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Each year, Smith College offers some of its finest incoming first-year students one of the best perks possible: a scholarship that includes a paid research position with a Smith professor—a prestigious job and research opportunity that undergraduates at most liberal arts colleges don’t even hope for.
This scholarship of $22,500 per year for four years is awarded to approximately 50 students per year. In addition to the scholarship, students are also given an annual stipend of $2,770 per year for two years that is linked to research with faculty members. (Students awarded the STRIDE Scholarship prior to 2016 receive $15,000 per year, limited to $7,500 per semester.)
Through Smith’s Student Research in Departments (STRIDE) Program, high-achieving students during their first two years here are teamed up with Smith faculty as paid research assistants. Most colleges offer such research opportunities only to juniors, seniors and graduate students.
Since its inception in 1992, this unique program has been featured in The New York Times and USA Today and has served as a model for similar programs at other colleges.
Choosing from a long list of fascinating research projects, each STRIDE scholar may select one that especially piques her interest. She is then paired with a faculty member with whom she will work approximately seven hours a week over the coming year.
Typically, the program matches some 100 students with professors representing more than 30 academic areas from art history to chemistry, with project topics as diverse as the people who work on them.
Current and former STRIDE participants say that one of the program’s most valuable aspects is the close look it provides at the world of academic learning. Another is that STRIDE professors frequently become mentors who can encourage, advise and connect students with others and help sort through the many opportunities that may come along during and after college.
STRIDE students are also pleased to find they can do meaningful, interesting work. Computer science major Margaret Zaccardi from Greenwood Lake, New York, spent her second year as a STRIDE scholar helping to manage the Poetry Center’s Web site. “To be involved personally in bringing famous poets to Smith and publicizing the events is quite rewarding,” she said. She assisted Ellen Watson, director of the Poetry Center and lecturer in English.
Her experience is not unique. STRIDE students and faculty often collaborate and present results of their joint research at academic conferences or are listed as joint authors when their findings are published in academic journals. The research is work, but it has its benefits—even beyond the money earned. STRIDE lets you test an interest in an intriguing academic area and gives you practical experience as an integral part of a professional research team.
STRIDE scholars get together about once a month throughout the year, sometimes for dinner on campus, sometimes for tea. Smith faculty, STRIDE mentors and other guests are often on hand. For some students, one of the most memorable of these gatherings is the annual English tea.
Another academic and social highlight is Celebrating Collaborations, Smith’s annual showcase of student research and performance highlights students’ intellectual achievements and their collaborative efforts with faculty in a variety of departmental, program and interdisciplinary projects. Students participate in individual talks, panels, poster sessions, exhibits and performances, in the areas of science and technology, performing arts, and social, cultural and literary studies.
Joanna Slater says she got to know every “last nook and cranny of Neilson Library” when she worked as a STRIDE scholar with Elizabeth Spelman, professor in the humanities and philosophy. Joanna also gained a friend and mentor in Professor Spelman. “Through our weekly meetings, mostly over coffee at a local shop, I learned about the best traditions of academia: a curious mind, a respect for others, a devotion to learning,” she explains. At the end of her senior year, Joanna won a prestigious Henry Luce Foundation Scholarship that placed her in Hong Kong for one year as a Luce Scholar and a journalist. Joanna was awarded a Knight Bagehot Fellowship at Columbia University. She is now the New York bureau chief for Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail.
Through STRIDE, Elizabeth Thomas worked with David Smith, associate professor of biological sciences. “The STRIDE program allowed me to conduct one-on-one research with a professor as soon as I entered Smith. It gave me opportunities to do work that most undergraduates do not have until their senior year. STRIDE also provided me with connections that helped me to get summer jobs during my college years.” Elizabeth is now attending graduate school at Brown University.
For Jennifer DeBerardinis, a biological sciences and philosophy major, her STRIDE research led to a special studies project in her senior year with Laura A. Katz, Elsie Damon Simonds Professor of Biological Sciences—“Heterogeneous Rates of Evolution Among Loci in Ciliate Chilodonella uncinata.” She is now a Fulbright Fellow living in Australia conducting philosophy research—"Uniting Science and Metaphysics through Embracing the Reality of Inherent Contradiction."
You don’t. STRIDE scholars are selected to participate in the program at the time of admission on the basis of a student’s outstanding academic and personal potential. Students attending Smith with a merit-based Dora Windes Zollman Scholarship are also offered membership in the STRIDE program. Membership in these programs is very selective and limited to a small number of highly qualified applicants.