There are many reasons the Project Dragonfly team is looking forward to Miami University’s 2023 Fall Commencement. For some, this will be the first time meeting the students in the popular graduate degree program face-to-face.
It will be another first for many of the students, too – their first time on Miami’s Oxford campus. A transformative education initiative with master’s degree programs in biology, Project Dragonfly offers an unparalleled experiential learning experience both in the U.S. and across the globe.
Whether through the Advanced Inquiry Program, Global Field Program, or Earth Expeditions, Project Dragonfly students work with some of the world’s most renowned zoos, botanical gardens, and conservation organizations and travel to conservation hotspots around the world.
“It’s such a treat for us,” said Connie Malone, Project Dragonfly’s graduate student services manager. “We see students’ names in our inboxes for two-and-a-half years or longer, and for many on our team, the first time we get to meet them is at graduation.”
Alongside the university’s commencement ceremony, held this year at 3 p.m. Dec. 15 in Millett Hall, Project Dragonfly recognizes its students with an on-campus celebration. An estimated group of around 275 will be on hand celebrating the program’s 172 prospective fall graduates.
Many of those graduates will also be in attendance Dec. 16 for “Dragonfly Day” at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. Project Dragonfly and the zoo commemorated 20 years of their partnership in October.
“For most of them, they’ve never been on campus,” said Kevin Matteson, associate director of the master’s program for Project Dragonfly. “They descend on Oxford amid the usually cold and gray weather, but they always bring so much excitement and cheer.”
The excitement builds as commencement nears. Project Dragonfly sends each student a yellow luggage tag, an easy way to identify members of the program while traveling. Several of them decorate their mortar boards with the tags and other items to signify the places they’ve been because of Project Dragonfly.
“I think it sort of hits home for them, all they’ve achieved, with the physical manifestation of it,” Matteson said. “It’s very powerful for a lot of them.”
For more than a decade Malone has watched the program’s celebration grow. Initially held in Miami’s art museum on the Western campus in 2011, around 125 people filled the auditorium space to capacity.
The art museum soon gave way to Peabody Hall’s Leonard Theater, an area they also quickly outgrew. Now held in Armstrong Student Center’s Fritz Pavilion, Project Dragonfly’s graduates will be surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues for a culminating moment on their journey.
Malone plays a special role in that journey, too, serving as commencement marshal, leading Project Dragonfly’s graduates into the Millett Hall setting.
“You have this sea of mortar boards with yellow luggage tags,” Malone said.
“We don’t see commencement as an end. We see it as a next step. We want them to take everything they’ve experienced with us as a program with them in their individual worlds. We invite our alumni to continue to engage with us in meaningful ways.”
Malone is leading another meaningful project tied into commencement. The Dragonfly Regalia Reuse Program allows members of the program to donate their graduate attire for future use.
Malone noted up to 5 million graduation gowns end up in landfills annually. Reusing the regalia helps reduce textile waste, fosters sustainable wardrobes, and reduces CO2 emissions from the production of new gowns as well as the cost associated with graduation.
The program also fits right in with Project Dragonfly’s mission of fostering ecological sustainability and environmental stewardship.
“We felt this was important, even if it is limited,” Malone said. “It gets the ball rolling.”
And while the pomp and circumstance of graduation may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Matteson said it’s important to recognize these accomplishments.
“We have people who have the first graduate degree in the family. A master’s degree is a big deal,” Matteson said. “It’s worth celebrating.”