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Goodness Gracious Great Ball of Fire

Goodness Gracious Great Ball of Fire

Evie Smith

Energetic double major lives her life with gusto

Undergraduate researcher Evie Smith picks cucumbers in the aquaponics greenhouse at Auburn’s E.W. Shell Fisheries Center.
Undergraduate researcher Evie Smith picks cucumbers in the aquaponics greenhouse at Auburn’s E.W. Shell Fisheries Center.

By the start of her second semester at Auburn University, Evie Smith knew she’d chosen the wrong major. Molecular biology/pre-vet just wasn’t a fit.

Nothing against animals, mind you; she’d simply come to realize that she wanted to spend her life helping people, instead of helping people’s pets. Nothing against molecular biology, either—after all, she is a self-declared science nerd— but she couldn’t see spending the rest of her time at Auburn, perhaps even the rest of her life, bent over a microscope.

Nope, that wasn’t her thing. However, she wasn’t quite sure what was, so shortly after arriving back in Auburn for spring semester 2013, Smith visited Auburn’s Career Center in search of direction.

“I love, love, love science,” she told the career counselor, “but I also love, love, love being outside. I cannot stand to even think about working in a lab or an office all day.”

All and all, she said, what she was looking for was a science-intensive degree program that would allow her to gain the knowledge and skills she needed to bring about change in the world, all while working in the great outdoors.

GREAT SUGGESTION

Well, the counselor said, you might want to check out what the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences over in the College of Agriculture has to offer.

Smith took that advice, and—bingo—there it was: the spot-on fit.

“Agronomy and soils was the perfect combination of those three things,” Smith says.

The Roswell, Georgia, native wasted no time in making the switch from the College of Sciences and Mathematics to the College of Agriculture, and just like that, Auburn agriculture had added to its student numbers a real live wire. We’re talking a ball of fire. A high achiever, with three exclamation points. An eternal optimist who sees life as one continuous adventure.

Crop, soil and environmental sciences professor and undergraduate coordinator David Weaver didn’t pick up on Smith’s dynamic personality when she visited him that day back in 2013, but it didn’t take long for him and everybody else who came in contact with her to pick up on it.

“Evie Smith never has a bad day,” Weaver says. “I imagine she even enjoys going to the dentist. She enthusiastically embraces everything she does.”

Kind of like the El Salvador discipleship training and mission trip she left on the July following her freshman year at Auburn. Forget 10 days or two weeks; she stayed there till December. And, of course, the experience was “totally awesome,” she says. It also strengthened her resolve to devote her career to serving impoverished communities abroad.

In January 2014, Smith resumed her studies at Auburn, but at semester’s end, she returned to the small, densely populated Central American country and spent another two months there. On that trip, Smith planted a garden at the missionary base where she was living and began teaching families how to grow vegetables. That’s when it dawned on her.

“I suddenly realized that, although my agronomy classes were helpful and wonderful, I also needed to learn how to grow horticultural crops so I can be more helpful to the people that I’ll be working with in the future,” she says.

Next thing you know, she’s a double major, and this December, she’ll graduate with bachelor’s degrees in agronomy and soils and in horticulture. But that’s getting slightly ahead of the story.

THE THING ABOUT EVIE

As noted earlier, Smith is a full-speed-ahead kind of young lady and apparently always has been.

Evie Smith Sorting fish in the tilapia tank
Sorting fish in the tilapia tank that’s part of the aquaponics system at the Shell Center is downright fun for Evie Smith.

“My mom’s a librarian, my dad’s a computer programmer and my brother is getting a Ph.D. in English,” she says. “And then—ta da!—there’s me.

“My family,” she says, “would describe me as very enthusiastic and energetic.”

So would Daniel Wells.

“Evie’s an impressive young lady whose positive attitude and enthusiasm are infectious,” the Department of Horticulture assistant professor says. “She’s passionate about agriculture and helping others. She consistently challenges herself and strives to do her very best. And she’s a hard worker who isn’t scared of hard labor.”

Wells, whose research interests include aquaponics, first met Smith in spring 2015 at the E.W. Shell Fisheries Center in north Auburn, where his scientific experiments on farming systems that integrate fish production with greenhouse plant production are based. In the well-established aquaponics system at the Shell Center, the nutrient-rich effluent from a tilapia tank is pumped into a greenhouse and used to irrigate hydroponic food crops growing there.

Smith—who already was interning at the crop, soil and environmental sciences department’s East Alabama Food Bank Garden—was in the grips of an intense, new-found fascination with aquaponics and volunteered to help with Wells’ research in any capacity. She’d take on even the most menial of tasks, she told him, just for the chance to learn. Wells was impressed by her hard work, her smarts and the sheer delight she got from hands-on learning and soon had promoted her from volunteer to paid undergraduate researcher.

NOW A FELLOW

For this, her final semester, Smith has been awarded one of Auburn’s prestigious Undergraduate Research Fellowships—complete with a $1,400 stipend—to continue her research, which focuses on cucumber production in aquaponic greenhouses.

And she’s found that work so rewarding that, after graduating in December, her goal is to begin a Master of Aquaculture degree program in Auburn’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences. If accepted, she’ll complete one year of classes followed by a semester-long internship. Ever the optimist, she’s already planning to do her internship with ECHO, a nonprofit, Florida-based organization focused on ending world hunger.

And then, look out world.

“I know where I want to go in life, and my Auburn education and the internship will take me there,” Smith says.

Wells agrees.

“I consider Evie one of our best students in the College of Agriculture,” he says. “I’m expecting big things from her in the future.”

Weaver seconds that.

“Evie defies the general characteristics of what we think of as the ‘millennial generation,’” he says. “She completely restores my faith in the young people of today.”

Jamie Creamer

Specialist III, Comm & Marketing
3 Comer Hall
Auburn Univ, AL 36849
334-844-2783
creamjs@auburn.edu