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Leslie Smith’s relationships with her family and Ferguson Family along with her drive for success led to her recognition as the 2022 Ferguson College of Agriculture Outstanding Senior. (Photo by Kelsey Vejraska)

A Successful Balancing Act

Friday, May 27, 2022

Media Contact: Jami Mattox | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-8061 |

As many high-achieving individuals will tell you, few successes come without personal sacrifice.

In the fall of 2020, this held true for the 2022 Ferguson College of Agriculture Louis and Betty Gardner Outstanding Senior, Leslie Smith, of Mutual, Oklahoma.

“My grandma reached a point in her health where 24-hour care was a necessity,” said Smith, an agribusiness and animal science senior. “I decided to move home for the semester and take care of her full time while attending most of my classes virtually.”

Through the relationships built within the Ferguson College of Agriculture, she created a plan with each of her professors to allow her to finish the semester online while giving her grandma the care she needed, Smith said.

“Leslie stayed involved in not only one but two departments and held jobs in both departments, as well, through all of this,” said Cynda Clary, associate dean for the Ferguson College of Agriculture. “This shows true passion and resilience.”

Smith did everything within her power to stay involved on campus through the trials life was throwing her way, Clary said.

“I commuted to Stillwater every Friday evening after my mom had finished her work week, worked the weekend in Stillwater, and attended an in-person lab on Mondays,” Smith said. “I drove back each Monday evening to stay with my grandma until Friday.

“This was by far the hardest season of my life and the biggest challenge I have ever faced."

Even when trials arise, support stands steady, Smith said.

Through the Ferguson College of Agriculture, she developed countless friendships she knows will last a lifetime and more mentors than she probably deserves, she added.

“My professors and bosses within the college were absolute saints during this time,” Smith said. “I in no way could have overcome this challenge without the willingness of my professors and the support from this college.”

The Ferguson College of Agriculture changed her professionally, personally and academically in ways she never deemed possible, she said.

“Through the relationships that have been built, the leadership and philanthropic opportunities I have been given, and the knowledge I have gained, I have zero doubt in believing I will accomplish everything I wish,” Smith said.

The Louis and Betty Gardner Outstanding Senior award is presented annually to students who are involved, committed, and strive for academic excellence — Leslie Smith is exactly that, said Eric DeVuyst, agricultural economics professor and Smith’s academic adviser.

“I have served in more leadership positions at OSU than I would have ever deemed myself capable of,” Smith said. “I credit OSU for everything I am today and all I have accomplished.”

Coming from a single-parent home, where she was raised primarily by her grandparents, she was no stranger to added responsibility, she said.

“I have always had lots of responsibility,” Smith said. “After my grandpa endured a farming accident in 2007, helping run our family’s farming and ranching operation became one of those responsibilities.”

Throughout her time at OSU, Smith served to showcase her abilities through multiple professional organizations, such as Block and Bridle, Oklahoma Collegiate Cattlewomen, the OSU Spirit Rider team, the OSU Horse Judging Team, and the Oklahoma AgCredit Student Board of Directors.

Smith was determined to be involved in both departments, Clary said.

“Applying to graduate with two Bachelor of Science degrees, a minor and a certification through the Ferguson College of Agriculture as a first-generation college student is one of my most significant accomplishments,” Smith said.

Learning about an industry she is passionate about while being able to travel the country and win a national title as a member of the OSU Horse Judging Team was a pivotal point, Smith said.

The past four years have been full of astronomical growth, she added.

“We as educators can always see it,” DeVuyst said. “Since the first time we met during her freshman year, I knew she was going places. She is responsible and determined, and those two qualities alone will take her so far.”

Story By: Kelsey Vejraska | Cowboy Journal

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