Conservation and Olympic competition on the mind of first-year Schreyer Scholar

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Zara Moss had numerous options for where to fence in college, including those from some of the nation’s top universities. The first-year student had made at least part of her choice much earlier.

“I knew the Penn State fight song before I knew my ABCs,” she said.

Moss, whose mother and grandmother both went to Penn State, wanted to challenge herself academically as well as athletically, so she applied for and was accepted to the Schreyer Honors College.

“I would still get what I wanted from Penn State at the big school, while still having the higher level of education and pushing myself harder,” she said.

Moss, who aspires to fence for the United States in the Olympic Games, is already off to a strong start in the sabre. She finished second and first, respectively, during the two nights of the season-opening Nittany Lion Cup Open on Sept. 23-24.

The Division of Undergraduate Studies student is also taking a pair of honors classes this semester and considering a few different career paths. “I would love to have a career that involves traveling and helping people,” Moss said.

Moss has already done both — and gained an interest in the environment — while working to become a world-class fencer. Homeschooled from the time she was in the fourth grade, she took an early interest in ornithology, and her parents would take her to places like Florida and Australia for bird-watching trips.

“When I got into high school, I realized I could make my own class out of it,” she said.

For three years, Moss volunteered at a bird-banding lab in Ligonier, helping scientists and ornithologists catch and band birds and record data. She learned things like how Lyme disease was spread by the ticks the birds would carry, and how the data could be used to draw relationships to the environment — how the average weight of a certain bird, for example, would decrease over the years as the climate warmed.

She also participated in a five-day field school in the Wildlife Leadership Academy, where she learned the anatomy of the ruffed grouse and participated in a mock town hall with conservation themes.

“I feel like it’s given me a lot of confidence to talk about conservation,” Moss said. “I’m a very big advocate for the environment. You might think, ‘If this one species of bird dies or goes extinct, would we really be missing anything?’ But you don’t know what we could learn from that bird.”

Moss is leaning toward a corporate innovation and entrepreneurship major, but has also considered studying food science. In the meantime, she has big goals on the fencing front and the competitive resume to suggest they’re attainable.

A member of the United States 2017 Junior World Championship fencing team, Moss won a gold medal in sabre at the USA Fencing July Challenge in Salt Lake City this summer. Her goal is to make the Olympic team in the 2020 or 2024 games. There are four spots reserved on the American squad for the women’s sabre and earned by accumulating points. Moss’ ranking has most recently been between sixth and eighth.

After years of competing against her friends from other states in national competitions, Moss is relishing the experience of being around her new Penn State teammates.

“At the end of the day, we come together and we’re one team,” she said. “I’ve never had that before. You have a whole group of people fighting for you and you can fight for them.”

Last Updated October 12, 2017