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Magna student sees a future in plants

Published July 9, 2009 12:01 am

Carolyn Gunnell wants to become an ethnobotanist.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cyprus High School student Carolyn Gunnell has what she describes as a "houseplant obsession."

Problem is, she can't keep the growing things alive for very long. But that doesn't stop her from wanting to make a career based on plants.

Ethnobotany, to be more specific.

"It's kind of a mix between anthropology and botany," Carolyn explained. "It's a study between plants and people. Like, how people use plants."

The Magna teen recently won a $3,500 Jiffy Lube scholarship for an essay she wrote in response to the question "What Drives You?" It was one of two scholarships of this size doled out to Utah teens by the oil change company, which also distributed six $1,000 prizes.

In her essay, Carolyn describes her plans to earn an undergraduate degree in anthropology or botany. After that, she intends to seek a doctoral degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which has one of the nation's few programs of this kind.

"She's really adventurous," says Carolyn's mother, also named Carolyn.

If all goes according to plan, in about a decade, the younger Carolyn will be a scientist working in an exotic locale alongside indigenous peoples, knee-deep in rare plant species that could hold the keys to significant medical breakthroughs.

"Ethnobotany is not something I would do for the adventure," Carolyn writes. "It is extremely dedicated work and involves difficult living environments with unfamiliar cultures. Living in a rainforest without modern technology isn't most people's idea of luxury."

To Carolyn, it sounds just perfect.

The Cyprus senior loves camping and hiking.

Her room looks like the refuge of a future ethnobotanist. Carolyn has about five plants, although she admits "I'm not very good at keeping them alive [in my poorly lit room]."

No problem, says her mother, her daughter simply adopts more ferns and other greeneries when old ones die.

"I desire this career because I would love doing it," Carolyn wrote, "and I believe it will allow me to best focus my interests and abilities to shape the career that would give me a feeling of success."

Because of the Gunnells' economic situation, Carolyn's mom says her daughter's plans to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa could be a challenge.

But, buoyed by her recent windfall, the high school senior isn't ready to give up her dream.

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