Meet Camille Hopkins, the Wildlife Disease Coordinator for the USGS Ecosystems Mission Area. Learn how she became a leader in her field and her advice for Black students interested in pursuing a STEM career.
Celebrating Black History Month: USGS Wildlife Disease Coordinator Camille Hopkins
Camille Hopkins formed her passion for wildlife at a young age, and today she holds an impressive string of qualifications: DVM, MS, PhD and DACVPM. Each of these credentials exemplify Hopkins’ dedication to working with wildlife.
Her interest in her line of work was sparked by reading National Geographic and watching Jacques Cousteau’s “Rediscovery of the World”. The aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 also further fueled her fascination with wildlife and desire to be a wildlife biologist, as she became concerned about the well-being of the wildlife affected by the oil spill.
After attending a Girl Scout summer camp at the Bronx Zoo where she learned about different wildlife careers, Hopkins set her eyes on a slightly different path.
“I got to hear from a wildlife veterinarian who was working with free-ranging wildlife, and I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do!’,” Hopkins said. “It’s the best of both worlds because you get to be in the field, work with wildlife, and you also get to work with the researchers. It was from that point that I decided I wanted to be a wildlife veterinarian.”
Hopkins continued working towards her goal of becoming a wildlife veterinarian as a student at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. While there, she participated in research activities alongside Dr. Mary Davidson, her Advanced Placement Biology teacher and mentor. For Hopkins, having a mentor who looked like her and was also a scientist was significant. She reflects upon Dr. Davidson as someone who made a difference in her budding career.
Hopkins went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology from Cornell University, a master’s in wildlife population medicine and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Mississippi State University and a doctorate in wildlife disease ecology from Virginia Tech. She is also a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.
Prior to joining the USGS, Hopkins’ clinical veterinary career included caring for wildlife in South Africa, as well as in the United States at the Wildlife Center of Virginia and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park. She also served in the United States Army as a Veterinary Corps officer, where she had the opportunity to care for military working dogs in the U.S. and overseas.
As the Wildlife Disease Coordinator in the Ecosystems Mission Area, Hopkins manages a diverse portfolio of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife disease work taking place at Ecosystems Science Centers and Cooperative Research Units across the country. She also supports USGS disease research and surveillance at departmental, interagency, and international meetings. Although Hopkins no longer works outside doing fieldwork, she enjoys those occasions when she is able to interact with scientists out in the field.
“Whether it's getting on the phone to talk to them and they are giving me updates about a wildlife disease investigation or upcoming research activities, that’s the best part of the job,” she said. “While I am at headquarters, my career has been wildlife disease ecology and wildlife medicine, so I’m most excited about the science.”
Hopkins encourages Black students who are interested in pursuing a STEM career to gain experience while still in school. Her initial experience with veterinary medicine was through Tuskegee University’s VET STEP program, which is designed to introduce minority students to veterinary medicine. As a high school student, Hopkins also volunteered in research labs and at a zoo.
Most important of all, Hopkins encourages all students to pursue their passion and to not get discouraged by the word “no”.
“I would encourage folks that look like me, and those that don’t, to pursue whatever you’re passionate about and don’t let somebody derail you from your dreams and your passion,” she said. “I can look at my life and I have followed a path to do what I love. I’m in the field where I want to be.”