A powerful experience during her gap year – a year in between high school and college – lead Travertine Orndorff to find a passion for her studies at Virginia Tech through her major and involvement in the University Honors program.

Orndorff, a junior majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, traveled to Chile for nine months during her gap year.

Heading into the gap year "I had no idea what I wanted to study, but I really liked Spanish and wanted to learn it. I wanted to go somewhere that I would have to speak the language,” Orndorff said.

While in Chile, she worked at home for girls who are victims of abuse or whose families didn’t have resources to care for them.

“In the home where I was working, nutrition was a huge issue. There were girls there that were mentally disabled because they suffered malnutrition as young children, and that just should not happen in the 21st century,” she said. “That experience helped me realize that I was most interested in nutrition because I could not stop thinking about it after I left.”

That poignancy stuck with her, beyond inspiring her academic major. After applying to be in University Honors her first year, Orndorff learned about the Odyssey Fellowships. She applied for the Austin Michelle Cloyd Fellowship because of its social justice focus, and after winning the 2015 scholarship, she had the opportunity to revisit the place that originally inspired her.

“My original proposal was to go back to the home I worked at and build a garden. Then they could produce their own food to learn about nutrition and environmental science and become empowered in where their food comes from,” Orndorff said. “When I was there, a lot of their meals were leftovers from public cafeterias. For girls who are already disadvantaged in many ways, they didn’t need to be disadvantaged nutritionally as well.”

Orndorff went through the proposal, interview, and portfolio stages to apply for the scholarship during her sophomore year. The 2014 Cloyd Fellowship Winner, Nneoma Nwankwo, served as the chair of the preliminary interviews at the time.

“Travertine won, and she had an amazing concept. I watched her grow from somebody who was very shy to someone who really took initiative,” Nwankwo said.

Because of some exterior complications, Orndorff had to veer from her original plan. Instead of returning to the home for girls, Orndorff is now working with a public primary and secondary school in Chile. This summer, she traveled there for 11 weeks to begin planning for an educational garden at the school. She also started composting while she was there, in hopes that it would be the first step toward building the garden.

With the help of a team of teachers from the school, along with some guidance from a local agricultural institute in Chile, Orndorff’s garden will be planted and then maintained by students moving forward. Orndorff said she plans on going back to Chile this spring or summer to complete the project.

“I think of using food as a tool of solving other issues because food is such a common denominator of all people and all cultures,” she said. “If you can produce your food in a way that is environmentally and ecologically sensible and socially responsible, then it is very all encompassing.”

At Virginia Tech, Orndorff said she is looking forward to taking what she learned during the application process and what she will learn in Chile and using those skills in her future.

“The scholarship can sound really intimidating and I could see myself thinking I couldn’t do it, but I’m really glad I did. Even just the whole process of going through creating a portfolio and doing the interviews gave me a great feeling of accomplishment,” Orndorff said. “I’m also excited to mentor the people who are going to apply in the future. It’s a really great chance to connect with students as well as faculty.”

The sky is the limit for the types of ideas and projects applicants can propose for the fellowship. “I chose to do an international service project – which is good and I think it will have a lot of impact – but I think people should not be discouraged to do local service. It would have been awesome to do a local project and fill needs here as well.”

Written by Leslie McCrea, a senior majoring in multimedia journalism in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.