College third-year Olivia Smith is used to balancing a variety of activities. In the fall, you’ll find her competing on the field as a member of the women’s soccer team. In the spring, she can be found running for the women’s track and field team. In her free time, between games and meets, Smith is an Oberlin College Research Fellow. As a result of her involvement with the Oberlin College Research Fellowship program, she has spent a significant amount of time researching and studying invasive plant species with the Biology department.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you elaborate more about OCRF and your responsibilities as a fellow?
OCRF is for minority students and people who are underrepresented, [which] in my case [is] within STEM fields. But the program is for any major, even the Conservatory, which is really amazing because I got to hear people’s presentations on all subjects, not just my field. You spend two summers here and you have to create your own research project, with the help of your professor. But it is my project and my thesis, and at the end, it’ll be my poster, which is really exciting. I spent almost 10 weeks here this past summer doing my research. At the end we had a big display of everyone’s research in OCRF, which was amazing. OCRF is a two-year commitment, so next summer I will be in Oberlin again and I’ll be extending my project because you start with one research question and now I have a thousand, so I’m really excited to keep finding new things. OCRF also displays everyone’s research in the spring, but I’ll be studying abroad in Copenhagen, which is too bad, but I’ll be back in the summer, ready for part two.
What type of research did you do and what are you continuing this semester?
Through OCRF, I worked [with] the Biology department [and Associate Professor of Biology and David Orr Associate Professor of Environmental Studies] Professor Roger Laushman and I work with the invasive species, Rosa multiflora, which is an invasive rose plant. I work in Chance Creek, which is about 15 minutes away from Oberlin, so I was doing fieldwork all summer and it was amazing. Throughout my summer, I was looking for Rosa multiflora distribution and abundance because there was major ash tree death in the forest, which means that the composition of the forest was changing completely. So I was looking at how [Rosa multiflora] were reacting to this new environment. I would walk around all day, and in total I counted over a thousand Rosas, which was pretty intense, but I loved every second of it. I also did a hotspot analysis to demonstrate if [Rosa multiflora were] growing in a pattern or if they just [were] randomly distributed throughout the forest. I can conclude that there was a pattern to their growth and that they were in high[ly] disturbed areas. I am continuing this research into this year; now I’m looking at how to get rid of them.
What type of research do you want to pursue in the future?
I would say every door is open because that’s what Oberlin allows you to do. I’m interested in public health, so I’m going abroad to study it. Botany and ecology are also still potential options. I definitely want to go to graduate school, but maybe I’ll get a job first before going back to school to start my own research again. That’s my kind of plan for right now.
Why is studying abroad important to your Oberlin experience?
It was really important for me to be able to go somewhere for my major, and I’ve never been to Europe before, so I’m hoping to see as many places as I can and while studying biology. I’ll be looking at public health because their public health systems are different than ours. So I’m excited to dive into that. I’m also interested in a lot of different types of biology, not just plants, so I’m hoping to connect them all one day.
At Oberlin, you are part of two varsity teams, women’s soccer and women’s track and field. Do you find it difficult to manage both your athletic and academic responsibilities on top of research?
It’s definitely all about time management, my agenda and Google Calendar are always by my side. I’m always trying to fit hours to do research or make sure I can get in that time for practice. I would say I just have a schedule that I try to follow. But it’s also important for me to have break times. On Friday nights I usually try to de-stress and put away the schoolwork and try not to think about sports or the game tomorrow.
You were a walk-on for the track and field team your second year. Why did you decide to join?
I ran track in high school and I loved it. I heard great things about the track team here and I was already running because it is one of my passions and is a stress reliever, so I talked to the coaches to see if it was the right fit for me. It’s a different type of competition from soccer, and I’m really glad I did it. I love the track team so much.
You are part of various communities on campus, whether it is athletic or academic — do you see any overlaps in terms of passion or goals?
Everyone I come in contact with throughout my day really cares about what they’re doing. We all strive to get better, whether it’s running that extra mile, or in research, reanalyzing your data to make sure it makes sense. The passion that everyone has around me pushes me forward. … It’s hard sometimes, and you get tired, but if there’s someone who’s encouraging you, then you’re going to do well.
How do you think athletics has impacted your overall time at Oberlin?
Having someone that always has your back is really nice. I never feel alone here. I always know if it’s not even the two teams I’m on, I know I always have a friend with the other women’s teams here and even the men’s teams here, which is really amazing. It also helps me push myself in everything I do. If I’m working hard in the classroom, it transfers onto the track or onto the field. I have fun when I do my sports because it’s one of my passions. In general, I really try to enjoy what I’m doing throughout my day, whether it’s research or practice; I absolutely love what I do.