It’s not exactly a straight line, but Payten Smith says that her “weird all-over-the-place degree” has made her well-grounded and more confident.

Students, Criminology, FASS News

All-over-the-place degree instills confidence

October 01, 2019
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Payten Smith’s path in her five years at Simon Fraser University (SFU) has been unusual. She started out as a science major but when she couldn’t cope with the math she switched to criminology. That’s gone well enough considering that she’s an honours student, but her volunteer work with children has her thinking she’d like to become a teacher if she finds a research career not to her liking. Just in case, Smith is taking the prerequisites for the Professional Development Program in the event that she switches routes.

It’s not exactly a straight line, but Smith says that her “weird all-over-the-place degree” has made her well-grounded and more confident.

“Things impact your life and will come at you that you didn’t expect to happen,” Smith says. “You have to stay pliable and be willing to change your direction.”

That’s what Smith did after an injury forced to abandon her dream of wrestling in the Olympics.

“My whole life revolved around wrestling,” Smith says. “When I hurt my neck and couldn’t wrestle anymore I had to find something to do.”

Payten Smith won a full-ride athletic scholarship to wrestle at SFU. She won several provincial, national and international wrestling titles until a neck injury ended her career. Payten has served as the SFU Women’s Wresting team student manager and coach’s aid, and continues to volunteer within the wrestling community. Photo: Ron J. Hole/SFU Athletics

That’s when she got involved in SFU’s Centre for Forensic Research and came up with CSI Fridays to get kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). One Friday afternoon each month during the school year, Smith returns to her Maple Ridge high school with hands-on activities to teach youth about forensic techniques used in criminal investigations.

CSI Fridays is based on criminology professor Gail Anderson’s study of how insects colonize decaying bodies. Anderson’s research helps criminal investigators worldwide determine time of death or whether a body has been moved.

Getting girls interested in STEM is one of Smith’s goals as a volunteer for the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST). So it’s a win when excited little girls run to touch maggots wriggling on a table at a Superhero Science Bootcamp run by Smith and her FEM-in-STEM teammates.

Payten Smith and her FEM-in-STEM teammates (Cassidy Smith, Naomi Zakimi, Taylor Schmidt and Vienna Lam) share their love of science with young people at Superhero Science Boot Camps.

“When maggots are just past their third instar wandering phase they have a tendency to move a lot,” Smith says. “If you dip them in nontoxic paint—it doesn’t hurt them—and put them on paper they’ll make lines like a mini Picasso. Kids love it because it’s super tactile. Parents almost faint when they see their kids handling maggots.”