Inside Moravian
e-Newsletter of the Moravian College Campus Community 10/22/13
Smith holds two huge fish she pulled out of an Alaskan lake.
 

ABOVE: Laura Smith ’09, project coordinator on assignment at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, shows off her impressive haul following a successful salmon fishing trip in Alaska.

 
 

Experience the Moravian Effect

Laura Smith ’09
Project Coordinator on Assignment, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Twice a month Inside Moravian tells the story of one of Moravian’s alums who exemplify what we call the Moravian Effect. The added value from their Moravian experience is created through Moravian’s emphasis on strong, personalized majors, hands-on learning opportunities, and encouragement of a deeper enjoyment of life—which is nurtured by engaged faculty and alumni. Surveys of our graduates show that these qualities help them grow in four years into focused adults who succeed and excel in an increasingly challenging world.

Laura Smith ’09 remembers the exact moment she fell for Moravian College. It wasn’t as a little girl,
though she enjoyed attending the College’s Vespers and athletic events as a youngster. It wasn’t during her college application process years later, instead choosing to attend another higher education
institution. Rather, her “epiphany,” as she calls it, came at her older sister’s graduation ceremony at Moravian in 2007. As Maria Smith ’07 chatted up then President Thomforde that afternoon, Laura, who just finished her second year at Rutgers University, felt a call to Moravian.

“I realized then I would likely never get an opportunity to meet the college president, or know my professors on an individual basis,” she recalls. “I made an instant decision to transfer. From the very beginning, it just felt right. Moravian was just a very warm, inviting campus and, at that time, I was really looking for a strong community.”

Smith credits the College for helping her grow not only academically, but also personally, forging the close relationships she sought. “I got to know my professors, and our conversations continued outside of the classroom,” she says, thanking professors like Diane White Husic, John Reynolds and Gary Olson for guiding her through the educational process.

Laura Smith stands on a hillside with downtown Seattle behind her. Smith holds two ski poles while cross country skiing in Alaska.

ABOVE: Smith, who lives in downtown Seattle, often walks to work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

ABOVE: In addition to fishing, Smith also enjoyed
skiing in ‘The Last Frontier.’


The environmental studies major also praises Moravian for building a community where students are encouraged to develop leadership skills. She participated in LeaderShape and was president of the College Democrats, organizing voter registration drives and raising political awareness on campus during the 2008 primary presidential election. Smith also spent time studying urban planning and European culture in Denmark.

In total, because of her time abroad, Smith spent just three semesters on campus, but it was enough for Moravian to become home. “It just seemed so much longer than that,” she says. “I made such wonderful connections with professors, friends and people in the community of Bethlehem.”

In the four years since graduation, Smith hasn’t been afraid to change course when she’s found a passion and a purpose – much like her decision to transfer to Moravian in the first place. Fresh out of college, she returned to Europe, teaching English in a rural town in Spain for 10 months. She then returned to the U.S., but skipped the lower 48, working in Alaska as an AmeriCorps volunteer with a refugee resettlement agency. While in Anchorage, she taught ESL classes, as well as job readiness and orientation to life in the U.S., to refugees from Somalia, Burma, Sudan and Bhutan. The experience was very fulfilling.

Splitting her time between a formal classroom and venturing into the community, Smith helped the refugees become self-sufficient by helping them apply for jobs and prepare for interviews,
and find medical care and grocery stores. Teaching the refugees the public transportation system was especially tricky. Smith and an interpreter often navigated families, some with eight or nine children, through the city, educating them on street signs and bus routes. During these activities, a bond formed between Smith and these families.

“Often times, I was the only person they trusted because I was helping them become more independent,” she says. “It was challenging emotionally, too, as they confided in me about what
happened in their home countries and refugee camps. It helped me to understand what I needed to do to help them transition into their new lives in the U.S.”

“The common link between my time in Alaska
and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is that a lot of my students had TB, and I saw how their resettlement process and lives were affected by their health.”

– Laura Smith ’09


Her Alaskan experience was a far cry from her academic work, where she studied urban planning. But as Smith points out, “the skills and knowledge base that I acquired at Moravian have been applicable throughout my career.”

“In college, my goal was to be a city planner, and that completely changed after I graduated,” she continues. “My motivation for working in Spain was to return to Europe, and when I came back to the U.S., my desire to help others and teaching experience led me to be an AmeriCorps volunteer in Anchorage. I took advantage of the opportunities that came my way.”

These lessons were instilled by Husic. “What I learned from her, and overall at Moravian, was that there wasn’t a single path to finding a fulfilling job,” Smith explains.

Husic, too, is fond of Smith, calling her “one of those students I really miss.” The professor recalls that in 2009 Smith – already a graduate and working in Spain – joined the College’s delegation in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the United Nations climate meetings. Smith was “a great addition not only for her perspectives on climate change and social justice, but she had studied abroad in Denmark and knew the city well,” Husic says.

Today, Smith lives in Seattle, Wash., and is closing in on her one year anniversary on assignment at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As a project coordinator, she supports an initiative involving Bill Gates and pharmaceutical companies, which uses innovation and partnerships to tackle the health challenges of the world’s poorest.

One of the initiative’s objectives is to find a new drug regimen for tuberculosis (TB). This ties directly into Smith’s experience in Alaska.

“The common link between my time in Alaska and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is that a lot of my students had TB, and I saw how their resettlement process and lives were affected by their health,” she explains. “Often times, refugees with TB were shunned by members of their own community. This opportunity with the foundation seemed perfect for me as I wanted to continue helping
those in need.”

This fall Smith began a graduate program in public administration at the University of Washington, but she doesn’t know where it will lead her. She does know she enjoys the work at the foundation, and looks forward to what lies ahead.

“What I really learned at Moravian is that you have to be passionate about what you are doing,” she concludes.

*This article first appeared in the fall 2013 issue of the Moravian College Magazine.

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