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Oregon State zoology graduate thrives online with OSU Ecampus

A smiling woman stands outside in front of a large green bush.

Encouraging professors and hands-on work helped Samantha Crockett expand her horizons in animal behavior, conservation, ecology and more as a student in Oregon State’s zoology bachelor’s degree program online.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 15, 2024, by Oregon State University’s College of Science.

By Tom Henderson

College was just not working out for Samantha Crockett.

She graduated from Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles with a perfect 4.0 GPA in 2020 and headed off to the nearby university to study zoology.

“The professors weren’t very welcoming,” Crockett remembered. “They didn’t seem to care about the students that much. They cared more about their own research and graduate students.”

Discouraged, she returned home to Los Angeles with serious doubts about her college education. Her father told her about Oregon State University Ecampus, where students can earn their zoology degrees almost entirely online.

“Everything was a million times better when I enrolled in Ecampus,” she said. “I stuck with it and really loved it. At Oregon State, a lot of professors are more welcoming to their students. They respond to emails quickly, and they’re willing to work with you. They want you to do well in their classes.”

Crockett spent most of her college years in Los Angeles but will visit Corvallis to walk in graduation. A couple of summer courses later, she will officially have her degree in zoology.

Ecampus offers customizable online learning

Distance learning is not a 21st-century technological innovation at Oregon State. As far back as the 1880s, students living hundreds of miles from Corvallis could attend college lectures on agricultural science in their hometowns.

Some lectures were delivered from the cabooses of trains, organized through local train depots. Other early distance learning programs brought business and manufacturing classes to Portland and the Oregon Coast.

In the 1980s, Oregon State students took liberal arts classes through video presentations and corresponded with professors through phone calls and traditional mail.

Internet technology created the modern Ecampus program in 2002. OSU Ecampus bachelor’s degree programs were ranked in the top 10 in the nation this year by U.S. News & World Report for the 10th straight year.

Crockett is an enthusiastic supporter of the Ecampus concept.

“It made my life a lot easier,” she said. “I was also able to learn about what I love, about zoology. It was really a great solution for me. Oregon State professors are encouraging, especially if you’re struggling. They’re willing to give you extensions on assignments and things like that to make sure you still do well in the class.”

Ecampus enabled Crockett to work and pursue internships while studying remotely. Classes are individualized, with weekly assignment deadlines.

“However, you don’t have to log in at a certain hour for class,” she said. “There’s a flexible schedule.”

Professors post videos, readings and lectures. Yet there are still group projects. For example, as she finishes her senior year, Crockett is working in a group studying the intelligence of crows and other corvid species.

“There’s still interaction with your classmates and still communication with your professors,” she said. “You’re just not meeting them face-to-face.”

Students have opportunities to meet their professors and classmates in person. Crockett said she made friends while working last summer at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

She took two classes at the center — one on birds and one on ecosystems. “They were lab-based classes, so we did a lot of field work,” said Crockett. “It was a cool experience because they treated us as scientists rather than students. We had a lot of freedom in the classes.”

‘OSU opened my mind to other career paths’

Crockett’s passion for animals began in childhood, growing up near the Los Angeles Zoo. In 10th grade she became a student volunteer, undergoing a two-month course on all the species. Her role involved educating zoo guests about conservation.

While the experience gave Crockett the opportunity to work with animals, there were other benefits.

Oregon State graduate Samantha Crockett holds a bird at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Oregon.

Samantha Crockett holds a bird at the Hatfield Marine Science Center on the Oregon coast during an on-site summer class.

“I grew up having a lot of stage fright and a fear of public speaking,” she said. “Volunteering at the zoo helped me get out of my shell. I was speaking about what I love. I’m very interested in conservation and getting people involved.”

Crockett was already somewhat accustomed to distance learning when she started the Ecampus program. The pandemic hit during the second semester of her senior year at Eagle Rock High School.

“We had all the senior activities of first semester, and we were excited about prom, graduation and all that,” she remembered. “Then came March. Everything shut down. We had a virtual graduation and didn’t get a prom or anything like that. It was an upsetting year, but we made it through.”

Emerging from the pandemic into in-person college was just not for her, Crockett said. Ecampus enabled her to shine.

“I enjoyed a lot of my classes,” she said. “I’m taking an animal behavior class right now. That’s one of the main topics I’m interested in. I took another class on general ecology. That’s not something I’m generally interested in, but I really enjoyed the class.”

Such pleasant surprises came several times, Crockett said. “There were some classes I didn’t think I’d like but I ended up loving. It pushed me to expand my horizons in zoology and different parts of it. It’s not just animal behavior. There’s ecology, there’s conservation, there’s field work and conducting research.”

As a result, she changed her perspective on what she may want to do next.

“I went into college thinking I want to work in a zoo, I want to be a zookeeper,” Crockett said. “Now I think I might want to do some field research. I kind of want to work in conservation. OSU opened my mind to other career paths.”

Looking to the future

Crockett currently volunteers at the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas. “We’re a rescue, rehabilitation and release facility,” she said. “We work hands-on with a lot of birds like early native Californian species.”

While she works with birds, she works with squirrels and possums as well. “We also have seals and sea lions,” she added. “We’re the only rehab facility available to go out and rescue seals and sea lions. It’s a great atmosphere to work in. Not a lot of places allow you to have close, personal contact with the animals as a volunteer.”

After she receives her degree, Crockett plans to send résumés to the California Wildlife Center and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. She is also eyeing Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park in Florida and employers in Oregon and Hawaii.

“I definitely want to work in some form of conservation,” she said.

Graduate school may also be in her future, but for now, she wants to gain work experience.

Her Ecampus experience at Oregon State opened her eyes to a world of possibilities, she added.

“I’m young. I don’t want to rush myself.”

Discover the skills and knowledge you’ll gain while pursuing your zoology bachelor’s degree online with Oregon State University.

Learn more about OSU zoology online

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