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C of I alumna Smith finds purpose helping others

College of Idaho alumna Hailey Smith ’08 had very little idea of what her future would when she arrived at the C of I.

“As I neared graduation from high school, I had an interest in archeology, probably stemming from books and movies that gave me a romanticized idea of what an archeologist is,” Smith recalls. “Since the College didn’t have an archeology program, I signed up for the closest thing: Cultural Anthropology 101.”

That decision set the course of Smith’s career, as it led to her passion for traveling the world, learning about foreign cultures and making a difference in the lives of those in need, one person at a time.

Smith, a double major in anthropology and history, developed an interest in international development based around her studies of the world’s many dynamic cultures. That interest grew into a passion after Smith took her first trip outside of the United States during a three-month study abroad trip to Peru. As she learned Spanish by day and salsa dancing by night, Smith not only realized her enjoyment of travel, but also saw firsthand the poverty that existed in the world outside of the United States.

“Each place I have visited has been wonderful and eye-opening in its own way, but my time in Peru was the most influential,” said Smith. “I will never forget the first taxi ride from the airport to the hostel where I was staying – the cobblestone streets full of colorful people, food, houses and activity was a far cry from the small town in rural Idaho where I grew up.”

Determined to integrate her love of travel with her anthropological background, Smith joined the Peace Corps after graduation and spent more than two years as a Sustainable Agriculture Volunteer in rural Panama, an area without running water or electricity. Although the 25-household community was small, Smith made a big difference during her stay. She helped improve the fertility of the community’s soil, established a higher quality of nutrition through the introduction of family fish tanks and introduced improved stoves that cooked faster and used less wood.

“One of my highlights in Panama was getting to share my love of reading,” Smith said. “I noticed the lack of books and no summer activities for kids other than helping around the house or farm, so I started a book club that met twice a week during the summer. I solicited money for books from friends and family back home, and bought all of the children’s books in Spanish that I could find.”

Smith returned to the U.S. to obtain her master’s degree in global human development at Georgetown University. Since graduating in May, she has been working at Chemonics International, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She currently works in Washington D.C. on a team that is supporting a sustainable forest project in Columbia. She was attracted by the organization’s mission statement: “By promoting meaningful change around the world we help people live healthier, more productive, and more independent lives.”

“Everyone works long hours for not much pay, but at the end of the day you still feel motivated because you realize the value of the work you are doing in the lives of people across the world,” Smith said.  

As one who has traveled to places like Malawi, China, Panama and Peru to help others, Smith understands that value better than most—and she credits her undergraduate years with helping her make a career from it.  “My time at The College of Idaho was influential in many ways,” Smith said. “I was challenged daily to think about the interplay of events that have led to the complex realities of the world today. The critical thinking that was required challenged my assumptions, broadened my world view, and ultimately led to my decision to pursue a career in international development.”  

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. It has a century-old tradition of educating some of the most accomplished graduates in Idaho, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, and another 12 Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College is located on a beautiful campus in Caldwell, Idaho. Its distinctive PEAK curriculum challenges students to attain competencies in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field, enabling them to graduate with an academic major and three minors in four years. For more information on The College of Idaho, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.