A year and a half into his time at Ohio State, Cameron Stephens was searching for something. He had found everything he was looking for on the lacrosse field. But as he sat down with his parents during the winter between his fall and spring semesters as a sophomore, his goal was simple: find a major.
What Stephens discovered inside the course catalog he had that day changed the trajectory of his life. A science buff his whole life, Stephens decided to take a plant pathology course the next semester. Fast forward seven years, and Stephens is pursuing a PhD in plant pathology from North Carolina State after earning his master’s degree at Penn State in 2017.
“I loved the outdoors and sciences were always my favorite subjects throughout school,” said Stephens, who says plant pathologists are essentially plant doctors. “I didn’t want to be stuck at a desk my whole life. After taking that course I was hooked. The people, the professors, the research, and the coursework were all fantastic. I had no idea this field even existed until I took the class.”
His journey to a PhD, however, didn’t come without its fair share of bumps in the road. Early during his time at Ohio State, Stephens, a geology major, admittedly struggled academically. As a result, he changed majors several times as he searched for his passion outside of lacrosse. Luckily for him, however, he found it combing through the pages of Ohio State’s course catalog.
“Like many others, I was undecided on my career path going into college and was primarily focused on being a successful lacrosse player and athlete,” said Stephens. “While most kids come into college and chose the safest, most common direction, I chose to explore different areas of study to figure out what exactly I was passionate about and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Currently, Stephens’ research focuses on turfgrass pathology — the study of pathogens and diseases of turfgrass. Specially, he’s looking at the development and management of a detrimental disease on golf course putting greens and how different pesticide application methods influence the environmental fate of those compounds on golf courses. All of it is fitting for someone who worked as a caddie and on golf courses throughout high school and college.
After completing his PhD, Stephens said he can follow one of two paths – either continue in the world of academia and become a professor or move into the private sector and be a research scientist at an agricultural chemical company. That decision will be a joint one between he and his family, but he’s also made getting back to Columbus near the top his priority list, too.
While Stephens’ transition to Ohio State academically consisted on many twists and turns, he says one of the most important things that helped him was a strong culture on the men’s lacrosse team. It was one of competitiveness – the same ingredients that helped the Buckeyes make two NCAA Quarterfinal appearances during Stephens’ four years were the ones that pushed student-athletes to realize their full potential in the classroom.
“The lacrosse program and athletic department provided incredible resources for me to be successful,” said Stephens. “I don’t think I would have made it this far without the support of the coaching staff and the academic support systems in place at Ohio State. Fortunately, I had other teammates that took academics very seriously and were in a much more difficult major than me. Lucas Bailey and I would frequently study together, put in the hours, and encourage one another to remain focused on school work.”
Stephens’ decision to attend Ohio State was so clear to him during the summer of 2010 that he didn’t even wait until the end of his recruiting visit to verbally commit. He was impressed by head coach Nick Myers’ family atmosphere and ultimately swayed by the advice of his father.
“He always said to me: Big school, Big reach,” said Stephens, who valued Ohio State’s vast resources, alumni reach and support system as much as its lacrosse program. “While I didn’t really know what I wanted to do other than play lacrosse, I did know Ohio State would provide ample opportunity to figure it out. Coach Myers also put a strong emphasis on the blue-collar nature of our team and the importance of family during my visit. These characteristics were very important to me and remained true through my entire time at Ohio State.”
During his four years with the Buckeyes, Ohio State was 39-26, won the ECAC Tournament title in 2013 and appeared in the NCAA Tournament twice, in both 2013 and 2015. Two of his most cherished memories, however, occurred off the field: creating a lifetime brotherhood with him teammates and being award the 2015 team Academic MVP.
“My teammates truly become brothers over the years,” said Stephens. “Going to work with those guys every single day was the most rewarding experience and playing at Ohio State forged a brotherhood that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Five years after graduating, one lesson that Stephens learned while at Ohio State stays with him today, and it revolves how he defines success.
“Succeeding in academics is not about being smart. It is about finding something you’re passionate about which will make you want to work hard and learn more and more about it every day,” said Stephens. “I never knew plant pathology existed until I gave the class a try. Ohio State Athletics and the university as a whole provides all the resources and opportunity you could ever want. I guarantee there is something out there for you. Be proactive, be curious, find what you love, and pursue it.”