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Cheyney Junior Spends Spring Semester Studying at Duke University

Gwen Owens

February 2, 2014

CU junior Travonya Kenly, on an all-paid scholarship, is taking classes at Duke University this semester

CU junior Travonya Kenly, on an all-paid scholarship, is taking classes at Duke University this semester

Anyone who knows Allentown, PA native Travonya Kenly knows for certain that she wants to spend her life saving pandas. The 20-year-old Cheyney University ecology major, now in her junior year, discovered pandas after visiting the zoo in Washington, DC when she was in middle school. “I had an epiphany when I looked at the panda cage,” she remembers. “I thought they were the most beautiful animals I had ever seen. I found out that they were endangered and dying off. I got a panda backpack from the zoo that day and I carry it everywhere because it keeps my dream alive and motivates me to work hard so that I can reach my goal and one day use what I know to help conserve the species.”

The Keystone Honors Academy (KHA) scholar is well on her way. She and her panda backpack are currently in North Carolina at Duke University where she earned a full scholarship to study in the school’s marine laboratory for the entire spring semester. “It includes everything—books, food, room and board and travel,” she gushes. She is taking marine courses not offered at CU.

Named after the Somalian girl her dad saved when he was in the army in Somalia, Travonya has embraced her college experience and taken advantage of many opportunities that have helped her amass a glowing resume already.

In the summer of 2012, after completing her freshman year at Cheyney, Travonya went to Oxford, England for two weeks as part of a program that allowed her to create her own research project (she researched old and middle English). “It was an amazing trip,” she exclaims. “I loved it there.” She even witnessed the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee while in England. When she returned to the U.S., she went straight to Baltimore, MD to do her first internship—a 10 week stint at the Institute for Marine and Environmental Technology where she conducted research on cobia and zebra fish— a project dealing with molecular biology/genetics.

In October of her sophomore year, Travonya traveled to MA, attending the Symposium for Graduate School in Chemistry, for free. “That experience was amazing,” she says of the four days at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “I was able to walk through laboratories and listen to very distinguished scientists including a lecture by a Nobel Prize Laureate,” she graciously recalls. That same year, she was chosen to represent Cheyney at the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Institute in NY, was a Varsity player for the 2013 Honda All-Star Challenge team from CU, and spent 10 weeks doing an internship at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “I worked on size at settlement of mussels,” she explains. “It was a project based on critical thinking and analyzing data.” 

The youngest of twins by four minutes, Travonya chose to enroll at Cheyney University because of the KHA, which gave her a full scholarship for all four years. She acknowledges that she’s benefited from the small class sizes, close personal relationships with her professors and undivided attention that came as a result.

“Truthfully, I don’t regret it because of opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. Here (at CU), I’m excelling way more than I thought I ever would. Dr. (Steven) Hughes and Dr. (Tara) Kent taught me how to earn my way through college. They motivate me and inspire me. (Professor) Heidi Tucker is like my motivational coach. For the first two years she told me ‘you can do this, you can do this, you can do this.’ She boosted my confidence. She throws a lot of opportunities in my face. My success is definitely not just my own, it’s everyone’s. I actually take the opportunities and do something with them. I have a back-up team of motivators who cheer me on from the sidelines.”

While Travonya, who was bullied growing up, has known for years that she wanted to study science, she didn’t always know that she’d be a leader. The former Resident Advisor has served as Vice President and President of the KHA Honor Council and is a Peer Mentor.

“I became a peer mentor to help students become more like me and to motivate them. I came from a low income home. My motivation is that I don’t want to go back there. I want to have a career that I love to do.”

While at Duke, Travonya is taking 15-week courses in 4-and-a-half week sessions. She is just about to wrap up her first session. “It’s been great so far,” she reports. “The classes have been hard but it’s really nice to work with other students who have the same passion and drive to learn about what they love. It’s all ocean sciences. We’re studying ecology and the physiology of all animals—not just marine animals.” Translation--while she looks forward to returning to CU for her senior year, right now, she's in heaven. “I’m probably going to cry when I have to leave here,” she admits.

One can hardly call Travonya a slacker. Before this semester is over, she will travel with her Duke classmates to Singapore in Southeast Asia to take a three-week-long class on Tropical Urban Ecology. She’s submitted an abstract to present her research on mussels at MIT in April, is a student ambassador for the 100 Thousand Strong Foundation, and has applied for several national and international summer internships. In addition, Travonya will apply to be a Rhodes Scholar in July and hopes to secure funding to, one day, take her to China to do research on pandas. As she will tell anyone who listens, “I want to save pandas!”