Morgan Bennett-Smith attends Occidental College in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles. He plans on pursuing a major in biology. In the fall semester Bennett-Smith also played on the varsity soccer team as right-outside midfielder. (To read more about that, see “College freshmen Elise DeCarli and Morgan Bennett-Smith compete at a higher level.”)
Q: What classes are you taking, and which do you like the best (or hate the most, if you prefer!)?
A: Currently I’m taking General Chemistry 120, Ecology 270, Utopian Visions (my English class requirement) and I get four credits pass/fail for the 10 hours per week I work in the marine biology lab. Last semester I took marine bio and geology, so I’ve kind of taken five lab sciences in two semesters, which is a ton of lab sci. The marine lab isn’t a class. It’s undergraduate independent research. It can be hard to get into—especially for a freshman— and I’m pretty psyched that I was able to do it.
I’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist, since I was little, and it’s incredible how much Occidental has allowed me to explore marine bio. I’ve been to the beach like six times and out on the research boats with the lab like three times already, and I’m getting course credit to do so. Pretty awesome. I’m the only freshman doing 10 hours a week in the lab, and normally freshmen aren’t allowed to, but they made an exception for me.
I spend two hours per day working in the lab, doing stuff the lab needs depending on our current contracts and stuff. For example, right now I’ve been sorting through shell hash samples from Chevron Oil drilling sites, sorting organisms out from inorganic shell hash. Sometimes I find crazy stuff in there like shark teeth and crazy marine organisms. (I’m kind of hoping one of these days I find like a nugget of gold!)
Also, I’ve taken my bio passion home with me, so to speak, in setting up a small reef aquarium in my dorm, and a big one at home in Sac. People think I’m super weird for having like drums of saltwater under my bed, but most people think the clownfish and coral on my desk are pretty cool. The big tank I set up at home is all remote-controlled, so I can switch off and on all the pumps, lights and stuff, and monitor it on a webcam. That makes it easier on my dad, who is confused by a lot of the complexities of marine science. But he’s learning.
Q: How’s your dorm? The weather? The food?
A: My dorm room is small, and there are three people in it, but I got here early for soccer so I monopolized my room. I would say I have about 50 percent of the space, while my two roommates have 25 percent each. I also have about 65 percent of the storage space. That—combined with the fact that people are always coming into my room and I have saltwater and stuff everywhere—means my roommates probably secretly hate me.
Q: Have you ventured into the town/city surrounding your school?
A: I’ve been to LA a bunch of times. I’ve been to a Dodgers game, and I’ve gone to the beach a lot. I love being able to go on field trips to the beach, and I like some parts of the city, although the pollution is pretty terrible.
Q: What’s the most embarrassing freshman mistake you have made so far?
A: On soccer initiation night I was forced into a “solo dance move” in front of a bunch of people at a senior captain’s house, and I ran up his living room wall and did a backflip. Super cool, right? Except I left a foot-sized hole in the wall. The place went crazy, but I ultimately am responsible for this huge hole in his living-room wall.
Q: What has disappointed you about your school? Delighted you? Surprised you?
A: I’ve been very disappointed by some aspects of the administration and our school’s president. There are always things they seem to be doing, like firing the beloved head of campus security without warning. I’ve been delighted by the quality of the food. It really is excellent.
Q: Any advice for the class of ’14?
A: My advice for the class of ‘14, and for myself, would be to not be afraid of being turned down for stuff—like my position in the lab. I was kind of worried I wouldn’t be accepted, so I almost didn’t try and get it. But I did and it has been great. Next year, I’ll go from class credit in the lab to full pay in the lab, which I’m really happy about.