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Ingrid Magalhaes AC ’19: Finding Her Voice

Campus Life

Ingrid Magalhaes headshot

Published May 2, 2019

Ingrid Magalhaes AC ’19 can still remember where she was when she received her acceptance letter, via email, from Smith.

The year was 2016, and she was studying for a stats exam with a friend at the local Barnes & Noble bookstore near Norwalk Community College in Connecticut where she was a student.

For Ingrid, being admitted to Smith was a big deal. Just five years earlier, she had arrived in the United States from Brazil, speaking only Portuguese and a smattering of English. She had been staying with a cousin and studying on a student visa at the community college, beginning with ESL classes. And now, she learned she would soon be attending Smith on a full scholarship as a transfer student through the Ada Comstock Scholars Program for students of nontraditional college age.

“I broke into tears,” she says. “I called my parents in Rio. They were overwhelmingly happy—as was I.”

The first in her family to attend college, Magalhaes came to appreciate Smith’s academic environment, which gave her the confidence to face many challenges, especially the ones she attributed to a language barrier and a limited cultural perspective.

Initially, she held back in classroom discussions, worrying that what she had to share with the class might seem uninformed. But over the course of her first semester, that began to change.

“On the very last day of class for Government 100, I went up to some of my classmates to say thank you because I had learned so much from their comments during class,” she says. “They looked at me and said, ‘Are you kidding? Every time you raised your hand you were the one offering the most inspiring and interesting comments.’ What they seemed to be saying was that they appreciated how I was bringing a very different perspective to the discussion.”

Three years since she first set foot on campus at age 30, Magalhaes is preparing to graduate as a government major with a Five College Certificate in International Relations. She now speaks three languages—Portuguese, English and French—with fluency, perfecting her French in Geneva, Switzerland, where she studied abroad last spring and held an internship with the organization PLAN International, working on women’s rights issues.

In retrospect, Magalhaes notes, “I’ve been very blessed to come to an institution like Smith. The professors are amazing, and I’ve learned critical-thinking skills. I’m hard working and a very persevering person, but on top of that, Smith has opened a lot of doors for me.”

In June, Magalhaes has a job as a legal assistant waiting for her at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP. In the fall of 2020, she will enter a master’s program in law and diplomacy at The Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

During her time at Smith, Magalhaes says she came to know that she had something to offer; she had resilience and strength as well. “I wasn’t aware how strong I could be, how much I had to offer. And now I’ve literally been empowered.”