Mikenna just finished her second master’s degree

This summer was yet another season jam packed with intense efforts from our full-time staff. One person who had quite the extraordinary summer is our entomologist, Mikenna Smith. 

Mikenna Smith completed her second master's degree

Mikenna completed her second master’s degree this summer while juggling many tasks at TCWP. Her role as entomologist is vital to our west nile virus detection services for the county. You can find her behind a computer, looking through a microscope in the lab, or out surveying in the field. Want to get to know how Mikenna does it all? Read further for a Q&A with our favorite entomologist.

What is your second master’s degree in, and what prompted you to pursue it?

The degree is a Master’s of Science in Entomology from the University of Florida, with an emphasis in Medical Entomology. After about a year working for the Teton County Weed & Pest District running the small lab and doing some mosquito work, I noticed there was a vacant niche here for an entomologist. There were already quite a few employees well-versed in weed science, but no one who had a lot of knowledge or experience with insects outside of what’s needed for mosquito abatement.

After looking at mosquitoes under the microscope for a few years, Mikenna wanted to branch out and learn more. 

Between this vacant job niche and the Teton County Weed & Pest tuition assistance program for employee professional development, I saw a great opportunity to pursue something I could tell early on that I was quite fascinated by and would love to turn into a career.

Mikenna Smith

What was your first master’s degree in and how were both degrees different or alike in overall experience?

My first master’s was in Agricultural Science from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. These degrees were on a different plane altogether.

Although her first master’s was in person, the degree that she just finished was online.  

Both degrees were quite challenging— the cultures, teaching styles, and experience as a student were just wildly different. In Germany, the coursework load during the semester was lower in my experience with more of an emphasis on attending lectures and independent study for the final exams. Through the University of Florida, coursework load was higher but finals felt easier because they prepared you so well throughout the semester.

What was your coursework like for your second master’s degree?

Much of the coursework included attending online or pre-recorded lectures, independent reading and study, some lab and field work, written assignments, group projects, exams, etc.

Although Mikenna attended classes online, she did have a two-week mosquito identification course at the University of Florida Medical Entomology Lab—a course that is sure to help her with the upcoming summers at TCWP.

The University of Florida had been doing online programs for many years now, so they really had a good system dialed for folks like myself who couldn’t move to a university campus at this point in their lives but were still looking for professional development opportunities.

What was going through your mind the moment you submitted the last assignment?

I need a nap!

Overall I was just really overjoyed to have finished. It took me about three years to complete the degree with a two-semester hiatus in there somewhere.

Who were your biggest supporters through this process?

I would say that everyone I was close to was quite supportive during this process. My supervisors and coworkers were amazingly supportive and accommodating with me when, for example, I needed to take a half day off for final exams or something.

My husband was a huge cheerleader for me as well. Although he didn’t always enjoy my extreme stress levels while in grad school and working full time, he always let me know how proud he was of me for what I was accomplishing. 

Friends and family were also so supportive and helpful, cheering me on the entire time.

What have been the biggest challenges and victories this summer at TCWP?

Summers at TCWP always have challenges given their short duration and high workloads, and that was certainly true for me this summer as well. This summer, the workload was particularly high given that we were understaffed and many of us had to do more this year than we’ve ever done in the past.

The Brighter Side of 2020: Mikenna Smith was engaged
The Brighter Side of 2020: Mikenna Smith was engaged

Mikenna’s summer schedule ranged between 8-11 hours of work each day not including a two-hour commute and grad school. Whew, talk about busy!

There just wasn’t any time left over for “life.” But in that same vein, I would say my greatest victory was stepping into new roles with greater responsibility and doing so much better than I ever thought I could.