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Oregon State Everywhere: ‘My Ecampus degree gave me an edge’

Heath Blackmon, Oregon State University Ecampus environmental sciences graduate and assistant professor at Texas A&M University

Earning his Oregon State degree online in 2010 made Heath Blackmon the first person in his family to graduate from college. Now he’s an assistant professor at Texas A&M University, where he operates his own evolutionary biology lab.

Air Force veteran’s field study project as an online student ignited his path to a career in science

By Heath Blackmon
OSU Ecampus environmental sciences graduate, Class of 2010
Jan. 17, 2020

The Ecampus program at Oregon State University opened doors and a career path that I couldn’t have dreamed was possible when I decided to go back to college. After leaving the U.S. Air Force, I was a dad and had to work full time managing a printing company.

However, I knew that I wanted to have a career that was in some way related to biology and nature. When I discovered the environmental sciences online bachelor’s program through Oregon State Ecampus, it seemed like the perfect fit, and I thought that it might open the door to alternative careers.

The quality and the rigor of courses that I took at Ecampus were on par with any in-person class and prepared me for a future in science. Even though my classes were taken at a distance, the professors built learning activities that gave me firsthand experience in analyzing and interpreting a range of data from ice core samples to satellite photos.

“I discovered that if anything, the self-discipline that I had learned in completing my Ecampus degree gave me an edge over other students.”

I had the good fortune to take a class called Field Methods in Vegetative Science. The final project in the course required that we do original scientific studies in the field wherever we might live. For my project, I studied the number of plant species that were present in two fields near my house in Texas.

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As I wrote up my results for the class report, I realized that I knew a small scientific fact that was unknown to anyone else on our planet. I knew that this little field by my house that was irregularly flooded had higher species diversity than a similar field protected from almost all flood events. This result wasn’t surprising; on the contrary, it is what we would predict based on theoretical ecology.

However, the feeling of knowing that I had just added a tiny kernel of wisdom to what we know as a species was an awesome feeling. I was hooked on research from that moment forward.

Based on this experience, I decided that I wanted to attend graduate school and get a Ph.D. so that I could continue to do research. Even though I only had two quarters left before graduation, my OSU academic advisor, Dawn Marie Gaid, helped me adjust my coursework to ensure that I would have all the prerequisites for a graduate program in biology.

The faculty who had most influenced me during my time at Oregon State all agreed to write letters of recommendation, and seven months later, I was starting a Ph.D. in Quantitative Biology at the University of Texas in Arlington.

“The feeling of knowing that I had just added a tiny kernel of wisdom to what we know as a species was an awesome feeling. I was hooked on research from that moment forward.”

OSU provided a solid foundation for my continued education. When I first began graduate school, I was nervous that maybe I didn’t know as much as students who had taken a more traditional path. However, I discovered that if anything, the self-discipline that I had learned in completing my Ecampus degree gave me an edge over other students.

After five years of work studying genome evolution, I earned my Ph.D. I moved on to the University of Minnesota where I was postdoctoral scholar for two years working in theoretical genetics. Then in September of 2017 I became an assistant professor at Texas A&M University and got to open my very own research lab.

I now get to mentor my own students and try to prepare and inspire the next generation of STEM professionals the same way that faculty of the Ecampus environmental sciences online program prepared and inspired me.


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The OSU Ecampus staff thanks Heath for sharing his experience as an environmental sciences online student through the Oregon State Everywhere campaign.

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