What started as a plan to study zoology turned into a passion for learning in the Texas A&M Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology for first generation student Sydnee Smith.
Attending college was not something Smith pictured while growing up. Her father, a veteran, passed away when she was a child, and her mother raised Smith and her siblings on her own.
“It was not until I was much older that we looked into the possibility of me having a college career,” Smith said. “I came to learn of all the great benefits available to me to be able to pursue a college degree after all because of my father’s service.
“I have been not only able to attend Texas A&M University but also graduate debt free, which is a really big deal in today’s world,” she said.
Smith sat down with us and shared her experience in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and her future plans with a passion for learning and traveling.
How did you pick your major?
I initially began as a zoology major in the College of Arts and Science. The coursework for this major focused on micro concepts like organic chemistry and biochemistry that did not appeal to me as much as I had initially hoped it would.
So, I combed through all the majors the university had to offer and found the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology. The degree plan consisted of course options like general mammalogy, diversity and evolution of vertebrates, fire ecology and many study abroad options. With the prospects of traveling, fieldwork and specimen identification, I could not have contacted my adviser faster to learn how to change my major.
I never knew that I would enjoy it as much as I do now.
What is the most memorable experience that you have had with the people in your major?
Traveling with the students in my major to Brazil in the Amazon education abroad program hands down. Traveling there was a one-of-a-kind experience. We got to see the most biodiverse biome the Earth has to offer in a way many never will. Visiting local villages, fishing in lakes only known by locals and having an amazing guide helped make the experience so valuable.
This trip really showed me that I made the right call choosing my major; I want to continue to have experiences like this for the rest of my life.
The study abroad trip also provided me the chance to make more like-minded friends on campus. Now that I have spent more time with my classmates, it seems I have a friend in each of my classes, which is always a plus.
What advice would you give prospective students looking to pursue the same degree as you?
My advice is to put yourself out there. Texas A&M has so much to offer — great people, professors, clubs, organizations and opportunities. For a while with the pandemic and no friends on campus, I was too scared to attend events alone. I really had to push myself out of my comfort zone to attend different club meetings, socials and open houses. Discovering yourself and your path is worth the momentary discomfort.
Being a transfer student myself, I would also say not to be afraid to reach out to the advisers our campus has to offer. The one-on-one time with my adviser gave me the clarity and comfort I needed to make the switch in majors. By taking advantage of the help they offered to me, I plan to still graduate on time, which has always been a goal of mine.
How do you think your coursework and experience in your major have helped set you up for success?
My coursework has given me the chance to explore different aspects of ecology including fire ecology, population and community ecology, as well as wildlife conservation and resource policy. The plethora of career options that are possible with a degree in my major was almost overwhelming. I am taking classes now that will help me narrow down which path I would be most passionate about while gaining insight into other areas that can benefit me in the future.
What are your career goals with a degree in ecology and conservation biology?
While I have not narrowed down my exact career path after college, there are a few areas that have piqued my interest, one of them being conservation and resource policy.
With that being said, I would still love to travel and learn even more in my field of study. I am planning to go on another study abroad trip to New Zealand during the next winter semester. The program would focus more on marine wildlife, which gives me a chance to expand my learning a bit more. I have always had an interest in learning about marine biology since I was a kid. My knowledge in this area isn’t very diverse up to this point, so I would love the chance to pursue this study abroad to gain a deeper understanding of this field.
I can say that after graduation I intend to take seasonal positions working in state parks around the country to fill my love for travel and pair it with my educational background.