By Jan McCoy Ebbets
On a late-August morning
in the Smith crew house overlooking Paradise Pond, yoga
teacher Sara Rose was guiding some 25 Smith undergraduates through
a sequence of poses. "Place your left foot forward. Inhale.
Now lean forward," she instructs. "Find your courage to
be here, moving forward into the unknown, knowing you have
so much to offer this community."
As they inhaled, balanced and lunged, the students looked like your average
group of college kids participating in a morning yoga class. What was not so
obvious was their newness: they were new to Smith College, to college life
and perhaps to ever being away from home.
To make their transition to Smith easier, many young women arrived on campus
several days early -- before orientation for all entering students began
on Sept. 2 -- to participate in one of seven three-day preorientation experiences
offered to first-year students. Each unique program provided a comfortable
environment in which newcomers could settle in to the community, make new friends
and prepare for college life.
One such program, Inward Bound, offered its 50 participants a series of workshops
in creative writing, art, yoga and meditation. The program was created three
years ago by Hayat Nancy Abuza, M.D., interfaith program coordinator with the
Smith Office of the Chaplains "to keep the new students busy and to provide
a positive and caring experience in their very first days at Smith." She
adds, "Inward Bound seems to fill a niche for students who want a quiet
and reflective experience in preorientation."
For those who wanted a bit more action, other available options included backpacking
on the Appalachian Trail, canoeing on the Connecticut River, volunteering for
a local community service project and exploring the dimensions of robotic technology
in an intellectual setting.
Laughter and energetic conversation drifted from a Seelye
Hall classroom as Joe O'Rourke, Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin
Professor of Computer Science, and computer science major Kristin
Baldassaro '05 demonstrated Aibo, a robotic dog, equipped with
its own software, program chips and pink ball. Baldassaro inserted
a chip into the robot, and the 19 students enrolled in the Technology
and Society preorientation program fell silent as they waited for
the $1,500 "entertainment dog" to spring to life. It
was a long wait.
"It takes a minute," Baldassaro explains. "He's loading
the data right now." Once loaded, however, the robot's programmed
motions resembled more clown than canine. "We're trying to show that
[robots] can be intelligent," says O'Rourke with a laugh. Earlier
in the day, he had demonstrated another robot -- the Roomba floor vacuum.
In addition, O'Rourke taught his students some Web design fundamentals
and asked them to develop their own Web pages summarizing the relevant technical
information on robotics. Laced throughout the structured activities was ongoing
intellectual discussion focusing on the myriad weighty philosophical, ethical
and cultural issues raised by robotics technology. Over dinner one evening,
the group tackled such questions as "Can robots be conscious? Alive?" The
following night, they watched the Steven Spielberg film A.I. Artificial Intelligence
and explored whether robots might be evolving into a new species.
Although only in its first year, the Technology and Society program appeared
to be off to a good start. As its creator, O'Rourke has high hopes for
its future. "Maybe as sophomores [these students] will want to come back
and do it again next year," he mused.
Computer science major Kristin
Baldassaro '05 shows first-year students the location of a sensor
atop a robotic dog's head during a technology-focused preorientation
program. Below: Inward Bound participants start their day
with an hour of morning yoga. Photos by Gregory Cherin.
Most first-year students give the programs high ratings. "Preorientation
is a great way to meet new people….I hang out with the women
from my program all the time now, and they are some of my best friends," says
Lisa Goldenhar '06.
Recalling her anxiety as a newcomer, Chris Frascarelli '06 notes, "I
was scared and had no idea what lay ahead of me." However, Inward Bound "offered
a small slow step into the doorway of leaving home and starting a new lifestyle.
I hoped to have fun and to be too occupied to be homesick. [It] gave me all
that I wanted plus a peaceful look at Smith College."
Now each fall, Frascarelli returns to campus early to serve as a student leader
for the program, assisting with events and living with participants. "I
love being a leader. I am such a cheerleader for this program," she says.
As first-year students moved into their permanent campus residences, they were
only beginning to get their bearings in the college community. They were, as
teacher Sara Rose urged during Inward Bound, "finding the courage to
begin this new adventure that will be yours at Smith College."
This fall some 700 new first-year
students entered Smith as the class of 2008. Among
the members of Smith's incoming class is
international student Dawa Yangzom, a Tibetan who
was raised in India after the Chinese occupation
"My parents fled Tibet
in search of security and, of course, to have a
better life," says
Dawa, whose parents work in a handicraft center
in India. "A
better life, I am not sure they have had, but they at least got to educate their
children, which they view as their greatest achievement in life. My parents are
very passionate about education, especially my mother, and so I always knew I
had to satisfy her aspirations and moreover, pay her back for all her hard work."
Dawa sees it, getting a Smith education is about fulfilling her parents' hopes
for her. She is also one of four first-year students attending Smith as a Coulter
scholar. Altogether 16 international students from 14 developing countries
have received four-year scholarships from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation
and are currently pursuing degrees in engineering and the sciences at Smith.
chose Smith because it promises to give women the education that they deserve
in a predominantly male-dominated society," she wrote in an e-mail
from northern India in July.
prospective students applied for admission to the
class of 2008; of those, Smith accepted 1,694,
or 57 percent. Dean of Enrollment Audrey Smith
characterizes the class of 2008 as one of the most
diverse classes ever. Twenty-six percent of the
new enrollees are women of color. Of those, 12 percent are Asian American,
7 percent African American, 6 percent Latina and 1 percent Native American.
International students make up another 7 percent of the class total.
bring to Smith an impressive variety of backgrounds
and accomplishments. They include a New Hampshire
native who has traveled alone, twice, to Uganda
as a volunteer to work with the AIDS Orphans Education
graduate of the Hotchkiss School in New York who has already earned membership
in the Screen Actors Guild through modeling and acting assignments; and a
student from New South Wales, Australia, who worked with her two sisters
to develop a Web site that some 600,000 children have used to design their
own Web pages in the past five years. -- JME