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State of the College Address 2007

Carol T. Christ, Tenth President of Smith College
Ivy Day, May 19, 2007; Second Reunion Weekend, May 26, 2007

In giving the “State of the College” address, I join a long tradition of Smith presidents who have gone before me -- presidents Seelye, Burton, Neilson, Davis, Wright, Mendenhall, Conway, Dunn and Simmons -- in presenting you a formal accounting of Smith’s recent past as well as a sightline on its future.

First and foremost, your college has a new statement of its mission and values, approved just two weeks ago by the Board of Trustees. I want to present this to you, because it is the core of our identity, the center of all that we do.

“Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. A college of and for the world, Smith links the power of the liberal arts to excellence in research and scholarship, developing leaders for society’s challenges.”

That is our mission, and these, then, are our values:

  • “Smith is a community dedicated to learning, teaching, scholarship, discovery, creativity and critical thought.
  • “Smith is committed to access and diversity, recruiting and supporting talented, ambitious women of all backgrounds.
  • “Smith educates women to understand the complexity of human history and the variety of the world’s cultures through engagement with social, political, aesthetic and scientific issues.
  • “Smith prepares women to fulfill their responsibilities to the local, national, and global communities in which they live and to steward the resources that sustain them.”

Our mission is embodied in our students and our alumnae. Smith is of you and about you. Any recounting of our accomplishments is an accounting of your accomplishments, the result of your talents and capacities and those of our faculty and staff, and our graduates around the world.

First, it is no secret that Smithies are engaged -- engaged with the critical issues of our communities, our nation and the world.

Praxis internships are one great example of Smith students in the world. More than 60 percent of the Class of 2007 undertook Praxis internships, engaging real-world challenges in fields of social services and welfare, the arts, health, education, media, and the sciences. By way of example, Elisabeth Sexton interned at the United Nations Development Program in Cairo; Katharine McFarland interned at the Boston Police Department; Kirby Capen taught at the School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Ghana; Katie Chase interned at the Washington bureau of CNN; and Jamie Wilcox interned at Global Vision International, rehabilitating monkeys in South Africa.

Societal engagement is part of the curriculum as well. This year, our senior class of engineers took on a number of significant real-world projects, including the design of a personal computer for tropical environments; a fuel cell that runs on methane gas; a new solid waste transfer station for the city of Northampton; and the restoration of a Cape Cod salt marsh.

Twelve seniors have been accepted to the Teach for America program, a success rate that is double the national average. Among them are Megan Ambrus, Capitola Anderson, Danielle Morello, Chandler Patton, Melissa MacDonald, Carly Ramer, Noreen Shaikh and Sasha Werblin. They will spend two years teaching in under-resourced schools in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, New York, South Dakota and other regions.

Last fall, senior Michaela LeBlanc ran a vigorous campaign for the Massachusetts state senate, seeking to unseat a 16-year incumbent.

Lauren Wolfe ’05, whom many of you remember, was appointed president of the College Democrats of America.

Luma Mufleh ’97 was featured in a major New York Times story that showcased her work as the coach of a soccer team of refugee children in Georgia -- an experience that has led to extensive national and international media coverage and plans for a feature film.

Smith believes in its mission as a community of conscience. At the May meeting of the board of trustees, the college affirmed its opposition to the genocidal regime of the Sudanese government by specifying 27 companies in which we will not invest the college’s endowment. Our work in this area has been deeply informed by the tireless advocacy of Professor Eric Reeves, a member of our English faculty, one of the most prominent and effective voices in the Sudan movement. Eric was recently honored for his work at an event for CARE and Doctors Without Borders, co-chaired by senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry.

* * *

As a result of their engagement in the world and their passion for their work, the people of Smith are, once again, at the top of their fields.

This fall, we elected 13 students to Phi Beta Kappa, from the top 3 percent of their class who had taken courses in each of the seven major fields of knowledge. This afternoon, we will induct 56 more.

We awarded the first Smith College Poetry Prize to a Massachusetts high school junior, Sarah Loucks, a student at Milton Academy.

Our faculty garnered more than $3 million in grants and awards this year, from the National Institutes of Health, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and other organizations.

Professor of English Michael Gorra received a Guggenheim Fellowship and Suleiman Mourad received an NEH fellowship to study at the Mu’tazilah School of Islamic theology.

Associate Professor of Engineering Susan Voss received the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for young faculty, a CAREER award, to develop a diagnostic tool for critically ill neurology patients. She is the fifth Smith faculty member to receive the CAREER Award -- and the second within the college’s young engineering program -- since establishment of the awards in 1995.

Sherrerd Distinguished Teaching Prizes were announced for Mary Harrington, neuroscience; Sabina Knight, East Asian languages and literature; Borjana Mikic, engineering; and Kevin Quashie, Afro-American Studies.

The National Sculpture Society presented its highest award, the Medal of Honor, to Professor Emeritus Elliot Offner.

Joanne Corbin, associate professor in the School for Social Work, received the 2006 “Greatest Contribution to Social Work Education Award” from the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Charis Medals, in recognition of a quarter century of teaching, scholarship and service to Smith, were awarded to professors Rick Fantasia, Malgorzata Pfabe, Elizabeth Savoca, Patricia Sipe, Vicky Spelman, and Steve Williams.

The Museum of Art and the libraries’ rare book room received major awards for new exhibition catalogues and publications.

Five alumnae, each a standout in her field, received Smith Medals at Rally Day. They are environmental lawyer Sarah Chasis ’69; children’s author Mary Ann Hoberman ’51; physician Carolyn Kaelin ’83; feminist biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine ’78; and international correspondent and columnist Trudy Rubin ’65.

Rally Day also saw the presentation of the student teaching awards to professors Jill de Villiers and Floyd Cheung. The Elizabeth Wyandt Gavel Award, which recognizes outstanding staff members, was presented to senior housekeeper Beverly Byrnes and custodian James Littles.

Forbes magazine again named Marilyn Carlson Nelson ’61, chief executive of Carlson Companies Inc., and Shelly Lazarus '68, chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather, to its “most powerful in business” list.

The Atlantic Monthly named the late Betty Friedan ’42 among the 100 most influential Americans of all time. In addition, they named Gloria Steinem ’56 among the most influential living Americans, and Sylvia Plath ’55 among the top five American poets.

Adrian LeBlanc ’86, journalist and author of Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx, was awarded a MacArthur “genius grant.”

Kathleen Marshall ’85 won a Tony Award for best choreography for the Broadway hitThe Pajama Game. She also received a nomination for best director for the same show.

Catherine Hunt ’77 assumed the presidency of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.

Cynthia Ann Telles ’74, of the UCLA School of Medicine, was listed among Hispanic Business’s “100 Most Influential Hispanics.”

Sarah Thomas ’70 was appointed head of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, the first woman and first non-Briton to lead the library in its 400-year history; Karen Rosenblum Lawrence ’71 was named president of Sarah Lawrence College and Karen Gross ’74 was named president of Southern Vermont College.

And finally, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander ’44 received the prestigious Canadian Society of Landscape Architects Lifetime Achievement Award.

* * *

As always, Smithies have proven they are strong and fast.

Senior Shayla Livingston broke an 11-year outdoor track and field record in the 200 meter hurdles and ranked third in the country in the 400-meter hurdles.

Senior McKane Sharff broke a 19-year record in the 55-meter dash and went on to finish 13th in national competition at Terre Haute, Indiana.

Both Shayla and McKane won all-conference honors at the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships last week.

Sophomore Nora Youngs qualified for the NCAA cross-country championships.

Soccer captured the ECAC New England Women’s Championship for the third time since 1987 and competed in the NEWMAC finals. Phil Nielsen was named NEWMAC Coach of the Year.

The ski team earned a berth in the nationals and finished 6th in the country.

The crew team placed fourth out of 17 at the New England Rowing championships.

Seventy-two of our 260 athletes earned GPA’s of 3.5 or higher and were recently honored as Smith Scholar Athletes.

Michelle Nolen Senner ’99 received several awards for horsemanship and Jessica Willis ’05 qualified for the 40th annual Horse Show Association National Championships.

Two Smith coaches retired from coaching this year. Liz Feeley, basketball coach for Smith for seven years and a career coach for 20 years, and Judy Strong, Smith’s field hockey coach for 22 years, have left coaching to pursue other passions.

Finally, Senda Berenson, the first director of physical education at Smith, from 1892 to 1911, was inducted this spring into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. After becoming friends with Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball at Springfield College, she adapted his rules for a women’s game and directed the first women’s collegiate basketball game on March 22, 1893, in Smith’s Alumnae Gymnasium.

* * *

United by talent and drive, Smithies are diverse -- and shaping a diverse world wherever they live and work.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Office of Institutional Diversity at Smith, as well as the completion of the study Common Ground: Community in Diversity, whose recommendations on campus climate have become an important part of the college’s strategic plan. I thank the many alumnae who joined our campus committee in guiding and developing that report.

Senior Amal Osman was recently named treasurer of the National Society of Black Engineers, an organization committed to fostering culturally responsible African-American engineers. It is the largest student-managed organization in the United States.

In support of diversity in the academy, Smith recently awarded Mellon Mays fellowships to Ada Comstock Scholar Monica Harris and sophomores Donielle Hatcher, Wendy Roman, Maya Wei-Haas and Emily Yen. The fellowships are designed to increase the number of underrepresented minorities entering Ph.D. programs.

Evelyn Boyd Granville ’45, professor emerita at the California State College and University System and the second African American woman in U.S. history to receive a doctorate in mathematics, was one of 17 notable women documented in Sisters in Science: Conversations with Black Women Scientists on Race, Gender, and Their Passion for Science. In addition, she received an honorary degree from Spelman College.

* * *

From the college’s earliest days, Smithies have been international -- in their origins, values, outlooks and influence. That tradition continues today.

Some 60 percent of the class of 2007 has had significant immersion in another country, usually for a full academic year, often in combination with an internship experience. Many of you have developed near-fluency in a second -- or third -- language and culture.

When Fulbright Fellowship totals were announced last fall, Smith, with 16, surpassed its own record for the third straight time, beating last year’s record of 14 recipients. With 16 winners out of 38 applicants, Smith boasted the best success ratio in the country. This year, as results are becoming known, we have 13 Fulbrights to date -- eight seniors and five alumnae -- and more decisions are forthcoming. Our Fubright Fellows are seniors Azmi Ahmad, Krystal Banzon, Julie Goshe, Josine Greenblatt, Rebecca Heeb, Catherine Housholder, Kathleen Klaus and Michaela LeBlanc, and alumnae Hannah Clancy ’06, Kristen Sobeck ’06, Sebrina Somers ’99, Briana St. John ’06 and Samantha Wiratunga ’99.

Smith is also well represented among Boren Scholars, D.A.A.D Fellows, and Goldwater Scholars. These awards are a great honor and distinction for the college.

Smith’s international commitments were highlighted on the world stage by the recent visit of His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize and the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people. His highly anticipated speech to 5,000 Smith and Hampshire college community members, and to members of the local Tibetan community, honored the Five College Tibetan Studies in India program. I can’t emphasize enough what an extraordinary event this was, and how pleased I am that our students had this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a profoundly moving experience that will not soon be forgotten.

* * *

Increasingly, Smithies -- and their college -- are becoming leaders in sustainability.

This year, Smith was recognized as one of North America’s leading colleges in the area of sustainability. We earned one of the few top grades on a report card released by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

This fall, we expect to bring on line an $11.5 million combined heat and power system, more commonly referred to as a cogeneration system, an environmentally and economically efficient system that will replace the campus’s 60-year-old steam boiler system. Cogeneration will reduce the college’s dependence on fossil fuel and cut the college’s greenhouse gas emissions by half.

Sustainable values are informing our new construction as well. Ninety percent of the old materials and waste from the construction of Ford Hall, our new engineering and molecular sciences building, are expected to be recycled -- that’s a remarkable rate, 90 percent -- easing the burden on landfills and making building materials available for re-use by non-profits and others. As befits our engineering and science programs, Ford Hall will be a recognized “green” building, certified by the U.S. Green Building Council for its sustainable design, construction, operation and materials.

Beyond buildings, Smith is also investing in sustainable transportation. This fall, we began a partnership with Zipcar, the nation’s largest car-sharing service, through which our students, faculty and staff, as well as the local community, can rent cars by the hour or the day. Interest in the program has been strong, and if demand continues we will increase the number of Zipcars we lease for the campus.

* * *

It is worth saying -- even as it goes without saying -- that Smith stands for women.

This year, with a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Smith established a new Center for Women in Mathematics, designed to increase the number of talented women in the mathematics pipeline and to retain them in what can be a difficult environment at many institutions. The Center’s first two initiatives -- a junior-year-at-Smith program for women from other colleges and the nation’s first postbaccalaureate mathematics program -- will start this fall.

Last fall we dedicated Conway House, Smith’s first residence built specifically for Ada Comstock Scholars with children and families. Named in honor of Jill Ker Conway and John Conway, champions of the Ada program, the 10-unit apartment building gives Adas with children something they have long deserved: a Smith house of their own.

I am also proud to note that a new book, Feminists Who Changed America, includes many Smithies, among them law professor, writer and activist Catharine MacKinnon ’69; professor of women’s studies Claire Goldberg Moses ’63; and Smith Professor of Government Martha Ackelsberg, a founding member of the New York Women’s Health Collective in 1970.

* * *

Each year at this time we recognize people who have worked on behalf of the college and who are retiring from their posts. Amelia Kegan ’04, past president of the SGA, will reach the end of her two-year term on the Board of Trustees this year. Trustees Gayle Jackson ’67, Jane Pearsall ’57 and Joanne Griffin ’72, president of the alumnae association, are completing their terms as well. We thank them for their generous and dedicated service to Smith. We welcome to the Board senior Megan Ambrus, SGA president; Linda Smith Charles ’74; Lisa Ferrell ’85; Charlotte Kea ’82, president of the alumnae association; Judith Carol Pelham ’67; and Linda E. Salisbury ’78.

Eleven faculty members are retiring this year after decades of exemplary teaching and scholarship. They are:

  • Frédérique Apffel-Marglin, Anthropology
  • Merrie Bergmann, Computer Science
  • C. John Burk, Biological Sciences
  • H. Allen Curran, Geology
  • John Hellweg, Theatre
  • Elizabeth Hopkins, Anthropology
  • Victoria Poletto, Italian
  • Denise Rochat, French
  • Marjorie Senechal, Math and the History of the Sciences and Technology
  • Joachim Stieber, History, and
  • Nicomedes Suarez-Arauz, Spanish and Portuguese

We must also pause to remember those members of our community who died this year:

  • First-year student Elizabeth Aakre.
  • Associate Professor of Psychology Stefan Bodnarenko.
  • Emeritus Professor of World Religions Dennis Hudson.
  • Senior Laboratory Instructor of Chemistry Virginia White.
  • Art Department Slide Curator Beverly Cronin.
  • Neurobiology researcher and writer Paola Yannielli.
  • Secretary Emerita of the Board of Trustees Florence MacDonald.
  • Retired music department administrator Anna Montgomery.
  • Retired administrative assistant Patricia Feeney.

And, among our alumnae:

  • Writer Ernestine Gilbreth Carey ’29, author of the beloved novel Cheaper By The Dozen.
  • Syndicated columnist, author and political pundit Molly Ivins ’66.
  • Former Board of Trustees Chair Kathleen Bell ’44.
  • And, very recently, Yolanda King ’76, an actress and producer who used her talents and gifts to carry forth the legacy of her father, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior.

Sadly, this year saw one of the most horrific tragedies to occur on a college or university campus. The events at Virginia Tech touched all of us in higher education and reminded us of the importance of our commitment to educating students in a an environment of safety and freedom. In this time of celebration, please join me in a moment of silence as we remember the families and friends of those who lost their lives. I ask you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

And now to the seniors, the magnificent class of 2007. There are 672 of you and 61 graduate students. You come from 46 U.S. states and 31 other countries. Sixty-three of you are Adas, ranging in age from 25 to 61. Together you have completed 790 majors; 117 are double majors. The five most popular majors are government, psychology, art, economics and English.

You are poised to go into the world, as the graduates here have before you, reaffirming and ever reinventing what it means to be a Smith alumna, a woman of distinction and a citizen of the world. The alumnae gathered with you are poised to support and advise you, to welcome you to their cities and networks of friendship, to support your endeavors and to celebrate your successes in whatever form you define them.

Turn to them as you make your way in the world, and then, later, reach back to offer your support to the women who come after you. Use your gifts well, your privileges with care and generosity. Your journey begins when you walk across this stage tomorrow; I trust it will bring you back to Smith many times throughout your life. I wish you happiness, fulfillment and godspeed.