Marianne Ejier Olds '47 Scholarship Supports Refugee and Undocumented Students

Yearbook photo courtesy of Smith College Archives.

Lately, Jacqueline Olds has been thinking a lot about her mother, Marianne—especially in light of recent global discussions about refugees and immigration.

In the early 1940s, Marianne Olds ’47 spent nearly a year moving with her father from port to port across Europe trying to escape Nazi rule. She arrived as a student at Smith in 1943, accepted as part of the college’s refugee admission program.

Though Marianne had few resources at her disposal, she was “hell bent on getting the very best education,” says Jacqueline Olds.

Smith made that possible by giving Marianne Olds a scholarship, paving the way for a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard and, later, a celebrated life as a leader—with her husband, James—in the field of neuroscience.

“Smith,” says Jacqueline Olds, “changed the course of my mother’s life. She always believed that the education she received there gave her the confidence to do whatever she wanted in life.”

Now, seven decades later, Jacqueline Olds is celebrating her mother’s legacy with the establishment of the Marianne Ejier Olds ’47 Scholarship Fund, which will support the education of students who are U.S. permanent residents with refugee or asylum status, undocumented students and international students at Smith.

“It is important that the college be able to continue to support the educational needs of these students who face unique challenges,” Jacqueline Olds said. “Someone needs to stick up for refugees, and I hope this sets an example for others to follow.”

Smith President Kathleen McCartney said the scholarship bolsters the college’s commitment to supporting and including all members of the community.

“Smith has a long and proud history of opening its doors to women from all over the world and making sure they have the means to succeed. This is especially important for refugees,” McCartney said. “I am grateful to Jacqueline Olds for her generosity and for her belief in the power of a Smith education.”

Since February, when President Donald Trump proposed a travel ban for people from six predominantly Muslim nations, McCartney has spoken out about the college’s responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of all of its students.

McCartney said ensuring that undocumented students continue to have equal access to financial aid is a priority for the college.

“I remain adamantly committed to nondiscrimination in access to education regardless of citizenship or immigration status,” she wrote in a Feb. 7 letter to the Smith community.

Vivian Nguyen, chair-elect of the student organization Higher Education for Refugees at Smith (HERS), called the establishment of the Marianne Ejier Olds ’47 Scholarship Fund a “tremendous step” in Smith’s efforts to make refugee students feel more secure.

HERS member Katie Bei Heald ’18 at a student organization fair last fall. Photo by Eden Philips ’19.

“Scholarships like this one reflect the college’s vision, values and goals,” Nguyen said. “They send a powerful message that Smith welcomes outstanding students of all backgrounds and truly embraces and celebrates diversity on our campus.”

Nguyen said that undocumented and refugee students can face numerous financial, legal and cultural challenges in their quest for a college education—from anxiety at being separated from family to the fear of being sent back to their home countries.

“In coping with all of these difficulties, they need all the support available,” Nguyen said. “This scholarship will help with things like tuition, fees and room and board, but just as importantly it sends a message that Smith cares for all of its students and is one community.”

In the two years since its founding, HERS has organized clothing drives for refugee students, held panel discussions with faculty experts like Steven Heydemann, the Janet Wright Ketcham ’53 Professor in Middle East Studies, and advocated for a scholarship for refugee students.

“It is gratifying to see that the work we’re doing is aligned with the college’s priorities, and we are particularly grateful for the donor of this scholarship,” Ngyuen said. “Thanks to her, no Smithies—whether refugee, undocumented or with asylum status—will walk alone.”

Jacqueline Olds created the scholarship as part of Smith’s Promise to the Future initiative, which inspired donors to either add to or establish new scholarship funds of $250,000 or more. The college used an anonymous $10 million gift to match each fund, dollar for dollar. Thirty-nine endowed scholarship funds were either added to or created during the initiative, including one from trustee Neelum Ashraf Amin ’86 in support of students from Pakistan.

Jacqueline Olds said she hopes the scholarship in her mother’s name will not only ease the financial burden for students but also strengthen the Smith community as a whole.

“What makes a college like Smith great is its diversity,” she said. “It is important to have people from every part of the world on campus. It creates a deeper understanding of the disadvantages some people face and the importance of supporting one another.”