Emma Magner, Spotlight photo

As a student at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences, Emma Magner learned that it’s acceptable––and often life changing––to move in a new direction or follow a passion on the “unknown path.”

Recognized as an Outstanding Student of the Class of 2014, Magner graduated with bachelor’s degrees in marine biology and theatre and represented her classmates as the student speaker at Commencement.

Fascinated by science at a young age, Magner started her undergraduate studies as a marine biology major. As a freshman, she packed her schedule with prerequisites and courses that fit her major, leaving her to choose just one elective.

She chose theatre “just for the fun of it,” not foreseeing that the discipline would become her second major in her junior year.

“At first, I was hesitant to alter my original course,” Magner said. “But through the freedom that NSU gave me, I had the opportunity to find myself and nurture my passion for theatre” as well as marine biology.

Growing up in southern Illinois, Magner made frequent visits to Florida with her family.

“I fell in love with the ocean,” she said, sparking her interest to study marine science at NSU. “From a young age, I loved science and nature. I knew I wanted to be a marine biologist. In high school, I was involved in drama and I loved that as well. I was very passionate about both of them.” 

During her first semester at NSU, Magner won a role of Cecily in the theatrical production of The Importance of Being Earnest. During the next three years, she acted in several productions and worked in technical positions or as stage manager behind the scenes. Her performances included the roles Brenda and the clown/therapist in Wonder of the World; Elmire in Tartuffe; Angel in Everyman; and Cassandra in The Trojan Woman.

“Acting took me away from the pressures of school,” she said. “It wasn’t science. It kept me involved. It helped give me balance.

“Theatre is an expressive outlet. It puts a joy in my heart. I love the adrenaline of being on stage. It is unpredictable. If something happens, the show must go on.”

As a marine biology student, Magner participated in travel-study courses, exploring environments in the Galapagos Islands and Baja California, Mexico, where she made a documentary about a whale-watching trip.

This summer, she will travel to Alaska with a group of students led by Paul Arena, Ph.D., assistant professor at the college, whom Magner considers one of her mentors.

“She was always a delight to have in my classes,” Arena said. “She always put her best foot forward, maintained an excellent attitude, and was generally a positive spirit, which lifted up all those around her. She pushed herself to learn and understand the material, which I believe encouraged others in the class to do the same. The passion for knowledge is catchy and contagious, and Emma surely has the bug.”

An active member of NSU’s Nature Club, Magner participated in beach cleanups, butterfly garden plantings, exotic species removals, and the planting of native vegetation outside NSU’s Parker building.

In Alaska, she will observe the diversity of large megafauna and wildlife such as bears, wolves, moose, whales, sea lions, and sea otters in their natural habitat, Arena said.

“These trips have broadened my perspective on life and have really solidified how passionate I am about nature and the organisms with which we share our world,” said Magner, who hopes to eventually work on coral, sea grass, or oyster bed restoration projects.

“I want to give back to the environment. I want to leave some mark on the world.”

She credits her NSU professors for helping her succeed in college, including Arena and Mark Duncan, M.F.A., associate professor and assistant director of the college’s Division of Performing and Visual Arts. Duncan gave Magner the confidence to add theatre as a second major during her junior year, she said.

“Emma is a true collaborator and had a great rapport with both the faculty and her fellow classmates. Her infectious optimism and positive demeanor were great assets to the theatre program,” Duncan said.

The late faculty member Edward O. Keith, Ph.D., sparked her interest in marine mammals and encouraged her to pursue internships at facilities such as the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key (Florida Keys), and Sea Life Park Hawaii on the island of Oahu, where she worked with dolphins and sea lions.

“Being at NSU was really an uplifting experience,” said Magner, who hopes to earn a graduate degree in marine biology and work in marine mammal research as well as perform in community theatre.

“I will always have a passion for acting. I don’t want to let it die.  I’m definitely going to keep both passions in my life.”

At Commencement, Magner encouraged her classmates to embrace the unknown path ahead.

“Remember life is not set in stone, and it is okay to take a step back and get lost on this unknown path––the unknown path that presents the wonderful journey of life. Getting lost will only help us find ourselves, bringing forth possibilities and challenges…Embrace the freedom of not knowing what lies ahead.”