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Be International: Your first stop for SDSU international opportunities



When McKenna Avery saw a Black veined tiger butterfly settle on an array of plastic bottles that sat atop a compost system in the Cambodian rainforest, she quickly snapped a photo. 

Later, when the senior sustainability major would return to SDSU after her eight-week fellowship in Cambodia, she would enter the photo, which she called “Water Bottles into Prosperity,” in the San Diego State Be International Photo Contest. 

The 2019 installment, hosted by the Division of Academic Engagement and Student AchievementOffice of New Student and Parent Programs and Be International, challenged students to submit photographs that displayed some form of transformation.

“I created water bottle shingles for a compost system that diverted waste and supplied shared income,” Avery wrote in a caption accompanying her entry. “When the butterfly landed on the finished project, I knew nature approved of our transformation of waste to sustainability.”

Avery’s photo was selected as the first-prize entry out of a field of 78 eligible entries. A panel of staff and faculty judges selected first-, second- and third-place winners, as well as a pair of honorable mentions. The SDSU extended community also cast thousands of votes during a weeklong bracket-style tournament on the SDSU Be International Instagram page to select the People’s Choice Winner.

The contest’s theme this year was “Experience Transformation: Images from your international experience that symbolize or depict transformations of individuals, objects, spaces or places.”

Winning photos, which were submitted by student participants in study abroad programs or current international students, were announced Oct. 8. 

“Something winners always have in common is that they do a great job in addressing the contest theme in a thoughtful way,” said Fiorella Morales, a DAESA international engagement coordinator who served as chair of the selection committee. “The photo, narrative and theme come together nicely and because of this, the committee overwhelmingly voted for her entry.”

Avery, a Redlands native, said she was grateful for her selection as the contest winner because of the photo’s personal significance.

"I took a lot of photos after that trip, but this one spoke the most to me, I think it was the most impactful project I’ve worked on in how it related to the community,” Avery said. “I thought that it had a special spot in my heart and it does symbolize the bridge between nature and what we can we do with the waste we produce. We are having an impact and we can use that negativity to create something better.

“I am stunned and thankful for the panel for their selection and really appreciate it,” Avery said. 

Anais Gaunin, a fourth-year environmental engineering student, was the lone contestant to place in the photo contest and reach the “Final 4” of the people’s choice contest. Her photo, “Environformation,” pictures a kaleidoscope-like depiction of trees in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. 

She said the photo and her experience in Brazil, where she conducted research on sanitation in densely populated favelas, reinforced her choice for her major. 

“I looked at the photo, and as you look outward, you see fewer trees and more white cells,” Gaunin explained. “If we don’t care for our environment, it could easily become like the picture, with fewer green space and more blank space.”

The top 40 submissions are part of a gallery showing during Family Weekend, Oct. 11-12. 

The 2019 International Photo Contest winners are:



First Place:
“Water Bottles into Prosperity”
by sustainability major McKenna Avery


Program: Mundt Peace Fellowship: Funded Internship Abroad headed by College of Arts and Letters

Location: Stung Treng Province, Cambodia

Narrative: “I created water bottle shingles for a compost system that diverted waste and supplied shared income. When the butterfly landed on the finished project, I knew nature approved of our transformation of waste to sustainability.”

Second Place:

by environmental engineering major Anais Gaunin 


Research Abroad, 2018-2019

Location: Brumadinho, Brazil

Narrative: “The center represents today's environment and has more vegetation then the space above, but as you look outward the empty cells multiple showing the transformation our planet earth is going through. This reinforces the commitment to my major.”


Third Place:
“One in a Million”
by liberal studies major Mark Pasterski


SDSU International Business Exchange, Fall Semester 2018-19
Melbourne, Australia
“This image highlights one international student in a forest of natives. As international students, we had to transform in ways to integrate into the local culture.”


People’s Choice Award

"The Beast Rests, The Beast Transforms" 
by civil engineering major Fidel Martinez


Program: International Business Exchange, Spring 2018-19

Location: Bakuriani, Georgia

Narrative: “Centuries ago, a stray dog would be something to fear. They are now man's best friend. True, we managed to domesticate these "beasts", yet they've managed to transform us! Symbolizing the level of affection we aspire to have, despite the ambient.”


Honorable Mention:
“What Remains"
by biochemistry major Arianna Ruiz


CSU International Program, Spring Semester 2018-19
Tibilisi, Georgia
“When the Soviet Union had control over Georgia, they built dozens of buildings, five floors each. This shows the remains of one of their unfinished buildings. Georgia gained independence, but some scars remain. Yet they grow, like grass around it.”



Honorable Mention:
“Los Danzantes Resilientes”
by anthropology major Delana Delgado


CES-Led Faculty Program, Summer 2019

Location: Oaxaca, Mexico

Narrative: “Taken on my last night in Oaxaca, during the opening festival of Guelaguetza, this photo is a depiction of how individuals transform spaces and reclaim their indigenous identities as a reminder that who they are is something to be celebrated."

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