Carley-Martin MacFarlane ’21 doesn’t shy away from pursuing opportunities.
From the age of 6, inspired by a veterinarian cousin who had graduated from NC State, she knew she wanted to work with animals. She decided to study them at the same university and set out early to make that dream a reality.
“I’ve been with animals the entire way,” said MacFarlane, a zoology major with a minor in entomology. “In high school, I did everything I could to volunteer with medical clubs since that was related to veterinary medicine. I took an agriculture class for base knowledge of farm animals, got involved with a parrot sanctuary helping build enclosures, had pets — anything I could do that included animals that weren’t cats and dogs.”
Coming from the small Duplin County farm town of Beulaville, where she and her family moved after the 2008 recession, MacFarlane knew her road to NC State could be challenging.
“I had to reach far,” she said. Her effort included taking additional online classes through the North Carolina School of Science and Math, driving all over the county to participate in clubs and seeking out volunteer work on top of a paid job.
Earning the credentials for admission to college was one thing, but funding her education was another. An early morning acceptance message from the Park Scholarships program alleviated that pressure.
The scholarship has not only helped MacFarlane find financial stability and security, but it has given her educational freedom as well. With support from the Park Scholars community, she has wholeheartedly pursued her passion for herpetology — specifically, snakes — without worrying that she should choose a more lucrative career field.
“Park has instilled this mindset of being supported,” she said. “Everyone’s important and what you choose to do is important.”
Though she’d loved snakes from a young age and grew up with them as pets, MacFarlane came to NC State planning to work with big cats. In talking with her professors, she learned that reptiles were a better match for the kind of up-close interaction she wanted, and she decided to focus her passion and advocacy on snakes and the critical role they play in maintaining ecosystems.
Hands-on training is necessary for this kind of work. For MacFarlane, that meant using the leadership skills and confidence the Park Scholarship program helped her develop — and the never-back-down attitude that brought her to NC State in the first place — to create her own opportunity. She began emailing sanctuaries and reptile zoos across the country. Then, on a class trip to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, she told Dustin Smith, curator of herpetology, about an internship she’d found that would allow her to work around snakes, though not touch them.
Smith, in turn, gave MacFarlane the name of an acquaintance in Florida who did venomous snake training, and she tracked down contact information. The venom lab invited her to intern whenever she could for as long as she wanted.
“Without Park reminding me that I matter and that my interests matter, I don’t know that I would have gone out and done that,” she said. “It was a life-changing experience.”
Enrichment grants from the Park Scholarships program helped MacFarlane fund the internship, where she did everything from delivering lettuce to tortoises and iguanas to learning the safety protocols for handling venomous snakes. She started out with copperheads, progressing gradually to rattlesnakes, then vipers and finally, on her last day, cobras.
She hopes to return to Florida to continue her training. For now, she’ll channel those interests into NC State’s herpetology club, for which she’ll serve as co-president in the 2020-21 academic year, after holding the offices of treasurer and vice president.
Holding a leadership position is a requirement of the Park Scholarships program — something the self-described introvert was worried would be a challenge. However, scholars are given the opportunities to hone those skills early. Learning Labs are part of the first- and second-year experiences, MacFarlane explained, and students participate on committees to design and execute their labs, with the guidance and approval of the program.
Her first year, MacFarlane helped organize Learning Lab I, reaching out to members of the community and creating an itinerary for a lab focused on the impact of the opioid epidemic in North Carolina. Learning Lab II focuses on a national problem, which included a trip to Washington, D.C., with classmates to learn about reactive healthcare policy. She can see parallels between what she learned then and the reactive response to the current coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s similar in that you have to get the entire community involved. A lot of the approaches taken toward the opioid epidemic — people from all over the community and all spans of life getting involved to provide support, healthcare and shelter — are similar to what we’re doing now,” she said. “We’re asking everyone to do what they can to make sure [the crisis] doesn’t get bigger than it already is.”
MacFarlane was already taking online courses, so her transition to distance learning during these final weeks of spring semester has been fairly smooth. She continues to study, take care of her own reptiles — she has 10 — and plan for her future.
She wants to pursue graduate school, eventually working in zoos or as a curator, encouraging people’s knowledge about their local snakes — both venomous and non- — in order to create a better environment for coexistence.
Ultimately, MacFarlane hopes to reopen the reptile serpentarium once located in Wilmington. “I would really like to expand the educational program to be able to bring a mobile serpentarium to rural schools, and talk about the importance of snakes to the environment and how they control the rodent population, particularly on farms,” she said.
When MacFarlane discusses the impact of education in rural communities, she does so with the same passion she has for snakes and the environment — reflecting back on the opportunities that have changed her life.
“In a small farm town, being able to join an organization from a distance, or if your school gets one of those buses with real microscopes, and you all get to spend 20 minutes looking at a real microscope because you don’t have them in class — those are extraordinary opportunities. I did a lot to try to reach outside of where I was, but for people who don’t know that they can do that or who don’t have the chance to do that, it can be really hard to find those extraordinary opportunities,” she said.
“Scholarships and schools, they give that [chance] to people. I’m beyond lucky to be able to have that here at NC State and with Park Scholarships, and I would love for everyone I grew up with to have the same opportunities.”
This post was originally published in Giving News.