It wasn’t the "Misty Mountains" in the background that caught Jack Mahoney’s eye; it was the scene happening in front of them. The mountains – the very same mountains in New Zealand that director Peter Jackson featured in his wildly successful “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies – were merely a picturesque backdrop.

Instead, the leadership studies major’s attention was drawn to the exchange on the dock. He wanted to capture the moment, so he snapped a photo.  

“Leadership studies is really all about studying human interaction,” says Mahoney, ’14, who studied abroad in Australia during the fall semester and traveled to New Zealand. “The background is definitely cool, but the focus of the picture is really the two people and their exchange.”

The photo was selected as the winning entry for the fourth annual “Capturing the Jepson Spirit Abroad” photo contest, which is open to Jepson School students who are majors or minors. He titled it “Friendship at the Feet of Giants.”

It is on permanent display in the School’s international photo gallery in Jepson Hall. The winner was announced at the dean's welcome back from abroad party in January.  

“The contest is intended to help students see that leadership is a global phenomenon,” says Kerstin Soderlund, associate dean for students and external affairs. “We really want students to connect what they are learning in their classes to their experiences abroad.”  

Mahoney also made connections in his classes at the University of Sydney where group work is a staple of the curriculum. Being grounded in leadership studies “allowed me to understand group dynamics,” he says. “Even if I wasn’t the leader of a group, I was the one making sure our group communicated effectively.”

But a few unexpected journeys outside the classroom made the biggest impression on Mahoney, who is originally from Baltimore and plans to pursue a career in politics. He took an off-roading tour of the Outback, visited national parks, and got lost in Sydney and wound up touring the city on foot where he “was really able to experience the culture.”

The trip to New Zealand and exploring J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth as imagined by Jackson was the highlight, he says.

One might say it was his personal quest to make the most of his time abroad.