Class of 2014: Lives of Meaning and Purpose
For Fulbright scholar Smith ’14, learning is a lifelong journey
Ever since she was a little girl, Alanna E. Smith ’14 (Wappingers Falls, N.Y.) has had a flair for the creative.
A self-proclaimed “sci-fi nerd,” she loved play-acting with siblings and neighborhood friends, documenting childhood experiences in a notebook, and reading The Lord of the Rings when she was in third grade.
Now, her lifelong curiosity and creativity is steering her to an area of the world that intrigues and fascinates her — Nepal, where she will journey in July as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) scholar.
Smith is the sixth Providence College student in four years to be awarded a competitive, merit-based grant from the Fulbright Program, which is the flagship international exchange program of the U.S. government. She is one of approximately 1,700 students to receive a Fulbright ETA grant and earned just one of six grants — from more than 50 applicants — to teach in Nepal.
An English/creative writing major and a Spanish and music double minor, she will be following in the footsteps of another Fulbright recipient who just completed a Fulbright ETA assignment in Nepal, Annie Wendel ’13.
Earnest and distinct
Smith’s Fulbright award is no surprise to those familiar with her classroom engagement, intellectual approach, and enthusiasm. The chair of the Fulbright Campus Evaluation Committee, Dr. John B. Margenot III, professor of Spanish, said Smith’s poise, maturity, and thorough application impressed the committee.
“Her enthusiasm about the possibility of teaching Nepalese children English was pleasantly contagious,” said Margenot. “Her excellent communication skills and empathetic character ideally position her to teach young children. The committee was impressed by her composure and palpable passion for folklore, storytelling, and music.”
Dr. Robert Stretter, associate professor of English, who was Smith’s first English professor, said she distinguished herself from other freshman students with her intellectual curiosity and spirit.
“What makes Alanna so impressive is her combination of natural intellect, hard work, enthusiasm for learning, and a genuine delight in the life of the mind,” said Stretter. “She is a sincere and dedicated young woman with a passion for knowledge and truth.
“When analyzing literature, Alanna is not only concerned with understanding the text, or the world of the fictional characters, but also with how the ideas expressed in the text relate to her own evolving world view, and to her understanding of reality. To put it simply, Alanna is concerned with the relationship of literature to Veritas.”
One example of this occurred in Stretter’s Quest Narratives course, which concluded with Virginia Woolf’s novel, To the Lighthouse. He saw that Smith had a “deep, almost existential uneasiness” about the book. Although students were given the option to write a one-page response to the reading, Smith — who already had the highest grade in the class — wrote a “thoughtful and thought-provoking” three-page analysis which indicated how she had worked through what troubled her.
Smith said she likely wouldn’t have applied for the Fulbright without the mentoring and genuine personal interest her teachers like Stretter showed — making for an exceptional student-teacher relationship not prevalent at bigger colleges. Dr. Russell M. Hillier and Epaphras C. Osondu, assistant professors of English; Dr. Todd J. Harper, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities/music education; and her harp instructor, Dr. Judie Tenenbaum, were particularly influential and special to her.
The harp was one of a multitude of personal interests Smith pursued during her College years. In addition to accompanying vocalists at campus concerts, she was a four-year member of the I Cantori and Schola Cantorum vocal ensembles; a four-year member, and president her senior year, of the Science Fiction Club; wrote “geek culture” reviews and pieces for the arts and entertainment section of The Cowl; and was a member of Campus Ministry’s PC for Life group.
Smith, whose mother, Lynn B. Smith ’85 is a PC alumna, came to the College as a global studies major. Her PC experience developed structure early in her freshman year with two happenings. She participated in Campus Ministry’s “Connections” retreat, which she called “a wonderful experience” and where she met students with similar interests.
Secondly, Harper invited her to audition for I Cantori. The combination of her desire to sing at the College and to write caused her to switch majors. Furthermore, her involvement with I Cantori led to one of the highlights of her four years, a trip to Italy at the end of her freshman year. Smith and other student singers and musicians performed for Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square and sang at a Mass at the Vatican.
“It was an amazing experience. It was one of those trips I’ll remember my entire life. It really solidified some of my relationships here,” she said.
Nepal is likely to be another destination Smith won’t forget. The south Asian country of 27 million is a nation “I’ve been totally enamored with,” she said in explaining why she applied for a Fulbright grant there. She is most attracted to its beauty — highlighted by Mt. Everest and the Himalayan range — and its vibrant culture, including emphasis on art, music, and storytelling.
The opportunity to learn the Nepalese language, to live with a native family, and to witness the practices of Hinduism and Buddhism — which she enjoyed studying in high school world history — are other reasons she is excited.
“I’m an adventuresome person. It’s a magical place,” said Smith, who will graduate with magna cum laude honors as a member of the Liberal Arts Honors Program.
While Smith won’t know her specific teaching assignment and location until orientation, she will work with children somewhere between the ages of 8 to 16 at a government school. She will teach English and plans to interact with students and adults in multiple activities, such as music and storytelling. She will draw on a decade of tutoring children at a library in her local community, she said.
Smith’s Fulbright experience will continue through next March. While her immediate focus is Nepal, she plans on continuing to write. She’s always had a fascination with mythology and would like to be a fantasy writer, possibly writing children’s books.
— Charles C. Joyce