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Camrie Smith sits with her hands in her lap wearing a white sweater. She is outdoors with a wall of vines behind her. Her natural hair is pulled back and she smiles broadly at the camera.

Zoology senior showcases Black excellence in STEM

By Erica Martin

As children, most of us were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. Quipping dreams of ballerinas, firefighters, doctors or mythical characters — how many of us actually pursued them? Camrie Smith always said she wanted to work with animals. And it stuck.

Smith chose Oregon State for her undergraduate education because of its excellent zoology program, which offers scientific training in the diversity, organismal biology, ecology and evolution of animals. Housed in the integrative biology department at the College of Science, it is the only zoology program in Oregon and it benefits from electives like animal behavior and cognition, offered in both Oregon State’s Ecampus online program and fish and wildlife. This collaborative approach to science education is why Oregon State’s many science entities are known simply as, “Team Science.”

Camrie poses in front of a brown bear's enclosure at Wildlife Images Rehabilitation Center. She wears a Wildlife Images Tshirt and smiles broadly.

Camrie first volunteered, then interned at Wildlife Images Rehabilitation Center in Grants Pass, Oregon. Her interest in large carnivores began early in her life.

“I am most proud of staying on course and doing what I have always planned on and wanted to do,” Smith said. “I feel like it’s easy to lose track of goals due to the overwhelming decisions that need to be made but I stayed on course.”

That course continues as Smith wraps up her remaining term at Oregon State with an experiential learning trip abroad to work at an animal and owl sanctuary in South Africa. After that? She sees herself pursuing the rehabilitation and conservation of large carnivores, the work she’s most passionate about.

Black excellence in STEM

Smith participated in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, which she says gave her immediate connections to like-minded students on campus during her first year — before classes ever started. LSAMP is dedicated to increasing the number of traditionally underrepresented students completing STEM baccalaureate degree programs.

Through LSAMP’s residential bridge program, Smith met many of the friends who would be her community throughout her time at Oregon State; an important factor in any undergraduate experience, but instrumental for a Black woman in STEM, she shared.

Camrie sits on a dark brown horse in equestrian gear. The horse stands on a dirt road, there is foliage behind them and a cloudy sky.

Camrie is working with animals even off the clock. She began riding horses around the age of ten and is now a member and officer of the Oregon State University Hunter-Jumper Equestrian Team. She has been a member since 2022 and an officer since 2023.

“Being a Black woman in STEM is a big part of my college identity,” Smith said. “That would have been a lot less possible only 100 years ago.”

The National Science Foundation estimates that Black women only make up around 2% of the STEM workforce, due in part to issues of underrepresentation and systemic problems. But Smith is a scientist determined to achieve her dreams.

She started volunteering at Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center in southern Oregon when she was still in high school to gain experience. The connections she made there led to an internship between her first and second years at Oregon State.

In a selfie provided by Camrie, she holds a chick of a large bird breed in a gloved hand and smiles at the camera. She is wearing a Wildlife Images Tshirt.

Volunteer and internship work at Wildlife Images provided Camrie with animal handling and rehabilitation experience in addition to important career connections.

Smith got firsthand experience of what animal rehabilitation looks like at Wildlife Images. She recalls how it felt to be a part of the rehabilitation and release of a Red-tailed Hawk.

“To see them heal each step of the way is what I’m passionate about. It made me want to do that for large animals.”

That experience, coupled with her tenacity, landed her a job at Reid Veterinary Hospital in Albany, Oregon as a veterinary technician the following year. She was quickly recognized as a reliable, experienced technician and asked to assist in the surgical department.

Camrie wears blue scrubs and is seen placing a beagle in an anesthetizing box.

Veterinary technician work adds to Camrie's skillset as a zoologist.

Bolstering both her education and the resume she’ll take with her into the workforce as she looks to the future, Smith’s approach to science during these years embodied Oregon State’s motto: Don’t just study science. Do science.

“This has been one of the most exciting times of my life,” Smith said of her undergraduate experience at Oregon State. She speaks highly of the advisors and professors she encountered during her journey who were committed to her success, saying “my decision to attend Oregon State is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

True to the way she’s chased her zoological dreams from the outset, when asked what advice she would give to future undergraduates considering Oregon State, she said, “Just go for it.”