Student Spotlight: Rebecca Sears

Rebecca Sears in Namibia

Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology major Rebecca Sears spent 3 weeks of her summer in Namibia. The research-oriented study abroad trip, supported by the Ron and Dale Terry Student Assistance and Enrichment Fund, helped her develop and practice her field skills and sampling techniques in the African savanna. She learned first-hand how to do vegetation surveys, measure tree density and canopy cover, population counts, and how to analyze and present the research findings. Back in the U.S., Sears continues to develop her passion for wildlife conservation through the Leopold Wildlife Club, which is the student arm of the Wildlife Society.

How did your study abroad experience impact you?

Studying abroad in a third-world country made me realize how much we take for granted in the U.S. For example, water is a vital resource that is constantly in short supply in Namibia. There were signs in the shower that reminded users that water is scarce and to use it sparingly. Even at restaurants, water does not come free and is often more expensive than other drink options. We get so caught up in our daily life struggles, but in other places of the world there are much greater problems.

How has this opportunity prepared you for your future career?

After seeing and talking with volunteers, wildlife and research employees I realized that the field of wildlife is one that is constantly evolving and everyone has a different path they took to get to their career. To get where I want to be in my career, I think that experience is key. While experience will take time, I have taken a good step forward. This study abroad experience, and the skills that I developed, will open many more doors for me as I look for internships and work in the future.

What did you enjoy most about your experience?

My favorite part was meeting the other students on the trip. Most of us had never met before, either because we were in different majors or different schools, but we built bonds of friendship. The experiences that we shared definitely made the trip memorable for me.

What did you learn about yourself from this experience?

When having discussions about self-growth, the most common suggestion is to get out of your comfort zone. Traveling to Namibia to study African ecology and conservation was definitely far out of my comfort zone since I had never been outside of the United States before. It never really hit me that I was going to another country until the day I was sitting in the airport waiting to board my flight. From this experience, I found that I love to travel. I’m now curious about other cultures, their perception of wildlife and food.

Any advice to incoming students?

I would advise students to take advantage of the many opportunities offered at NC State. Helping with research, doing an internship, being active in clubs and participating in study abroad provide valuable experiences that can be applied toward your future career. Gaining these experiences allows you to figure out what you like and what you don’t like to do. These opportunities have helped me have a better idea about which direction that I want my career to take in the broad and diverse field of wildlife.

Have you completed any other hands-on experiences?

I was an intern in the Biodiversity Lab at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, where I worked on a citizen science project that set up camera traps across North Carolina. The images that I reviewed in eMammal software allows scientists to answer a variety of questions such as is the range of a particular species changing; does the level of human development affect wildlife behavior; and which species are present in different parts of NC? I got to not only help in ongoing research, but I play an active role in the different parts of the research process from setting up cameras, uploading images, reviewing images, analyzing the data, and reporting it to my supervisor, who would use that information in an article or to educate the public.

What do you enjoy most about being a College of Natural Resources student?

When I was a freshman, I remember someone told me that the College of Natural Resources was NC State’s best kept secret. Our college is small in comparison to others, but that allows us to be a close-knit community. This is advantageous as we build professional relationships with our professors and peers who will be with us during our time at NC State. The professors know the students by name and really care about our success in class and in our future careers. The support and encouragement given by the College of Natural Resources community is what makes me glad to be a part of it.