By Eric Sean Weld
In 1995, as a senior at Irmo High School in Irmo, South Carolina, Juliet Christian-Smith '01 was considering attending Wellesley or Swarthmore colleges, or Harvard University. Smith was also high on her list.
But then she considered her favorable interactions with the Smith alumnae whom she had met during the recruitment process. And she looked at the renowned accomplishments of prominent Smith graduates whose names regularly appear in the national media. In the end, it was Smith's alumnae who influenced Christian-Smith's decision to enroll here, she says.
"Smith alums were very impressive, articulate and positive," she says of those she had met. "They are really one of the major reasons I went to Smith."
As a Smith student during the next four years, Christian-Smith would have many influential interactions with alumnae. Following her first year, when she assisted the Alumnae Association in organizing class reunions, she was befriended by an alumna who invited the student to her home in Switzerland. A year later, Christian-Smith participated in the Alumnae Association's Big Sister/Little Sister program, which pairs students with alumnae mentors, sometimes creating enduring relationships.
Earlier this year, Christian-Smith was again influenced by Smith alumnae when she participated in the New York Consortium. This annual program, coordinated by the Career Development Office (CD0), sends 20 to 30 students to New York each January to spend time with Smith alums in their homes and offices.
Christian-Smith's experiences with alumnae are by no means unique. Many Smith students in a range of fields and from various backgrounds have their own stories to tell of how they, too, have benefited from their interactions, both formal and informal, with Smith alumnae. Some of them meet alumnae through established programs on campus, such as Big Sister/Little Sister or the Alumnae-in-Residence program organized by the Office of the Dean of the College. Others may encounter Smith alums through more informal means -- as Christian-Smith did -- during high school, while searching for jobs or by way of a friend or relative.
Regardless of how the many connections are made between students and alumnae, students attest that their experiences with their Smith predecessors are usually educational, often inspirational, sometimes durable and always invaluable.
Hamida Shirazy '01 received a practical, vocational benefit from her alumnae connections. Late last fall, when Shirazy was invited to interview for a position with Kaiser Associates in New York, she immediately sought out Abigail Rider '74, who was, at that time, a vice president with the company. Shirazy found Rider through a database called E-Access, administered by the CDO, and sent her an e-mail requesting information about the company.
"She gave me some insight into the firm," says Shirazy. "It definitely helped me to know more about the firm and to know what to expect in the interview. When they asked what I wanted [in the interview], I knew how to answer."
In March, when Shirazy, a chemistry major, was placed on the short list as a finalist for a job as an associate consultant at Kaiser, she contacted another alumna, Susan Bentsi-Enchill '00, who began in a similar position at Kaiser last year. Bentsi-Enchill, whom Shirazy knew when she attended Smith, described some details about the office and the people and told Shirazy what she could expect from the firm's managers if she were to be hired.
Of course, alumnae often maintain contact with their alma mater and its students. And with more than 40,000 Smith alumnae beyond the campus gates, it's no surprise that some of their paths converge with students from the college. But at Smith, many of the interactions between students and alumnae are more than just serendipity. Many of them are created through the college's ambitious list of programs and opportunities designed to promote just such relationships.
Indeed, during the past five years the college has made a concerted effort to add on-campus programs to emphasize student/alumnae connections, according to Carrie Cadwell, executive director of the Alumnae Association. "Many of these interactions wouldn't happen without the college making them happen," she says.
One such program is Big Sister/Little Sister, begun three years ago, which invites first-year students and alumnae to contact one another to develop -- as its title suggests -- an almost sibling-type relationship. Alumnae can sign up for the program online, where they can list details about themselves, such as the languages they speak or their career fields and interests. Last year the program had 300 alumnae volunteers, all of whom were matched with students, says Jenn Feudo, assistant director for alumnae outreach in the Alumnae Association, who oversees Big Sister/Little Sister.
Another way that alums can meet students is through the four-year-old Alumnae-in-Residence program, which invites alumnae to visit campus for three or four days, to attend classes, eat meals and spend time with students. Sue Briggs, assistant to the dean of the college, who coordinates the program, tells of the time the Slater sisters, Lisa '73 and Abigail '80, spent three days as guests of Washburn students. The sisters, who since leaving Smith have made their name synonymous with bagels in Toronto through their Hot Bagelworks Bakery chain, commandeered the kitchen one afternoon and produced a lineup of fresh-baked bagels and breakfast breads to the entertainment and delight of Washburn residents.
"This program provides a more informal and extended means of interaction" for students and alumnae, says Dean of the College Maureen Mahoney of the Alumnae-in-Residence program. "The unpredictability of it is part of what we wanted to build in. We knew it would be a great experience for the students."
The Alumnae Association also encourages alumnae connections through its Young Alumnae Lecture Fund, which brings alums to campus to speak to students; through its "ambassador" program, which prepares students for their interactions with alumnae; and by hiring students to work with alumnae classes when they visit Smith for their reunions. Its subsidiary, the Student Alumnae Association of Smith College (SAASC), schedules panels, workshops and events involving alumnae and students.
Other offices on campus are also involved in forging connections between students and alumnae. About two thousand alumnae around the world volunteer in some capacity for the Office of Admission in its recruiting process. Many offices and departments on campus employ Smith graduates, some in executive positions, and several Smith alumnae are on the college's faculty.
The CDO is heavily involved with alumnae through Praxis, the two-year-old program that offers students a $2,000 stipend for summer internships, often under the direction of alumnae. The CDO maintains a database, called AlumNet, of about ten thousand alumnae who have volunteered to remain on call for students, providing advice on job strategies, details about the companies for which they work and other information. The office also coordinates the New York Consortium, another on the list of student/alumnae programs from which Christian-Smith recently benefited.
In the fall, Christian-Smith, a biology major, was uncertain about what she might do once her Smith tenure ends. "I was pretty scattered as far as the job searchgraduate school search went," she says. As a participant in the New York Consortium, Christian-Smith spent three nights as a guest in the midtown Manhattan home of Jennifer Haggerty '90, an executive at DoubleClick Inc., while spending her days cavorting from one informational session to another with Smith alumnae who have gone on to careers as corporate executives.
By the time her trip was over, Christian-Smith says she had firmly decided to head straight into graduate school next year at the University of California at Berkeley. "The biggest thing I have learned is that the network of alums is really there for you," says Christian-Smith of her experiences. "They really want to help you."
Katrina Gardner '00 found that out when she lived with an alumna for the entire summer after her second year at Smith. Gardner, who serves as a Smith trustee this year, had obtained an internship with the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., and needed a place to live. Gardner was given a place to stay during her internship by an alumna who told her that she, too, had been invited to stay with a former Smithie when she had interned as a Smith undergraduate. When Gardner completed her internship and was preparing to leave, her host said that she hoped Gardner would in turn assist a future Smith student.
"I assured her that I would," Gardner says. "I look forward to honoring her [request] and generosity."
And so it goes, Smith women helping each other, generation after generation.
Guaranteed Membership in an Influential Family
Because of Smith's vast, committed network of alumnae and their desire to keep in touch with their alma mater and with each other, Smithies find that attending Smith becomes more than just four years of scholarship. The experience extends beyond graduation, guaranteeing membership in a family of influential women around the world and in a way of life that, in ways big and small, hearkens back to the time spent in Northampton.
"One of the most valuable aspects of a Smith education is that it's for life," says Carrie Cadwell. "It's part of the legacy of Smith. Leaving Smith is not leaving Smith."
Cadwell knows that better than most. As an alumna of Smith herself (Ed.M. '82) Cadwell says that her desire to remain connected to her Smith classmates and other alumnae is a special aspect of being a Smith graduate. She confesses that she is much less motivated to remain in contact with fellow alumnae from her undergraduate institution. And while that desire may be a phenomenon of attending a women's college where the bonds often seem tighter, Cadwell says Smith alumnae bring it to another level.
"It's more extensive at Smith, perhaps," she says of the college's powerful alumnae network. "Smith has such a history and the alums want to stay connected. I think we're very lucky."
The college's efforts to bring together students and alumnae do not go unappreciated. Students are aware of the many ways in which Smith alumnae assist in their education beyond the classroom, and most of them, whether they realize it or not, benefit from alumnae contributions to the college.
Autumn Kidd '03, who worked as a reunion ambassador last May following her first year at Smith, regards alumnae as her older sisters, for whom she holds great respect. "The alums are one of the most valuable -- if not the most valuable -- resources at the college," she says. "They're us, with 10 more years of experience, or 20 more years of experience. It's almost like a family. I'm part of a lineage. It's like, 'You went to Smith? I went to Smith,' and all of a sudden every barrier is broken down."
"I think our access to Smith alumnae is one of the best parts of being at Smith," echoes Eunnie Park '01, who as a first-year student participated in the Big Sister/Little Sister program and has obtained internships through alumnae connections. "There are Smithies all over the world in very high places, and it seems like we can get into virtually any field by getting in touch with the right Smith alumna."
If your field is advertising, perhaps Shelly Lazarus '68 is the right alumna. As CEO of Ogilvy and Mather, one of Madison Avenue's top advertising agencies, Lazarus, who also chairs Smith's board of trustees, frequently employs Smith students and graduates for internships and positions at her firm.
"There's a certain affinity among Smith alums. I think there's a respect for the education these women have gotten," Lazarus says. Being a Smith student has its advantages in the business world. "It doesn't get you the job," she emphasizes, "but it gets you the interview."
The philosophy behind Smith's interest in inspiring student/alumnae connections is simple: the college regards its alumnae as a resource, a pool of women who have professional experience, life-knowledge and a fondness for Smith that can help inspire current students to work toward their goals.
"The bond that is created between students and alumnae helps maintain that legacy of Smith," says Cadwell. "Students are always interested in the fact that we claim so many notable women as Smith alumnae, and are proud to be part of that cadre."
Students aren't the only ones who benefit from these connections. Returning to visit students and the campus, volunteering to help with college programs and participating in Smith's evolution help college alumnae stay connected to that vital part of their past.
"Being able to interact with other Smithies around the country and at the college is so important," says Victoria Murden McClure '85, who became a Smith trustee this year and serves on the presidential search committee. "And when I was a student, I was so inspired by [alumnae] women who visited campus. Just seeing those women and what they've accomplishedit's both inspiring and frightening." Interacting with Smith women reminds you that "when you become a Smithie, you forfeit the right to mediocrity" she says.
As prospective graduates, many of today's Smith women are mindful of the legacy they are about to join and have every intention of carrying on the tradition of staying in contact with their college. Christian-Smith, for one, says she will proudly remain a Smithie all her life. In the future, she plans to run for president of her alumnae class. And she's already contacted Smith alums who attend the University of CaliforniaBerkeley for help in preparing for graduate school there.
As for Park, she also has big plans and intends some day to reciprocate some of the advantages she has gained by attending Smith. "I know what it feels like to be desperate for an internship or a job and how much difference a little help from an alum can make," she says. "When I am rich and successful like most Smith alumnae I know, I will make myself available to other Smith students."
is published by the Smith College Office of College Relations
for alumnae, staff, students and friends.
Copyright © 2001, Smith College. Portions of this publication may be reproduced with the permission of the Office
of College Relations, Garrison Hall, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts 01063. Last update: 5/9/2001.
Made with Macintosh