Incoming Students Schooled
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
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
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
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
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.”
- 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