FRANKLIN, N.C. – By middle school, Le’Andra Smith already knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Smith was eager to get an early start on her college career so she enrolled at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash. at age 16.
LeAndra Smith in Uniform
While some high school seniors were planning their prom night, Smith was entering her second year of college.
“I went to EWU via a high school program in my area called Running Start,” Smith said. “It was for juniors and seniors who met the minimum GPA requirements and passed the entry exams into either Spokane Valley Community College, a local community college in Washington, or Eastern Washington University.”
After graduating high school from EWU, Smith was accepted into the USDA 1890s Scholars Program and enrolled at Delaware State University (DSU). DSU is one of the 18 Historically Black Colleges or Universities. Smith is of African American descent.
Smith completed her undergraduate studies in natural resources with an emphasis on wildlife management.
Part of the 1890s program required students to get hands-on experience. In the summer of 2008, Smith was stationed on the Stearns Ranger District of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. She worked under a district wildlife biologist and in the summer of 2009, Smith got a chance to visit Puerto Rico to complete the remaining program work hours.
“I was stationed at El Yunque National Forest for my second summer of work. I learned some things about working as a district biologist like writing wildlife reports and biological assessments to aid in getting through the decision making process for district projects,” Smith said. I also got to work with the endangered Puerto Rican parrot at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aviary for the parrot.”
Along with researching endangered wildlife, Smith worked closely with students under the youth conservation corps.
“Even though we didn’t speak the same language, communication was fun,” she said.
Smith graduated from DSU in 2010 at age 20 and became an employee on the Stearns Ranger District of the Daniel Boone National Forest as a wildlife biologist trainee.
“As a trainee, I was basically job shadowing the district biologist. I worked with other agencies and did wildlife surveys. I even got to go caving so that we could survey bats,” Smith said. “Sometimes I would help with other disciplines by working on trails or prescribed burning but not too often.”
Now at age 23, Smith works on the Nantahala National Forest as the zone wildlife biologist. The national forest encompasses more than 500,000 acres in western North Carolina.
“The best part of my job is working with all the experts in this agency and others and gleaning whatever knowledge possible I can get from them. Part of that is going into the field with these experts and doing surveys,” Smith said. “Surveys are awesome because you are acting directly and indirectly with wildlife.”
In the future Smith hopes to perform more work involving the National Environmental Policy Act.
“I’ve decided that I want to go into writing and coordinating,” Smith said. “That is the next direction I’m trying to take.”