Just a few years ago, Ketty Munyenyembe ’20 was well on her way to a career in international studies. But after transferring to Smith, she discovered a passion for scientific research. Now she’s heading to a Ph.D. program at Yale, where she’ll investigate the evolution of microbial pathogens—including COVID-19.
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Isabelle Hodge ’20: Designing Her Smith Life
Isabelle Hodge ’20 has always been interested in making things—and making things better. But it wasn’t until she came to Smith that she became a true practitioner of design thinking.
“During my orientation I saw some flyers about the college’s design thinking space and I decided I really wanted to spend time there,” says Hodge, who is majoring in sociology and computer science.
She’s been involved with Smith’s Design Thinking Initiative ever since—both as a student, and as a visual design partner and peer mentor for the program, helping classmates learn more about design thinking resources at Smith.
In addition to taking classes in the subject, Hodge’s design thinking activities have included participating in the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs; creating an “innovation playground” for the inaugural Pioneer Valley Mini-Maker Faire held at Smith in 2019; and helping countless classmates learn to use equipment in the Design Thinking studio in Capen Annex.
“Isabelle takes charge of any project handed to her, coming up with new and better ideas the whole time,” says Laura Lilienkamp ’18, the initiative’s prototyping studio coordinator.
For Hodge, the mission of Smith’s Design Thinking Initiative—to embed principles of human-centered design across courses and disciplines—fits with her own ambitious explorations of subjects ranging from economics to film studies.
The program has also offered her a way to express her creativity—which is seemingly boundless.
“One of the great things about working in the studio was how you could collaborate with so many other people,” Hodge says. “There are always so many projects to jump in on. I loved helping with the workshops, hearing about projects people are working on and sharing my ideas.”
During her high school years in Texas, Hodge dabbled in computer coding and created YouTube music videos with her sister, Genevieve—one of which has drawn more than nine million views.
She came to Smith hoping she would become more confident about herself as a person with varied talents and interests. “Smith felt like a place where I could grow and figure out who I am,” Hodge says, “so I could hold my own in any field I would want to go into.”
In addition to her work with Design Thinking, Hodge cites her experience as president of Morrow House as a highlight of her time at Smith. Before she and her housemates left campus in March, Hodge organized a sumptuous senior banquet that she says “helped us have some closure” about their final college semester.
Hodge will be with family in California this summer, where she hopes to revive video-making with her sister, and perhaps to organize a team to compete in the Walt Disney Imaginations design competition this fall.
While she is reflecting on next steps, Hodge says she can rely on the friends she has made and the self-assurance she has developed at Smith.
She digs out a personal mission statement she wrote before starting college that states: “I strive to be a powerful leader by nurturing my creativity and originality. I use my passion for projects and love of learning to make a positive change in the communities I am a part of.”
“I feel like I have been successful at that!” Hodge says.