Students usually graduate from high school before they have earned their first college degree, but this was not the case for Faith Sauber.

At age 14, Sauber began taking classes at Valencia College through his online high school’s dual enrollment program. Sauber earned her associate’s degree in Valencia when she was 16, and a week later she graduated from high school.

Sauber, 19, is now preparing to leave for Europe to do research at the University of Geneva in Switzerland as UCF’s first EuroScholar on February 14. Sauber graduated from UCF in the fall of 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science.

Sauber said part of what made his experience at UCF interesting was participating in various research opportunities.

“I always wanted to go to medical school, but after doing research at Valencia and UCF, I found I wanted to pursue a career in research,” Sauber said.

Now she can take her research skills to a new level and on a new continent.

The EuroScholars program is a unique study abroad program for undergraduate students seeking international research experience, according to the EuroScholars website.

Sauber said she first considered the EuroScholars program after her initial study abroad trip with UCF in 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Determined to find more on-campus research opportunities like the ones she had previously been involved in, Sauber said she searched the office of undergraduate research. database of research positions. The database connected her to Dr. Mary Jean Amon, an assistant professor in UCF’s School of Simulation and Modeling Training.

Amon said he led a research project with three other colleagues examining how people move and interact in virtual reality environments. She said Sauber contacted Amon about his interest in the project.

“She’s really proactive, which is a great quality to have, and I think that’s a big part of why she’s had so many opportunities at UCF,” Amon said.

Amon said Sauber was good at meeting deadlines, asking questions and looking for opportunities to present posters for their project.

“She’s really looking for those opportunities even without anyone telling her to,” Amon said. “She has a lot of initiative, and that will definitely take her far.”

Elizabeth Erbeznik, Senior Director of WorldStrides, said qualities such as initiative and natural curiosity are essential in EuroScholars candidates. WorldStrides is a recruitment and admissions partner of EuroScholars.

“This research idea pushes existing knowledge in new directions or goes further,” Erbeznik said. “This element of curiosity will also serve a EuroScholars student very well.”

Erbeznik said EuroScholars offers language and culture courses that allow students to properly immerse themselves in such a new environment. She said her advice to incoming EuroScholars is to embrace the culture they are surrounded by abroad.

“Take advantage of these opportunities to get out and experience the local host community and culture,” Erbeznik said.

Dr. Gregory Welch, UCF Pegasus Professor and AdventHealth Chair in Health Care Simulation, worked alongside Sauber for three semesters at UCF to complete his undergraduate thesis. Welch said his advice for students interested in research is to approach the situation with an open mind and consider new perspectives.

Students looking to engage in such research programs shouldn’t view them as just “checking another box,” Welch said.

“It’s not just about going with the flow, it’s about enjoying and being passionate about what you’re doing,” Welch said. “If we can do that, if we can find that, I think that can make a big difference.”

Welch said Sauber was fearless and optimistic while working through this process. He said he understands how difficult it can be to take on such a massive project as an undergraduate.

“It’s difficult because they’re busy. They have lots of things to do. There are a lot of things competing for their time,” Welch said.

Sauber said she was very grateful for all of her help at UCF, specifically mentioning Nicole Verity, a teacher at the Amon, Welch and Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences.

“They’ve just been really, really nice and patient and helpful,” Sauber said. “They gave me a lot of great advice on what it’s like to pursue a career in science.”

Sauber said her experience in undergraduate research helped prepare her for this trip, but research abroad will prove to be a much different challenge and she said she was excited to raise.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Europe, so when I saw I had the chance to go to Switzerland, I thought, ‘I’m going to have to grab this,'” Sauber said.

Sauber said flying alone would be different as she had only been abroad with her family before.

“I still live with my family while in college,” Sauber said. “I have never been alone. But I’m excited, and my parents are excited for me.

Sauber said she encourages other students interested in studying abroad to check UCF Abroad and don’t be afraid to do their research.

“I would recommend it because I was really excited to go,” Sauber said. “Everything is planned, I think it’s really well organized, and all the teachers are really nice.”

Sauber said finding research programs at Valencia and UCF helped prepare her for the long trip — and flight — ahead to Switzerland.

“A lot of opportunities at UCF prepared me with research experience,” Sauber said. “But I’m excited to have a different kind of experience while I’m there.”