The Journey Began


My name is Ryan Pennesi and I joined Project Dragonfly in the Spring of 2019. I was lucky enough to start this graduate school journey with my fiance (now wife!), Danielle Hefferan (both of us pictured right). I am pursuing a Masters in Biology and she is pursuing her Masters of Arts in Teaching Biology. For me, this degree, was a way to combine two of my passions; nature photography and wildlife science. For Danielle, the goal has been to advance her career and allow her to run a graduate program of her own at the nature center where we first met.


I feel incredibly lucky to have taken this journey with her; to tackle assignments side by side, bounce ideas off one another, and vent with at times.  To share the grad school experience with Danielle and grow our professional and academic lives together has been so rewarding and humbling. As individuals, we have formed relationships with many of the same peers and instructors, as well as formed our own unique network with different amazing people. The culture and community is what made this program for me, along with the idea that you get out of this journey what you put into it. I have appreciated the self-guided  nature of Project Dragonfly and also how heavily we are expected to rely on our peers to challenge us, lift us up, and help us grow.      

Finding the best spot to cross


This Spring, I witnessed a family of deer traverse a treacherous stretch of a thawing north woods river. It was swollen from bank to bank, a result of the melting snow and ice from winter. I would like to use the story of the deer as a metaphor for our own journey as students through the Global Field Program (GFP).


Early on in the program, we were introduced to lots of ideas about the importance of community, connected conservation, networking, and place-based learning. We were also presented with the daunting task of forming a theme for our Master Plan and exposed to the graduation requirements. The community leadership challenge, the authorship leadership challenge, three Inquiry and Action projects. Oh my! It seemed like this river might be too swift moving to cross...               

Taking the leap


One thing is for sure, that if we were going to get to the other side of this river, we had to jump in at some point. If you just stood there, that ice was going to melt. And so, we dove in. Sometimes it felt like I might get swept a way entirely. Working full time in a new career, volunteering in my community, pursuing a graduate degree, and maintaining a personal life, all felt like competing interests at times. How could I do it all while staying sane? And doing it all in the midst of a global pandemic?! Forget about it!


Well for one, we learned to prioritize and to plan ahead, I know I did. With the start of each course, we were  presented with the expectations, evaluations, and a fully laid-out timeline of "To-Do's". Each time, we were reminded to look ahead and encouraged to submit assignments as soon as you could. Nothing was worse than submitting late and nobody gave you feedback because they had already reviewed the work of other peers. The Project Dragonfly curriculum was  set up intentionally to maximize student success. Participants are provided many opportunities to reach out to peers, instructors, student leaders, and advisors for guidance and direction. Not to mention all of the resources; like the carefully selected readings, instructional tutorial videos, workshops, and the U of Miami-Ohio library system. 

Back on Solid Ground, Barely...


There may have been times that we all thought that river would overcome our attempts to cross, but somehow we manage to scramble up the rocks on the opposite bank. You might have even felt exhausted; sputtering, completely soaked through, and out of breath. BUT, before you knew it you were on the other side, approaching that final semester. Now you just had to find a way to tie all those assignments together. 

Finding your footing


The capstone class is here. It's still hard work; summarizing and reflecting, but you're standing on your own two feet and you can see the promised land. You've shaken off the water of the river and are ready to forge your own future with the new skills, connections, networks, and experiences as your toolbox. 


While at first the Master plan portfolio seemed like an insurmountable task, I began to have fun compiling my projects. Piecing together the best way to tell my GFP story was like fitting together a puzzle of sorts; with each piece, I felt a growing sense of pride and accomplishment. My advice to you is to really take a hard look at your own portfolio at the end of this journey. How does it feel to see it all in one place? How will this propel your future? For me, it is a testament of my perseverance. The capstone portfolio is a compilation of projects that I am excited to share, both with friends/family, but also with my colleagues and potential employers. 

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