Thalia Williamson ’19 — Connecting with a new future

May 16, 2019

If there’s one thing Thalia Williamson ’19 has learned, it’s how to adapt and respond when life doesn’t go as planned.

Instead of finishing her undergraduate career as an accomplished field hockey player from the University of Richmond, as she expected, Thalia will graduate Saturday from Albright College with a degree in biology, a completely different field than what she had pursued at Richmond.

To her credit are designation as a Hearst Scholar, and the distinction of having been awarded the Edwin L. Bell Endowed Scholarship for excellence in field research — both echoes of her hard work and dedication to scientific endeavors.

Thalia graduated from Oley Valley High School in 2015 as class president and a standout hockey player who had been recruited and awarded an athletic scholarship to Richmond, where she majored in leadership studies.

She left home with big plans and a bright future in front of her, but was quickly derailed by a leg injury that made it difficult for her to walk up steps, much less race up and down the hockey field. The injury, which developed during her freshman year but was never conclusively diagnosed, became an increasing problem during her sophomore year. Her inability to play hockey at her top level became an issue between Thalia and her coaches.

“My coaches weren’t very understanding about my problem,” she recalled. “I had a very difficult time expressing how I was feeling, and there was a lot of miscommunication.”

She came home from Richmond following her sophomore year and decided to not return in the fall. Instead, she thought, she would take a couple of science classes at Albright while she sought medical treatment and waited for her leg to heal.

“I still had the idea that I could get my health issues resolved so that I could play field hockey somewhere else,” Thaila said. “I just wanted to take a couple of classes so I didn’t get too far behind.”

But encouraged by several Albright biology professors, Thalia signed up for an interim session trip to the college’s field research facility in Costa Rica between the first and second semesters of her junior year.

That trip, led by Stephen Mech, Ph.D. and Karen Campbell, Ph.D., changed her life.

“During the trip they encouraged me to enroll full time in the biology program,” she said. “They connected with me as a student and a research assistant, and that was super meaningful to me.”

Thalia in laboratory

Thalia Williamson ’19 explores vertebrate natural history in Albright’s Organismal Lab.

Prior to that, Thalia thought of herself primarily as an athlete.

“It made me realize that, although I’ll always be an athlete at some level, it’s not the only thing I could be. And, that was life changing,” she said.

Fast forward a year and a half, and Williamson has completed not only her undergraduate course work, but a noted research project in partnership with Campbell, who served as her mentor.

The Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE) project, which explored the effects of noise pollution on bird behavior, was completed last summer and earned Thalia the coveted Hearst Scholar designation.

“We found out that there’s a clear relationship between disturbance and the behavior of birds,” she explained. “It was a pretty fascinating project and a topic that I hope to continue researching.”

For now, Thalia is looking forward to a summer internship at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Albany Township, after which she’ll begin to explore graduate school opportunities. Eventually, she would like to teach at a college while continuing in bird or other animal research.

“There’s so much to learn and find out,” she said. “My college experience wasn’t what I expected when I graduated from high school, but I can see that everything happened for a reason. It’s been a good thing.”