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By Richard Burnett

Sarah Pozzi In the waters of the Florida Keys, Sarah Pozzi’s team gently lowered Sparb the sea turtle back into his habitat, three months after a shark had nearly killed him. As if right on cue, Sparb’s flippers kicked into gear and he slowly cruised into the blue-green yonder, as a small crowd cheered on the beach. (Youtube)

For Pozzi, it was a dream moment in her dream job as a sea life educator for The Turtle Hospital and rehab center in Marathon, Florida, about one hour east of Key West. The saga of Sparb, who was rehabilitated at the Marathon-based nonprofit, was one of the early success stories Pozzi witnessed firsthand after joining the hospital last January.

“Even when I was a kid, I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to work with animals, to take care of them, rescue them and find them a home,” said the 24-year-old Beacon College graduate from Fernandina Beach. “Now I’m thrilled to work with sea turtles and help others understand how important sea life is to the environment, people and society.”

There is a strong empathy that drives Pozzi’s love for the hospital’s sick, injured and disabled animal patients. As a young girl in pre-school, she herself experienced cognitive disabilities that left her unable to speak for years, perplexing her parents and medical authorities. In fact, the first doctors to assess her said she would likely never be able to talk or finish school.

But her parents refused to take that for an answer. “They didn’t believe that at all,” Pozzi said. “They were frustrated, but they didn’t give up. They kept looking until they found the right diagnosis for me and got me the help I needed.”

She was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder — a trifecta of ailments that affected her learning. With the help of specialists, educators and therapies, however, she did indeed begin to speak, her grades rose and the world opened up for her. It also helped that Pozzi had the same fierce determination that drove her parents.

“I worked my butt off every day in middle school and high school to prove those other doctors wrong,” she said. “I remember sometimes staying up past 1 a.m. to get all of my homework done. But I was determined to prove to everyone that I was able to finish school and be successful.”

The doors continued to open for her in college. She loved Beacon on her first visit, not only for its focus on students with learning differences, but also its small community atmosphere and strong connection between professors and students. Boosted by several financial aid sources, including the state’s EASE Grant program, she was able to begin classes in 2016 and graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s of science degree in anthrozoology.

Over four years, Pozzi transformed from a shy, nervous freshman to a poised scholar by her junior year, who was driven to achieve, said Dr. Brian Ogle, an associate professor or anthrozoology and Pozzi’s mentor.

“Along the way, she blossomed into a confident individual and an emerging professional,” said Ogle, who is also department chair for humanities and general education. “You could see that she was willing and ready to tackle the world. It was cool to see her acting on that confidence — especially after graduation — to achieve her dream and become a happy person.”

Pozzi said Beacon made an indelible imprint on her life — through academics, practical knowledge and relationships — that has served her well in her career.

“I have some great friends and close relationships from my years at Beacon,” Pozzi said. “Most of all, it was the education that stood out. All of the classes were great and the professors taught me in a way that I could really follow and understand. They also had assistants who were always there if I needed any help. Putting all of it together, that is why was I was successful and I’m grateful for it.”