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Class of 2020: Unbridled Passion

Ronald “Ty” Smith is the kind of person who can have a potentially dangerous situation with an animal and see it from their point of view.

Even if that animal happens to be a rhinoceros.

It happened one day when Smith was interning at the Atlanta Zoo. He was cleaning an area near a rhino that had recently given birth, and she was in full-on protective mom mode. Smith got just a little too close to the mom and her baby — and mom charged the gate.

He wasn’t hit — just was a bit in shock. But his other immediate thought was that it was his fault and that he needed to be more conscious of how animals behave. It was an eye-opening experience for someone working toward a career in zoological medicine.

And a not-so-average response.

 

“Some people may look at it as, ‘Oh my gosh, she was aggressive. They may want to look at me and ask, ‘Are you OK? Can we do anything for you?’ says Smith. “Where I was looking at it as, ‘OK, this is on me. This is my fault. I got a little too close.’

“I learned that I had a lot to learn.”

That mature perspective and confidence will help guide Smith as he arrives at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) as part of the class of 2020.

Smith, 22, who graduated in May from Morehouse College with a degree in biology, grew up in Charlotte with a love for dinosaurs and catching lizards and frogs. He just always wanted to be around animals, whether at zoos or closer by.

“I’d go to my friends’ houses and, you know, it was, ‘I’m here for you, but I also want to hang out with your dog a little bit,’” he says.

In high school, he bounced around different career ideas, but always gravitated toward medicine and science; he couldn’t get enough of studying different species and evolution. He’d watch documentaries on wolves and was captivated by how they worked together to divide and conquer prey or how a lone wolf must adapt when not supported by a pack.

“It really opened my eyes to different areas and I realized that just because I’m a vet doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to take care of cats and dogs every day…”

It wasn’t until 11th grade, when he took a biology class, that he knew he wanted to get into veterinary medicine. A 12th-grade course in anatomy sealed the deal. He knew biology was a good path to take in undergrad because he knew he wanted to be a vet. He just wasn’t quite sure which area of veterinary medicine to go into.

So while at Morehouse he joined a research program which let him explore different interests each summer. The summer after Smith’s freshman and sophomore years, before he interned at the Atlanta Zoo, he went to Louisiana State University and worked in the vet school and studied parasitology.

“It really opened my eyes to different areas and I realized that just because I’m a vet doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to take care of cats and dogs every day. So around that time I was kind of toying around with, ‘OK, what If I’m a zoo vet who’s also in research?'”

Though he wants to go into zoo veterinary medicine, Smith’s most impactful experience in the field was when he shadowed a veterinarian in a small animal hospital this past spring. He was able to see, he says, the other pieces that are needed to become an effective veterinarian — from establishing positive client relationships to conferring with fellow veterinarians for feedback on cases.

“Seeing the level of professionalism and calmness needed when speaking to clients in order to reassure them was eye-opening,” says Smith. “There is so much required of veterinarians that goes beyond the exam room.”

While Smith was investigating different areas of veterinary study, there was one thing that remained constant: NC State’s CVM was his first choice, had been since high school. Part of it was the proximity to home, part was the affordability, he says.

And part of it was Dr. Allen Cannedy.

“It’s just inspirational in the sense to know that I don’t have to blend in with everybody or look like anybody else. I can be different and still succeed.”

Smith has never met Dr. Cannedy, CVM’s directory of diversity who also runs the small ruminant and camelid mobile veterinary service; they’ve talked briefly over the phone. But he has been motivational.

“I came across him in undergrad or maybe high school,” says Smith. “I was reading about what he does and how he’s involved in the school — I was just really interested in that. Seeing him as a veterinarian I felt like I could become a veterinarian, because I guess the field isn’t predominantly people who look like me.

“It’s just inspirational in the sense to know that I don’t have to blend in with everybody or look like anybody else. I can be different and still succeed.”

So Smith starts his CVM experience with a zoological medicine goal, but also an open mind. He still loves the idea of working with exotics and at a zoo — he has a plan to visit as many zoos in America that he can. He is interested in joining CVM’s Carnivore Team, but also wants to explore parasitology and immunology.

And Smith’s acutely interested in research and, he says, solving problems. He’s always been intrigued by how things work and how to make them work better. He says CVM will afford him the opportunities — and options — in veterinary medicine that he’s always desired.

He is clear-eyed yet anxiously eager to, simply, begin.

“I think I’m most excited about just getting started, knowing that I’m one step closer to accomplishing the dream I’ve always had,” says Smith.

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine