Honors student explores world’s longest cave system

Jan 09, 2024
Three scenes from Mammoth Cave include an inside look at the dark, rocky interior, a shimmering gold crevice, and an outside view of the forest surrounding.
Various scenes from within and outside of Mammoth Cave. (Courtesy photo AJ Sweitzer)

When Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program Kelly McFall encouraged AJ Sweitzer to apply for an excursion through the National Collegiate Honors Council, Sweitzer never thought she’d end up in the longest cave system known to mankind.

In May, the Newman sophomore packed her bags and flew to northern Kentucky, where she arrived with her group at Mammoth Cave National Park

Sweitzer, who studies pre-professional veterinary medicine and biology at Newman, applied for this location as “I thought it would teach me about how the different environments affect the wildlife that lives there.”

Sweitzer (far left) and fellow participants of the NCHC Mammoth Cave excursion.
Sweitzer (far left) and fellow participants of the NCHC Mammoth Cave excursion.

The seven-day trip turned out to be an incredibly eye-opening and rewarding experience for the Las Vegas native.

The week was packed with adventures like multiple behind-the-scenes cave trips and historic tours, guest speakers, and even a canoe trip on the Green River. Sweitzer and fellow NCHC students learned about the cave’s history, early dwellers and how they lived.

Many of the sites left her speechless.

“The most memorable part of the trip was going free climbing and exploring inside the cave,” Sweitzer said. “We got to wear coveralls and hardhats with lamps. During this session, we saw an underground waterfall and one of the largest open areas in the cave.”

A view from Sweitzer's canoe of the Green River.
A view from Sweitzer’s canoe of the Green River.

In addition to excursions, Sweitzer and fellow students presented their reflections at the end of the week.

“We were told to be creative with the reflection,” Sweitzer said. “One student did a scavenger hunt, and one even did charades. I wrote out a poem about my experience.”

In Sweitzer’s time as a student, soccer athlete and member of the Honors Program at Newman, she has grown “tremendously as a person,” she said.

She added, “The Honors Program at Newman has given me many opportunities and experiences that have helped me grow. In addition, I have met many wonderful students who have become close friends.”

As she works to enter the veterinary field, the Mammoth Cave experience is something Sweitzer will always look back on.

The group of NCHC students surrounds the "Mammoth Cave National Park" sign.
The group of NCHC students surrounds the “Mammoth Cave National Park” sign.

“Choosing to apply to attend the Mammoth Cave trip was a blessing,” she said. “Being able to meet people from all over the world allows me to practice communication skills I can apply when communicating plans of treatment. In addition, I was able to practice teamwork skills on this trip, which are critical in the environment of medicine.”

She added, “I am so grateful to have been able to see Mammoth Cave and its magnificent views.”

Newman University Honors Program

In the Honors Program, students build a strong community, hone their academic skills, engage with the world outside Newman’s campus and connect with both alumni and future honors students.