What’s great about Radford University? Ask Sarah
Sarah Church has perfected the art of walking backward.
This summer, the Radford University sophomore Honors College student worked as an Admissions tour guide, leading prospective students and family members around campus. Part of the job is leading the tour from building to building, while walking backward, talking and answering important questions.
It takes practice.
“My roommate and I just went out and walked the whole campus backward. We weren’t the best at walking backward. I ran into things. I still run into things,” Church confessed. “But, we said ‘We’re going to do this, and we’re going to get better.’”
One reason Church, an Honors College student, took the position is she loves Radford, and she loves telling others about her university. It’s the reason her resident advisor, also a tour guide, told her she’d be perfect for the role.
“She said it’s a job you need if you love it here, and you’re passionate about having other people come to school here,” Church recalled her resident advisor saying.
Church is passionate about many things, just ask her and watch her light up when she talks about the university… or statistics… or cryptography… or the research she began doing with a chemistry professor during her first year at the university… or hockey, particularly the Chicago Blackhawks.
The sport has been a passion for Church since her family visited Chicago in 2010, soon after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Though she thinks it might be a long shot, she’d welcome a career in the team’s, or any team’s, front office.
“OK, this is a pipe dream,” the Pearisburg native sheepishly said. “I’d love to work in hockey and run all the advanced statistics on all the players.”
Perhaps, another dream job for Church would be with the National Security Agency (NSA). She developed an interest in the agency after a trip to Washington, D.C., and London this summer with five other Radford students and her advisor, Mathematics Professor Neil Sigmon. There, the group set out to unravel the mystery of cryptography. A critical stop in London was Bletchley Park, the central and top-secret site for British and Allied codebreakers during WWII.
Church’s mathematics major and computer science minor could someday land her a dream job with a big city hockey team or the NSA, but for now, just entering her second year of college, Church has many other roles and activities to keep her busy.
It helps that she’s “a very organized person,” she said. “I live my life by sticky notes. If I don’t have a sticky note with a list of stuff I need to complete, I’m not getting it done.”
Occupying one sticky note is the research Church is conducting with Chemistry Associate Professor Tim Fuhrer. She learned from visiting the university as a high school student that there were research opportunities for undergraduates, and it’s one reason she chose Radford. Still, she was surprised Fuhrer asked her to be part of his research.
“I was like, “Oh, my gosh.’ I nearly panicked,” Church said. “I FaceTimed my mom and dad and said ‘What do I do? Do I do this?’”
Now, Church and Fuhrer are moving along with their computational modeling of small cage fullerenes. At Fuhrer’s urging, Church applied for and was a granted a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) award, which is granted by the university’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship.
“I was very surprised that I got it,” she said. “But, I’m very grateful.”
Church is grateful, too, for the Honors College community and the students and faculty who surround her and are “so willing to work with me.”
As a freshman, she lived in an Honors residence hall.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better community,” she said. “I felt comfortable walking down the hall, knocking on someone’s door and asking, ‘Hey, do you have sticky notes.’ Or ‘Hey, can I borrow this?’ And a lot of us had the same classes, so it was easy to meet up for projects. I had a little family there. It was like a mini apartment complex where everyone knew each other, and I really enjoyed that.”
The proximity to the Honors College administrative office is also a benefit, providing comfort throughout long days of classes and research.
“I go to talk with Mary Hagan and (Honors College Director) Dr. (Niels) Christensen,” she said. “I go in there and say, ‘Hi,’ and update them about my life and vice versa.”
Inside the friendly environment is also a rigorous and challenging academic community.
“It’s a lot faster. Basically, it forces you to think for yourself. You’re engaging so much more,” Church said. “With Honors students, you have similar mindsets. You want to succeed, you want to get the most you can out of a class. And discussions are so much more in-depth. A lot of times, it makes you walk back and think deeper into issues.
“I love it here,” she continued. “This is the perfect place for me.”