Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind., Mike Leonard column
Mar 17, 2013 (Herald-Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
There's a mix of amusement and reverence in Tarlie Townsend's voice when she talks about all of the wonderful teachers and programs she's encountered getting her education.
Sophomore English teacher Steve Brewer at Edgewood High School, for example, and his perpetual question: "So what "
"He would always ask that," the 2012 Indiana University graduate said. "So what What are the implications of that I find myself bringing back that question into most things I'm working on."
Steve Evans, world history teacher at St. Charles Catholic School. "I remember writing a 22-page paper for him as an 11-year-old seventh-grader because he inspired me so much about the topic," she recalled with a laugh.
Thompson was speaking by phone last week from Berlin, where she is a visiting researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. The reason for the conversation was the recent announcement that she'd been named a Luce Scholar -- one of 18 high-achieving young scholars in the U.S. and the first from IU.
The fellowship program is prestigious and daunting. "I will go at the very end of June to one of 15 countries in Asia and start an intensive language program for a couple of months," she said. "Then I will be assigned to a research institution or governmental agency for 10 months."
On her own. In a country she's never visited, speaking a language that has yet to be identified.
"This is going to be some serious culture shock and a serious challenge," she admitted. "But that's what ultimately made me apply. I just thought, 'Think of how much tougher you'll be coming out of that year and what sort of personal resilience you'll have.'"
The willingness to take on a challenge, with gusto, is a well-known trait in Townsend.
"Tarlie was one of the most exceptional students I've had the opportunity and the privilege to work with. She is intelligent, personable and very well-rounded," Edgewood principal Dirk Ackerman said in an email exchange last week.
"In the Germanic studies department at IU she is already a legend for the intelligence, insight and inspiration she brought to her work and shared with faculty and peers, as well as for the distinction she lent to our honors program," her mentor, Ben Robinson, told IU Communications. "I can't imagine a better ambassador for the humane aspirations of U.S. environmental policy."
Townsend was a Wells Scholar at IU and a member of the elite Board of Aeons and the Phi Beta Kappa academic honors society. She graduated from IU with highest honors with a dual degree in neuroscience and Germanic studies.
She's already studied for a year in Frieburg, Germany, and interned with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Townsend's working in two areas of study during her academic year at the Planck Institute in Berlin: decision-making in an uncertain environment in mitigating climate change, and assessing how people process and understand abstract values -- such as public health implications -- with climate change.
"Germany's an excellent place to study climate change and climate change mitigation because they're doing quite a good job on those fronts," she said.
Townsend said she originally thought she'd become a neuroscientist because of her fascination with people and their behaviors. But as much as she loves neuroscience, she said, she realized she wanted more social interaction and a more immediate impact to her work than working in a laboratory would provide. That pushed her more toward environmental and public policy studies.
"While I think I'm sort of a researcher at heart, I always want to be on the impact side as well," she said.
The next few years will no doubt have a big impact on the direction of Townsend's career, and she views it all with a healthy wait-and-see attitude.
"My feeling right now is that ultimately I'll get my Ph.D., and my long-term goal would be to be a professor of something like environmental health, global and environmental health, something like that," she said. "But I'm always going to want to be closely connected with the real world, so to speak. If I can be a policy adviser or take some time to serve in the public sector, that's a possibility as well."
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