Student Takes Deep Dive Into Studies, Hobby

Anna Chavez traveled to Mexico in March 2022 to participate in reef conservation and scuba dive with sea lions. In January 2023, she was off to St. Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands), where she volunteered, through The Nature Conservancy, at a coral lab. While there she also achieved her advanced scuba diving certification. About a month ago, she returned from a five-week visit to Fiji, where she took part in shark conservation and mangrove restoration, and earned her rescue diver certification.

None of it would have been possible, she said, without Virginia Peninsula Community College. Too many people, she said, go directly from high school to college, as she did, because they fear falling behind their peers. However, that doesn’t allow time to discover interests and passions outside the classroom.

“VPCC allows for a solution for both sides of the argument and I recommend it as an option for furthering education,” Chavez said. “VPCC has given me so many opportunities to save money and use it to find who I am as a person. Since I was able to take my classes online, I was able to participate in volunteer programs relating to my interests and immerse myself in different cultures.”

Immerse herself she did, all while working on her associate degree in biology. She finished those requirements this summer, and will be off to Virginia Tech in late August to study marine biology or genetic counseling.

Her mother is a psychiatrist and her stepfather a pharmacist so science, especially genetics, has been an interest of hers from an early age. While writing a paper for her freshmen English class at VPCC on the advantages of taking a gap year, she came across Projects Abroad, which provides volunteer opportunities, internships, and travel all over the world.

“They had a scuba diving and marine conservation trip in Mexico, so I decided, ‘Why not?’” she said.

She did not take a gap year after graduating from Lafayette High School in 2021. Instead, she enrolled in VPCC, taking mostly online classes. Initially, her plan was to transfer to Virginia Tech after one year, but she stayed a second year at VPCC so she could continue to save money and travel. That extra year allowed her to earn more scuba diving certifications and work in a coral lab and on additional conservation projects.

“All of this was done while still taking classes and graduating on time, which couldn’t have been done without VPCC,” she said. “I would definitely recommend it to others.”

She has no specific background in swimming, although she was a lifeguard for a few years, but enjoys being below the surface.

“I have a lot of anxiety, and whenever I’m under water, just floating around, everything disappears for the moment,” she said.

Her favorite place she has visited is Fiji, and the deepest she has gone on a dive is the recreational limit of 130 feet.

“It was a little scary because my weight on that dive was off, so I was just kind of sinking, but it was OK,” she said.

While in Fiji, she met a marine biology professor from Old Dominion University, who told her about scholarship and internship possibilities for scuba divers, something she didn’t think was possible. Her ideal job would be in a field that combines her love of genetics with her love of scuba diving.

“Coral conservation or reef conservation, mapping the genomes of healthy corals and figuring out why certain ones are diseased and why others aren’t,” she said.

Chavez has no other scuba diving trips planned for the near future, but she is hoping to study in the United Kingdom in the spring semester, although she won’t be scuba diving there. None of her 11 siblings (she’s the fifth oldest) partakes in the hobby, so she goes alone and meets people along the way.

“It takes a few days to get adjusted, but it always ends up being worth it,” she said.