Smith Scholarship Initiative Helps Smithies Take On the World
Peris Mwangi ’23 sees the world through clear eyes, her vision made even sharper by her ability to see beyond what is to imagine what could be. The quantitative economics major and African studies minor is focused on changing the world for women, particularly women of color. “I am a self that is always becoming,” says the Nairobi native, the first in her family to go to college, and the very model of the change she wants other women to be able to experience.
It was Kenyan Smithies who first put Mwangi on to Smith. “Their humility and willingness to help drew me to Smith.” By the end of her first year in Northampton, Mwangi had discovered her passion: helping women succeed in business. “The funding gap between men and women that exists in the business and startup space needs to be checked urgently, and I’d like to be a part of that revolution,” she says.
An analyst with the Smith Startup Consulting Group, a student collaborative that grew out of the Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, Mwangi helps startup businesses in Western Massachusetts develop strategic business plans. She has pitched her own business ideas at the Conway Center Elevator Pitch Contest, worked as an analyst at New York-based Jefferies Financial Group for two summers, is a leader in the International Students Program and is active in the Pan-African Students Association.
And, with a term in London where she studied the economic development, history, and art of Africa, she has a head start on one of her prized life’s ambitions: to travel the world.
“I am a self that is always becoming.”
Financial aid has helped Mwangi set her sights. “A Smith education is global in its approach and impact,” she says. “Financial aid creates a ripple effect as Smithies have been, and continue to be, at the forefront of the social, economic and political change that we all want to see in the world.”
Here, Mwangi discusses why she is committed to supporting women and how her experiences power her forward.
What drives you?
I’m passionate about improving the lives of women, and especially women of color and those who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. As a first-generation, African woman, I have seen how we are systemically not given a voice, and our issues are systematically ignored. We must work twice as hard as everyone else to be acknowledged. I would like to use my expertise and networks to increase access to alternative forms of investment in small and medium-size women-led businesses in Africa. I’d also like to advocate for the recognition of women’s contributions to the arts movement in Africa.
What does being a Smithie mean to you?
Being a Smithie means being radically different in the way I view the world.
The ability to take classes in many disciplines and in different parts of the world has significantly expanded my worldview and made me a more critical learner. I am confident in my ability to understand how the world works. I feel empowered to dig and learn.
Smith has enabled me to recognize the nuances that we must consider when tackling world problems: our privileges, knowledge and lack thereof, and above everything the power of empathy in every situation.
Have you identified a senior project?
I’m exploring the idea of an oral history project with the Akĩgũyũ people of Kenya, my community.
My focus would be on the narratives of women and their role in the struggle for independence, since that has always been left out of historical accounts. Hopefully these stories will help build an archive which can be used to demand accountability for the atrocities and long-lasting legacy of colonization in my country.
What insights from your years as a student at Smith stand out?
I found my voice at Smith and utilized resources to strengthen it. From the Lewis Leadership Program [a four-week intensive focused on developing organizational recommendations for local nonprofits] to participating in the First Gen Out Loud program, making my own pitch at the elevator pitch contest, and submitting photos for the Global Encounters Photo Contest, I have learned to better articulate my interests and aspirations, as well as my grievances.
Another is the gift of a strong community of women friends. Smithies have been there to celebrate and support me through the highs and lows. I am proud to be associated with, and constantly learning from, an amazing group of thinkers, movers and shakers.
What are your post-graduation plans?
I plan to work in financial services. Despite this being one of the toughest paths, especially for a woman of color and of African descent, I enjoy being in this space because it constantly challenges me to learn. I am positive that I can help those like me who want a place at the table, or simply inspire other Black women to pursue their dreams even when they feel out of reach. I want a career that enables me to explore all my strengths and make meaningful impact in the communities I identify with.
By Nicole Pellaton; this article originally appeared in the Fall 2022 Smith Alumnae Quarterly.
To make an endowed gift or to learn more about supporting financial aid at Smith, please contact Betsy Carpenter ’93, associate vice president for development, at 413-585-2052 or firstname.lastname@example.org.