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Incoming Students Schooled in Life

By Kristen Cole

When Hurricane Katrina damaged Lauren Owen’s New Orleans high school just as Owen was preparing to start her senior year, she did not delay in finding a new school.

A lifelong resident of Louisiana, Owen moved to Massachusetts and enrolled at Phillips Academy, where she made new friends in the classroom, in the Young Democrats student organization and on the crew team. “I kind of just took things as a new adventure,” says Owen.

A year later, Owen is among 832 new Smith College students, including 691 first-year students, 69 Ada Comstock Scholars and 72 transfers. While statistics showcase their diversity, their stories reveal a common characteristic: resilience.

As she prepared to leave New Orleans again—this time for Smith—Owen said that any trip out of her neighborhood takes her past block upon block of abandoned houses.

Another new student, Shaharzad Akbar, has experienced the terror of war. Raised in Afghanistan with the sound of bombs and gunfire, Akbar and her family emigrated to Pakistan to escape, but returned to Afghanistan after experiencing humiliation as poor refugees.

To help support her family, Akbar taught English and worked as a journalism intern at a women’s magazine. She later entered a university to study sociology with a goal of understanding the plight of women in her country. Akbar transferred to Smith to continue her education.

“I want to…better understand what is needed for the overall empowerment of women everywhere and then specialize in what is best for women in my country,” Akbar notes.

At various points throughout her 59 years, new Ada Comstock Scholar Sylvia Cruz has assumed the demanding roles of stay-at-home mother and hotel manager. But when her husband’s simple eye surgery resulted in complications that rendered him blind, she had to adjust to different demands.

The couple moved from the West Coast to the Northeast to be closer to their daughters, and, at the urging of her daughters, Cruz decided to enroll at Smith. She would like to become a social worker or women’s advocate, she says, “to help others with their daily struggles.”

“I’m nervous about it—it’s scary. But a lot of things are scary,” says Cruz, adding, “My grandson just started to drive—that’s scary.”

The Class of 2010 by the Numbers

  • Nearly one in four students—a record 22 percent—come from families in which neither parent has earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • Thirty percent of the class identify themselves as students of color. The ethnic breakdown: 13 percent Asian American, 8 percent Latina, 8 percent African American and 1 percent multiracial.
  • Seven percent of the first-year class is made up of international students; the top two countries of origin are South Korea and China.
  • For U.S. students, the top five states of origin are Massachusetts, New York, California, Connecticut and New Jersey.
  • Nine percent of the students have a sister, mother or grandmother who is a Smith alumna.
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