Derailed by the pandemic, but still pushing forward
Smucker grew up in Harrisburg, a farming community near Corvallis. Freshman year she dual-enrolled at Oregon State University and Linn Benton Community College, attending classes at Linn Benton the first two years. Within this program, her transfer to OSU as a junior in 2019 was seamless.
Four siblings already had attended Oregon State, and Smucker looked forward to her own experience there. Her junior year was her first year on campus and began well, building memories and studying with classmates. “You know, bonding over shared struggle,” she says.
But as so many stories the last two years go … ”and then COVID.” Between her jobs and pandemic restrictions, Smucker missed out on some of the college activities she normally would have joined.
“What I like about science is that it takes along that math and makes it useful and applies it. But math is the thing I know the most of and understand the best.”
“I didn’t get to make a lot of connections outside of class, mostly because of COVID,” Smucker says. “But despite that I feel like I was very challenged in my classes and got to learn so many new and cool things. I’ve really enjoyed my time at OSU and feel like it’s been a really good experience for me.”
Discovering the means to the end
With her love for math, Smucker began college as a mechanical engineering major. “But I realized I just did not want to be an engineer and I’d much rather do some sort of teaching,” she says. Mathematics was her logical choice.
Teaching opportunities opened for Smucker well before graduation: As a junior, she taught middle and high school science at a small private school. As a senior, she tutored students in physics at Linn Benton.
“Part of the reason I chose math as a major was because it had a good helping of both math and science,” Smucker says. “What I like about science is that it takes along that math and makes it useful and applies it. But math is the thing I know the most of and understand the best.”
Yet figuring out the next steps for her future was more challenging. “I knew kind of what I wanted the end goal to be, but I was completely lost as far as how to get there,” she says. Tom Dick, her advisor, helped her figure that out.
“I came to him and said I’m thinking about getting my Ph.D. or maybe my master’s, but I’m not really sure what that would look like or what that would mean for me down the road. And he very much just talked me through … If you want to get your Ph.D., that means you’d have this sort of potential career path. If you want to get your master’s, you’d have these potential career paths.”
With Dick clearly laying out options and requirements, Smucker determined she was most interested in a Ph.D. in mathematics.
“It was my decision to get a Ph.D.,” Smucker says. “But kind of talking through the whole process and what I needed to do was extremely helpful.”
“I've always felt like I kind of needed to sort of pave a path. That has influenced my journey.”