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Amplifying Students’ Voices
Activism has long been a hallmark of Smith students. Now, the Wurtele Center for Leadership has launched a new program designed to give students the tools necessary to make the most of their activist voices.
Erin Park Cohn ’00, inaugural director of Smith’s Wurtele Center, says, “The concept of public voice as a powerful form of leadership came out of conversations we had with students, faculty and alums” as part of strategic planning exercises for the center. “It became clear that Smith students are incredibly interested in applying what they’re learning in ways that can make change in the world.”
And so the Wurtele Center launched Amplify, a program intended to give rise to the work being done by current Smith students, with a goal of ultimately helping them share their scholarship and activism with a public audience.
The program began in fall 2020, with a series of virtual lectures and panels focused on public voice. Guest speakers included podcast hosts, public speakers and artists, among others. “Students heard from practitioners in the field to inspire them to engage in this kind of work in the future,” Cohn explains.
The program culminates in a competition that runs throughout the first half of the spring 2021 semester. Students can choose to enter a piece—whether related to classwork or an independent project—in any of three categories: public art, public speaking and public writing.
“We’re being very open in how students can choose to interpret these categories,” Cohn notes, adding that students can sign up to work with an Amplify coach if they’d like tailored guidance and feedback on their project.
Ahead of the competition, students will have the opportunity to attend three virtual workshops during interterm, one focused on each category of the competition. Students can learn how to give a successful TED Talk, how to craft a memorable op-ed and how to create impactful public art.
Smithies are already hard at work on their submissions. Studio art major Sophie Willard Van Sistine ’22J is currently preparing several entries, potentially submitting one piece per category. An intern with the Wurtele Center, Willard Van Sistine says Amplify “is an opportunity for students to take what they’ve learned in class and find a tangible outlet for it.”
Psychology major Lilit Danielyan AC plans to submit a documentary photography project for the public arts category.
Capturing the stories of villagers from her native Armenia, Danielyan’s project predates the competition, as she began taking photos for it back in 2015. “I felt like there was something there that needed to be told,” Danielyan says. The program and competition provide a platform for doing just that. “It was really important for me to see a program like Amplify at Smith.”
The competition opened for submissions on January 4 and will close at midnight on February 12. The winners will be announced during a virtual awards ceremony on March 17 from 7 to 8 p.m.
More information on Amplify—including the competition—can be found online.