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By Kristen Cole   Date: 5/12/10 Bookmark and Share

From Crushing Garlic to Crunching Numbers

As a way to remember tasks, Samantha Young ’10 hunts for one of the numbered empty lines tattooed as a “to-do list” on her left arm and pens in: passport photo, bank deposit, e-mail mom.

For Young, today’s tasks are a far cry from the to-do list the professional chef from Washington, D.C., established for herself three years ago: return to college, be successful, get a great job. She can now check off all three.

On July 12, Young will trade in the 90-hour weeks she once worked preparing dishes in the kitchens of upscale restaurants for 90-hour weeks preparing reports as a financial analyst at Deutsche Bank in New York City.

When she enrolled in the Ada Comstock Scholars program in 2007, the economics major had exhausted her appetite for the kitchen. Although the pace was what she needed, the work lacked the intellectual challenge she craved.

“Hopefully I’ve found the best of both worlds – intellectually engaging and physically demanding,” said the 33-year-old Young, as she prepared to graduate on May 16.

Or, as one Smith alumna at Deutsche Bank commented to Young during her interview: “When I saw you worked as a chef, I knew there was nothing we could do to you that hadn’t already been done.”

Of 60 people Deutsche Bank hired to work as analysts this year, 35 had performed summer internships with the company. The majority – if not all – the others had performed banking internships elsewhere, said Young.

By comparison, Young did not intern at that or any other bank, which makes her hire all the more remarkable. Instead, she pursued experiences in college that she would never have a chance to do again, such as a Praxis internship at a healthcare clinic in the Dominican Republic.

But Young is not a stranger to doing things differently than her peers.

Permanent reminder—Tattooed to her forearm, Sam Young's "To Do" list is always available.

After graduating high school, Young enrolled at L’Academie De Cuisine near Washington, D.C., where she trained in Classical French and Belgian cuisine.

Demanding years in the kitchen at various restaurants followed, culminating at the Silk Road restaurant on Main Street in Northampton.

There, Young began to connect with area college students who had returned to school after pursuing other life experiences. The conversations she shared with Smith’s Ada Comstock Scholars and Mount Holyoke’s Francis Perkins Scholars met a need she had not earlier identified.

“I made the mistake of turning a hobby into a job,” said Young, of her decision to become a chef.

She contacted both Smith and Mount Holyoke to inquire about the programs for non-traditional-aged students. A year at Holyoke Community College, acceptance letters and the decision to enroll at Smith followed.

When 16 family members and friends arrive to celebrate Young’s graduation, there will be a lot of tears reflecting mixed emotions. It will be a significant moment that Young is not able to share with her older sister, who died in 2004. And, it will mark a milestone for her family: neither her mother nor father graduated from college.

“The Ada program was really perfect for me,” said Young. “I may not look like a traditional graduate but I represent all the same virtues and talents and skills.”

Coincidentally, the commencement speaker who will deliver the address to the 2010 graduates—Rachel Maddow—is one of the people Young most admires. She has had a photograph of the political analyst on her desk for years.

That photo and all of her other belongings will soon be packed away so that Young can check off the next task on her tattoo to-do list: Find a place to live in New York City.

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