you're telling me my instructors are just in a building over there that I can show up to, you know, it was all just like that accessibility, and all of that was really different.
And I should say, you know, Radford referencing the big school, I think it has 9000 students. And Radford city is, you know, bigger. And so again, to put a frame of mindset, my hometown, come to Radford, Radford was the big city, you know, so good here, I was like, Oh, my gosh, there's all these people.
And so, so there's those things, in terms of like the courses and stuff, I'm definitely more rigorous and more challenging than my courses in high school. But again, I was, you know, I, I feel like I'm a very engaged and curious students.
So I, I usually incur and encourage more work on myself. But then, but then also, you know, I was in a lot of honors courses, but some of my courses were the typical college experience. My early days as a chemistry students, I was in, you know, my general chemistry courses where there's 90 students in the in the class, and it was very lecture base where the instructor, the instructor came in to do their job, they lectured and then if you needed help, you sent them an email or you went to their office hours, there was, there was, again, Radford is a small schools, there's still some, you know, I knew my instructor, my instructor knew me somewhat.
And so I was very lucky in that way. But I know and other schools, bigger schools that sometimes make the case. But the academics were demanding, it wasn't anything, I don't think I again, as just a very engaged and very committed student, wasn't anything I wasn't expected. But definitely, you know, long hours of studying long hours of asking for help.
I think that's the biggest thing College has taught me is humility and saying, like, When I need help I go and ask it or seek it out somewhere. Because instructors aren't these evil creatures that are going to bite your heads off there. If they are a good instructor, which most are, they will be very willing to help you or send you to someone who can. In terms of I had sort of mentioned peers. Yeah, yeah, people I was people I was around I, I mean, everyone says that I have met some of the best people I have ever met.
My experience was sort of weird because I came with five friends who also wanted to come to our efforts. So I had sort of that people around my age support group, but at the same time, you know, all of my friends you know, one was a comms to work comms majors. One was a psych major, and the other was sort of undecided. And so I was in the sciences in the arts, so I was totally removed from them. So yeah, after hours, if you would, I had my friends, but and so it's very different from high school, in the sense of like, you know, there's the cliques, I would say, there are kind of there, you know, but when everyone's a freshman, you're making friends and even the upperclassmen.
Everyone was very, like, there definitely were the people of like, Who's this random person, but most people were just like, oh my gosh, there's someone else in this chemistry class who doesn't get bonds or who really is geeky about thermodynamics. And so you find your people, you just gravitate towards everyone. And so I had a lot of I've had a lot of good experiences with people. I've met people in my class people outside my classes. Radford, I think, Because very typical school and that there is a very lively club life in the sense of like student clubs. And, and so even if I wasn't able to find a friend and of course, I could always reach outside and find fun people with similar likes to mine in that way.
Yeah, and then the professor's. Again, Radford, because of its size, I think is unique in that I had a lot of one on one with my professors, and how they taught, I had a lot of in, you know, wrapping honors into this, I took a few honors courses, and all of my honors courses have been very, you know, again, one on one talking to me about what I want to do what my interests are, and giving me that individual attention that I needed to be really successful.
But even in my, even in my massive classes, right, my 125 to 90 people lecture courses, my instructors, you know, at the time of the course might not have been very ready, you know, you throw a hand up, they might answer it, or they or they'll try to get to it. But they're but even if they weren't responsive, then very responsive to email very open to you know, I have these office hours, I can fit you in for 30 minutes to an hour here.
Come on, if you needed or they'd have open office hours, we could just come by, and they might have a office full of five students and they say, Well sit down and join us we're reviewing, you know, lecture or something. So yeah, it was very different from high school in the sense you know, of you just have these, you know, hour long periods or sections.
And you don't really see the instructor after the fact college is very much a you go, you can have that support, you have your own email, that was another thing in high school, I didn't have an email, right? Like all of my, all of my communications, my instructors, were right there in class, or if I saw them, you know, around the day, I now have an email, I can individually reach out to my instructors, I can ask them questions, I can talk to my other peers.
And so having an email was also really interesting, because like, now I have all this freedom to talk to people and ask for help that I didn't previously have. And that might be like a small thing. But to me that was like, Oh my gosh, the world just opened up to me. So yeah, I think that was my transition to college was a little rocky at first, just because I had to get used to everything, get a lay of the land, learn the language, if you would. But But then, you know, I there was a lot of support here, there was a lot of you know, there's definitely like, well, you just need to learn that on your own. But I definitely had people around me my instructors to sort of buffer that a little bit and helped me get to my feet so I could keep keep on keepin on.
Venkat Raman 22:45
Now, did you do a lot of undergraduate research over these past years?
Yeah, I have actually done a lot of graduate research, which is, which is good. So Radford again, it sounds like I'm singing its praises, but I kind of am just the why kept me here, And while I'm here.
Radford is very much oriented to student research. It is referred is a is a research college, I think I think that's technically what we're University, I should say, college. And so you know, in my first classes, I think my first year, immediate mind structures were thinking about, you know, start thinking about your interests or what you might want to explore. And then in this next year coming up, think about, you know, or this next semester coming up, think about if you want to work with anyone, or if you have a particular question, or if instructors look looking for research.
So at the time, I was a chemistry major. And now I'm a biology major, but at the time I was chemistry, and I was on the track to do biochem. And my advisor at the time, was very interested in protein structures, and how we visualize proteins. And so it was kind of a natural fit for me when I was talking to them that I was very interested in how we visualize you know, I'm an artist, I like to see things move, I'm very 3d. And chemistry is also very 3d. And so I worked with my instructor for a little bit on sort of visualizing proteins, eventually moving to kind of work we're thinking about 3d printing proteins. And so that was my first kind of dip into research was thinking about proteins, how proteins work in a lab, and then how we can sort of teach there's a lot of chemical education at the time.
Yeah, from then I'm trying to think of all the all the things I've done. After that I moved on, I guess keeping in the realm of chemistry.
Moving on a little bit, I realized that I was really I love organic chemistry, you'll probably only hear like three of the craziest people in the world say that. But I genuinely love it. And so when I took my organic chemistry course, with my instructor at the time, I love the way that they taught the course and so I was very interested in sort of their research and their research was looking at microplastics. And you know, where microplastics exists in the world. And so we eventually I started working with them on visualizing microplastics, you'll kind of get a theme of my whole thing is I'm drawn to things that were Yeah. and communicate it. And so I worked with them for a little bit while they're still at Radford, so about a year and a half on visualizing microplastics. So applying a dye to it, and also visualizing microplastics, but also making the process of that visualization, very accessible for field uses, you know, being able to take a sample water and drop this dye in it, put it on a piece of paper, and then be like, oh, there's this many of this kind of plastic in there. That research eventually, I presented that research and actually San Diego at the beginning of was it this year, or Yeah, I think it may have been, I went to San Diego to present that at the American Chemical Society Conference. And there and so that was my chem, that was my chemistry stuff.
Yeah, my biology stuff has been a bit more expansive. I started in the fall of 2019, working with an instructor in ecology and doing wetland surveying. And so every other year, class sort of takes on the project of assessing if the wetland is doing its job and how well it's doing it. And so I was part of that class to do that. And that's what really, that's what unfortunately, broke me from chemistry as much as I love it. I love being in the field. You know, I grew up on a farm, I grew up in the South and in the mountains. So I have a fondness for getting dirty and being outside and, and all that. And so that experience I remember wading into middle November ice cold waters and waiters walk in, it might sound like a horror story to some people. But that was like my dream. That's what starry eyed doing that.
The next summer I applied to an REU program. So that's a research. So research experience for undergraduates at Chicago Botanic Garden, and I luckily got in it was very competitive program. But I guess I was very enthusiastic and all of my stuff. And so this was the summer of 2020. It would have been, and I would have done research in Peru actually through a program at Radford called rare. So Radford, Radford, Amazonian research expedition. Yeah, and, but obviously, because the pandemic, those things kind of fell through, I was able to, in the summer of 2021, actually go to Chicago and do that experience.
And so that was doing research and paleobotany. And so I didn't even know that field existed when I first heard about it, but it's essentially looking at plant fossils. And so I was able to, again, think my project was centered on looking at models, looking at roots, or specifically COBOL. So there's these little fossils that are completely surrounded by coal, and they're under studied, because to study them, you have to crack them open and destroy them, essentially. And so the lab I was working in was developing a way to scan these coal balls, and then 3d reconstruct them so that we can study them without destroying them. And so we were successful in taking these scans scanning the fossil, and 3d printing them actually have the little root models on my shelf in my room. They let me keep the 3d models. And so that was that research experience, and biology.
I'd come back to Radford after that after that summer, and I picked up doing more forced ecology work. And so now I'm working with my primary advisor, Dr. Christina Small in the biology department here looking at I'm looking at two things. So we're doing research on a forced herb. So it's an Appalachian forced herbs called goldenseal hydrastis canadensis. And so it's cute little plants, it has a lot of medicinal values. And so it's highly sought out and international markets because of that. So we're thinking about how we can make a conservation method for this really important plant.
And then the other work on the other work I'm doing with her is looking at ash tree. So emerald ash borer is an invasive bug that has come over and so it's killing our ash tree. So we're looking at that decline and seeing just to study it, because it's happening in our forests and what that might look like.
I'm also working in our dendrochronology labs that studying tree rings. So I have core trees with Dr. Dr. Maxwell, and kind of look at them to look at historical climatic events, disturbance events. So if a flood came through, or if there was a hard drought event or something like that, so I look at tree rings that's also kind of tied into my forest ecology work.
I'm also doing research with Dr. Allison Alaska on collegiate food insecurity. So how food insecurity occurs on college campuses, just sort of social element to all of my work. I've also done research and actually been published with John Hopkins and Looking at, this was more artistic in nature, I'm looking at doing photos like decal, so taking an image and putting it into enamel, which is just glass, essentially. Yeah. So I developed a method with Professor Allison Pack. So she's a metalsmith that we had here. And so I did that for a little bit. So published that. I'm trying to think of other things that I've done, too. I'm currently working on a project with Dr. Carly Bradbury, on looking at queerness in the medieval Catholic Church, and how saints have been depicted and kind of navigating that space of looking at art architecture informs doctrine and how doctrine informs then
Venkat Raman 30:48
Let me ask you a question now doing all this research of different kinds. What do you think it has done for you? What's the impact? Is it having, what kind of impact research having on your
Undergraduate research for me is keeping me curious and keeping asking questions to do sort of this work. And to continue to do research is to embed into you this natural curiosity of well, what will happen if I do this? Or if this happens, what is the outcome? What is the what is the consequence of it? What are the things that happen when I explore this train of thought? And so for me, undergraduate research has been embedded in me that natural curiosity to keep asking questions. And luckily, I've had the freedom within the projects I'm working on to expand them or to build on them or to dig deeper into those questions. And as well as giving me like practical skills. When I first came again, when I first came to college, I had no idea that you could go online and search for references, you know, what is finding references, what is a literature review. And so navigating, you know, these different spheres, right? Like I've worked in doing research in art history, and studio art, I've worked in doing research and organic chemistry, biochemistry, and chemical education, and then dendrochronology, forest ecology, sociological spheres, I'm working on all these different arenas. And so the way that you look for literature and the way that you read literature, and all of them are very specific and very different. So it's, it's sharpened my eye to sort of how you dissect a question and dissect the topic, as well as thinking about, you know, what, then how do I do these methods? Like, how do I run an experiment? How do I ask a question, what do I need? And so it's all in all, it's made me more confident in being curious and asking questions. I think I tell people all the time that I'm probably a thorn in a lot of people's lives, because I ask a lot of questions, because I'm just super curious and kind of want to cover my bases. And so I think undergraduate research, again, has just given me that tool to stay curious. And I think that's probably the most important thing and to be well rounded in that curiosity, right, just not to be so tunnel vision about I'm doing this one thing, it's like, well, what broader impacts does the research I'm having doing? And how can it connect other things? I'm always looking for connections.
Venkat Raman 33:09
I want to segue to your arts, right, tell me, you know, you said that you loved it, right, from a pretty early age, it's something that you love to do, you know, taking pictures, all the way filming. And now it's, you know, it seems like every, a lot of the early research that you did, there was a lot about visualizing things, and you're bringing that aspect to, to that discipline. What do you think is the you know, what are the origins of this passion? And where are you taking it
Always been interested in visualizing things and sort of making things? I will admit, I'm not the best with traditional media's I can, I can shade really well, I just took a drawing course was complimented for that.
But I have a family member up in Chicago, actually, who is sort of a wedding photographer, a very commercial photographer, and so early on, she was very much like, you know, maybe travel photography, you know, and then when I actually got to high school, I was, you know, I thought about that, and directed to or photojournalism or the yearbook staff. And so I was our head yearbook photographer for three years. And so that's kind of what gave me my footing and my sort of thinking about photography.
And so at first, my idea of photography, and art was very sad and like photography as a tool to document things. I was very, very, I'm trying to think representational in my thought process of thought process about art for me at the time, in the sense of like, I'm just taking a picture of something, right? And I'm just communicating this thing.
And once I got to college, that sort of photography was, you know, blown open for me like what is photography? What is our, you know, the whole college revelation, if you would, and so on. I think for a long time still though, I was so rooted in the sciences that my perception of it was still very, you know, very objective, very representational, you know, what you're looking at as what you get. But, but then it sort of developed into like, well, when you document something, you're a storyteller, you're leaving things out. And you're adding things in that sort of lead to, you know, my darkroom stuff.
So I view myself as an analog photographer, not really a digital photographer, I, of course, I started as a digital photographer. But then when I got to college, I was introduced to the, to the wonders and the magic that is the darkroom. And so then, because I've always been, I've always had a very energetic, I have a lot of energy. I'm a marathon runner, well, soon to be a marathon runner, just running to build up to that. So I have a lot of this untoward energy to kind of I need to direct somewhere. And so for me, I've always been drawn to Yes, it was visual things, but also kinetic things like things that get me moving.
And so darkroom was that if you've ever done anything with dark room, or anyone, or if anyone ever has, it's a lot of standing moving and making it I call, I kind of refer to myself as like a photo Smith, in the sense of like, I feel like I'm kind of cobbling together the image, I'm not really, you know, I'm not, I'm no longer taking a picture of something I'm seeing I'm making the image I am, you know, doing these things that are very kinetic. And so that sort of changed how I thought about art and thought about it of like, um, how can I objectively take this picture now when I'm actually making it in a darkroom when I'm exposing the light at a certain time and holding it under the water for so long, and all these other details. And so that led me to sort of, at present, you know, and my work is always very rooted in nature, like I am, I am always outside hiking, I have a ton of plants in my room, I work in a green, you know, I work at the greenhouse here in nature is embedded into the very fabric of who I am. And so I can’t divorce that from my art.
And so my art developed from this places of like, objectivity and representational stuff to now I'm working in, I've actually started exploring with making sculptural work, in the sense of combining, you know, images into sculpture, and what these 3d things can do. I very much view myself now as be becoming like a photographer, sculptor, 3d artists, performance artists, because I've done some performance work this last year.
And it's all this is coming together to say that my work is leading to sort of a direction about talking about where we sit in nature and how we ourselves are a process, right?
My work, I would say, is very rooted in the process, like the making of something I'm less interested in the final product, that thing looks perfect.
And then a sense of like, what happens in the middle? What are those things that lead you to make these decisions? And what is messy, what is artistic, what is unrefined? What are those things because to me, those building blocks that lead to something that could be perfect, or a master print, or a perfect sculpture is really where the meat of it is, right? Like you're seeing the steps, you're seeing that die in a dynamism, you're seeing that connect that kinetic newness of something.
And so in my work very much, that's sort of that abstract idea of the process, especially my darkroom stuff. But then also, I explore themes of sort of, so I myself, I'm a queer person. And so I explore sort of what that identity is especially coming from, you know, I love Appalachian Mountains. This is my home, this is where I'm at. And so I explore sort of that tension, I guess my two pillars of work is tension and process connectedness. And what are these tensions in this?
You know, I am an Appalachian person, but I'm also a queer person. So how do those two things like contradict one another? But how do they still exist in the same space, right? And so my work explores identity and being very proudly who I am, and then, you know, going through sort of my own loss and trauma, and sort of my life experience and also being so all of these other things to sort of make my work very honest and very brutal. I try to make it it's very upfront, and very unapologetic about what it is. And so, but I have seen a big jump, if you will, from this young person who's very interested in objective realism to now I'm, you know, more expressive, about more expressive and more aware of what my eye does, what my gaze shows, and how that's important.
Venkat Raman 39:25
I think a little bit about your study abroad experience when you went to France, right? Was that a semester? Was that a summer?
Yeah, so that was a summer. I was that experience. I'm still I'm very lucky and still kind of, can't believe it happened. So I went through the United Study Abroad Consortium. I think that's so it's USAC, and I went for their Lyon summer program.
So my study, the study abroad experience was rooted in just learning the language. So learning online was learning the culture, learning French, but also the program had was very rooted in the arts, which made sense for me, and sort of exploring art as well. And so in terms of what USAC wanted from me was to go over there, learn the language, have this great experience in France, and do all that.
The other part of it again, I'm still a first generation college student, I make ends meet by begging people for money and getting scholarships. And so, really, my, the whole reason I was able to go over to France was through my research project, and the project that we're working on now called revisiting the saints. And as I alluded to, before, it's sort of this project about looking at looking at architectural space, and how churches around the 11th to 14th century were built in such a way to kind of, I should say, perform a certain ideology to sort of make people feel a certain way, right to make them feel feel certain ways.
And what then that communicated about the doctrine and how that made representation for queer individuals difficult at that time. And so I was able to apply to so I applied to some internal grants apply to the Benjamin a Gilman fund. And so that applied $5,000 For my study abroad experience. And so, so I was over there doing so I was doing two things, two missions over in France, learn the language become proficient in French, I'm still not, but I am much better in it, and then do this research project. So I had a lot of long. I you know, I think about them fondly, even though they might not sound like it. I had a lot of long nights on buses I traveled. You know, I was in France for most of the time, I went to the UK for a week, I went to Switzerland for a few days.
And it's just, it's something that I cannot, I cannot summarize it is an experience to me that has been life changing. As cliche as it is to say that, but it was a and I think it was, I was so much so because I was there learning the language, I could communicate with people in this other language and really learn it.
But I was also on a mission, right? I was doing a research project, I was asking these questions, I was being able to go all over France to these places, I probably would have never gone and meet people and see these gorgeous places that I probably wouldn't have, you know, because they're kind of off the beaten trail, you know, who you you know, who wants to sit in a cathedral? Right? And, you know, look at architecture I do. I like that. And so, so yeah, it was, it was it cost a lot, it was a lot of, luckily, I was able to get all of it funded, but I would recommend it to anyone who could just to go somewhere where you really want to be right. Like I really wanted to be in France, I didn't go to Paris, you know, Paris, you know, I visited Paris a few times. But Leo was sort of in the south, it was this hub of art in this type of culture that I really wanted. And I was able to get have this flexibility to learn the language and to do my research. And that's what really made it for me just and then I had a lot of free time on the weekends to do all this traveling and stay in these places.
Venkat Raman 43:18
Okay, so I wanted to kind of move on and ask what you plan to do after graduating? I mean, where are you headed?
Yeah, so I am looking into grad school. So I still have a so this coming spring, so spring 2023. And then I have one more year. So I graduate, May of 2024. I'm looking to grad school, I'm an academic at heart. I love learning. That's sort of where I'm at where I sit. And so I have a few grad schools in mind. I have people have told me and told me again that I'm gonna have to pick to do art or science. And I keep telling them that I I am stubborn, if anything, and really trying to make both work. And so I'm trying to consider a double masters at the moment, which is saying it is a lot. So we'll see if that happens. But again, my primary goals are always I'm an artist at heart. I am an ecologist, I am a researcher. But at the end of the day, if I have to pick one, which I hate doing and will never do, but I am an artist in my heart of hearts. And so I'm looking at them. There's the University of New Mexico there is an MFA program in art in ecology, which is sort of positioned to do sculptural environmental work. There's a similar College in Ireland. I've also been looking at potentially, to do sort of art and ecology to do sort of to embed and move with the sculptural work. I'm still thinking about SAIC. Yeah, they have a photography program there and so I still have my I set there for grad program in getting my Master's in Fine Arts there. My instructors have told me apply to Yale just to do it. See what happens. It's the You know the thing to do if you have the money to do it. So I'm looking there, but I still am also looking at science programs there is Harvard's forestry school there is where since I was at Chicago Botanic Garden, I've been really looking at Northwestern, masters and plant conservation. There's also the University of Kentucky has a really interesting forestry program. And so I'm looking at those things. I've had this very lofty idea I might even apply to the Super Bowl in Paris to see what happens. But definitely grad school, I'm hoping to get my MFA and then kind of go into the world as an artist and a photographer and a storyteller. And hopefully, my idea has always been travel the world, make art, tell stories, you know, the easy thing, right, the dream, but but I have my science background to fall back on, if that doesn't work out or pan out. Or if I want to go back into science, if I don't already have my master's in science to get that, and then maybe even my PhD in plant to plant ecology, ecology, botany somewhere in that room. So I'm looking at grad programs, and then having seen what those grad programs can supply for me as a traveling artist.
Venkat Raman 46:15
So look, I wanted to segue to some advice for high schoolers, based on your experience and what you've learned.
Yeah, first and foremost, applied to more than just two colleges. That would definitely be the first piece of advice. And the second is always ask questions and be curious. You know, I think that there's sort of this stigma that we all have of, you know, if we ask questions, we look stupid, or, or, you know, or Oh, my God, you need help, when in reality is like, you know, again, from my experience, and most college students is, you know, and you know, most high school students go into college, you don't know all that much. And that might sound very, you know, condescending, but it's in a sense of like you, you're a young person going into the world, like you're going to college to learn. And because of that, you're you're gonna have questions. And so I could always recommend to people ask questions, be humbled to yourself, and that I might have romanticize this, but not knowing something is sort of, I think, not knowing something and being able to say that you don't know it, and honestly, and curiously, ask for help, is sort of the surest sign of someone who is going to be successful in that sense of like, being able to show that vulnerability of like, I don't know, this, and I want to know, this. Add is that, that having that humility, having that humbleness to ask for help, I think is probably my biggest piece of advice. And then also like advocating for yourself, that's an that's a hard that's a, you know, much more easier said than done situation I from experience. But if you have the capacity to ingrain that in yourself with like, your college students at these colleges, and you know, when I say you deserve attention, you deserve your questions answered. With that, you know, you have one instructor who might be answering 90 students questions, but advocate for yourself, if you really have a need, or you really have a question, or you really need something, there will be someone there who will listen and who will help you get that. So be, you know, be a polite thorn in someone's side, right? Say, say, I need this thing, or I have this question, or I have this ambition. And I need someone to hear it and just pursue it. Be steadfast in that. And that honesty, right? If something isn't working, don't force it to work, right? I might be now saying things that everyone's going to tell to you, but just be honest with yourself and have that humility with yourself, right of like, what do you want? And if you don't know that, that's perfectly okay. What at the time sounds interesting, like, if you are like psychology is kind of cool. I'm going to take a psych class, see what happens. Or I've always wanted to do ceramics, but I've never done it, pick class, work with your advisors, or the people who are there to help you and say, like, this is what I want to do. This is what feels true to me at this moment helped me figure it out. And if it doesn't work out, then you have another tool in your toolbox. Right? You might become a psychiatrist, but you took that one ceramics class and make really cool bowls on the side, right? So and So be honest, be curious and ask questions. And again, be polite thorns on one side, that's, I guess what I would, I would say.
Venkat Raman 49:29
So look, we're gonna start winding down. But before we do that, I wanted to see if you had some interesting memory or anecdote or something from the college experience that you'd like to share. You know, just because it's interesting, or it was life changing, or maybe it was just fun.
Yeah, um, I probably say the funniest one that I have is going back to that first ecology class I took you know, we have this wetlands and you near the near the school, and it was middle November. And so in Virginia in the mountains here that's very cold, it was actually snowing that day, there's outlet that's just sort of a pool of water, maybe you know, 20 feet across in diameter. And so we had to take water samples. But when you take water samples, you want to take them from sort of the middle of the water. So you get your sort of bests, you know, sample. And so our instructor, my instructor, Tom, they're short, said, You know, I'll step in it's cold water just to see if it's whatever, and got in a few feet and said, I don't know if I'll be able to go just because I might fall like might fully submerge myself. And I'm a pretty tall person. And so I was like, Oh, I'll try it out. I'll see how far it can go. Because, you know, my instructor is like, he can't be that deep. So I started going out there. And you know, first it's only coming up to my knees and you know, have the waiters on so I feel fine. And I take a step and I drop probably a foot and a half a while and the water comes up to about my mid chest. I don't fall in or anything but the water goes into my waders I'm freezing cold. And I'm like, Well, I'm here now. And so a turner, you know, I say over my shoulder. I'm like, Oh, just throw me the vials, I'll go and get all of our samples since I'm wet. So no one else has to get wet. And I turn around, and they're all taking pictures of me, just standing in the water. And all of this and my instructor who's the one sort of egging them on, like, oh, this will be great for the social medias, you know, all of this stuff. And so anyways, they throw me the vows, like get the sample and I come out and I'm soaking wet. So I take off the waiters, and I take them off, and I'm not gonna put my shoes and my socks back on, obviously. And so the wetland is probably a good 10 minute walk. And so I also this is just random fact, I don't like shoes. I don't like socks, I'm often barefoot, I just don't like it. And so I walked back to the science building back to campus barefoot in the middle of winter, and have all these pictures to show me just wading in the water. And I walked around the science building for that day with no shoes or socks because everything was all wet. And had a few instructors kind of give me these weird side eyes as I was walking down the hall. And so it's probably my fondest memory. And because again, I think that's the thing that drew me to ecology and said, Yeah, I want to be outside working. I want to do this every day if I can. So it's probably my fondest memory.
Venkat Raman 52:10
Awesome. So Luc, this has been a fantastic conversation. Great to hear what you're doing the things you're doing this, make my head spin, but you're sure you're having fun that I know you are based on your passion and energy. So I'd love to talk to you more in the future as things progress, but for right now, take care. Be safe. And thank you so much.
Luc W 52:38
Of course. Thank you so much. Bye, alrighty bye.
Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Luc White on their undergraduate journey at Radford University Honors College.
Luc has a broad range of interests with a passion and energy to pursue them all!
In college, Luc has explored the academic dimensions outside of the classroom through undergraduate research
I hope you find Luc’s story inspiring and explore Radford University Honors College for your own undergraduate pursuits.
For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [firstname.lastname@example.org].
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