S. Mona Ghosh Sinha ’88, gender equality advocate and founder of the Asian Women’s Leadership University, gives her best advice to the class of 2022 as she prepares to receive the 2022 Smith College Medal on Rally Day: “Listen to and consider opinions that differ from yours to help shape your own narrative, but stay rooted in and optimistic about what you believe in.”
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Smith Medalist Jessie Banhazl ’06: ‘No Path Has to Be Linear’
Jessie Banhazl ’06 founded Green City Growers, a mission-driven urban farming company that transforms underused spaces into biodiverse and productive landscapes, after spending several years working on reality television shows like Wife Swap and The Hills. Eventually, though, she realized that “reality television wasn’t providing much good for people.” Since its launch in 2008, Green City Growers has expanded its client list throughout the Northeast, working with businesses like Whole Foods and Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare to revitalize unused spaces. Last year, Banhazl sold Green City Growers, but she continues to support the company as an advisor. She currently lives in Portland, Maine, and is gearing up to provide technical support to local entrepreneurs with a focus on social impact.
Banhazl will receive the Smith College Medal during Rally Day, which will be celebrated virtually on February 24 beginning at 1:30 p.m. The event will be streamed on Smith College’s Facebook page.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
When I started Green City Growers, I had no business experience and knew very little about urban agriculture. Over the next 13 years, I grew that business into a company with 20-plus employees. Along the way, the company stayed true to its mission to improve local food systems and advocate for sustainable agriculture practices. I sold the business to an organization that will carry the mission forward. I could not imagine when I started that my scrappy social impact company would become self-sustaining and create significant social and environmental change. But this accomplishment could not have happened without the people who worked for me, my family who supported me, and my experience at Smith. All those factors prepared me and encouraged me to jump off the deep end and try something new.
What lessons that you learned at Smith continue to resonate with you?
Smith taught me to be open to learning things outside of my comfort zone and be willing to engage in different experiences. My time at Smith taught me to explore my interests and draw on multiple disciplines to accomplish whatever goals I may have.
What’s your advice to the senior class?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. When I graduated, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do something “significant.” If you put yourself out there and are true to yourself and your interests, success (whatever your definition of that may be) will find a way.
What does receiving the Smith Medal mean to you?
I hope that this acknowledgement will make people more aware of the importance of local food systems and sustainable agriculture practices as a means to combat climate change and ensure food security for all. I am also humbled that Smith chose me since I’ve taken kind of a wild ride down my career path. I hope my story can serve as an example that no personal or professional path has to be linear.
Is there a particular issue that you would like to see Smithies work together to solve?
I would like to see members of the Smith community focus on climate change and food security, both of which can be addressed through strengthening local food systems and combating issues surrounding food waste.
As part of Rally Day this year, the board of trustees is pledging to give a collective gift of $450,000 in support of financial aid if at least 2,022 donations to The Smith Fund are received by the end of the month. Why is supporting Smith important to you?
I would love to see more women have the same opportunities I had: the chance to explore a range of subjects and interests at Smith and to follow whatever professional and personal paths they choose.