Alumni Spotlight: Lela Smith

Lela Smith is from from a small town in New Jersey. She is a graduate from Rutgers University, with a degree in Biological Oceanography. In her free time she enjoys traveling, rock climbing, and diving.

Why did you pick this program?


After graduating I was looking for a way to gain the experience and dive certifications I will need to further myself in the marine science field. After extensive research I choose to join Blue Ventures on an expedition to Madagascar because they train volunteers to dive and collect field data from local reefs which is then used to aid conservation efforts. They are also heavily involved with the local villages, their work directly benefiting the community.

What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?

Bring books, magazines, coloring books, etc.! In the afternoons we usually had some free time, and most of us would relax in our hammocks and read for a while. Also the locals love to get the magazines to read and decorate their homes.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Definitely go. Leaving the country and exploring a culture outside you own is a real eye opening experience. I consider going abroad to be one of the best decisions I've ever made because of the personal growth I gained while abroad.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.


One of the most memorable experiences I had was participating in a pirogue race. Every year, Andavadoaka, the village we stay in, will host sailing regattas.

My team was amazing, they saw me looking for a boat and called me over and volunteered to take me. As soon as the race started we took off and were near the front of the pack. It was all smooth sailing till disaster struck. The pirogue in front of us had capsized and we were about to run into them. So I was yelling the Malagasy were yelling we were all scrambling around the boat trying to get it to turn.

One of the men and I found and grabbed the oars and started turning the boat while the other men were standing on the balance bar trying to put as much weight on it as possible to get the boat to shift its course. It seemed like their was no avoiding the other ship and we were about to strike them when we caught a wave at an unusual angle and shifted our bow just enough to to miss the over turned boat by inches.

In the interim we lost allot of momentum and most of the other boats had made it past us. We knew we weren't going to place so we spent the rest of the time taking pictures and joking around.