Amber Smith ’20 (CLAS)
Major: political science
Degree: Bachelor of Arts
Hometown: Hartford, Connecticut
Favorite Place to Study: The Wilbur Cross Reading Room
Tell us about your first year at UConn.
I started my journey at UConn the summer before my freshman year, in the Student Support Services (SSS) program. Being a first-generation student coming to college was overwhelming. But because of the skills I learned over the summer, I felt more equipped and prepared, and I had a community coming into my freshman year.
What was it like being a first-generation student?
I faced a fair amount of difficulties. No one in my family could really explain to me what I was going to experience, including little things like etiquette, like you don’t raise your hand to go to the bathroom during a large lecture. I was exposed to a lot of ideas and cultures that I hadn’t been exposed to before, and that was a learning curve.
The SSS program was very helpful, as well as the people I came in with, my peers. I knew that I could always rely on them. Some professors were so understanding about particular circumstances. If I wasn’t able to afford a textbook, they worked with me. The ones who really understood that students come from different backgrounds and have different levels of knowledge going into the classroom were the ones that made me feel like I belonged here.
How have you grown since your first year?
I genuinely believed that UConn accepted me by accident. On my first test in college, I got a 48 percent. I will never forget that, and I was like, “I don’t belong here.” It’s just understanding that not knowing something doesn’t mean you don’t belong, it just means that there is space to learn and to grow. Now when I walk into a room, I feel as if I belong there.
Why did you choose to study political science?
My dad was deported when I was 9 years old, and you don’t know when you’re 9 what an illegal alien is, or what the immigration laws are. So, I first became passionate about political science as a coping mechanism. I started asking questions to my teachers, and somehow knowing more about it was very comforting. It’s such a privilege that I have been able to study political science for the past four years because I’m able to take the things I learned and tell my mom and my friends. Not everyone has the privilege to do that, and I’m so honored that I do.
How has your liberal arts education benefitted you?
I’ve taken English, philosophy, and so many different courses. I think that’s what CLAS really is: a place to think critically and think deeply about millions of different subjects. That way of wiring your brain differently is relevant to any field you go into.
How did your scholarships benefit you?
I was part of the first class of The Hartford Promise scholars. I also got the Roberta B. Willis scholarship, which was so helpful. I advocated for how important this scholarship is at the budget hearing this semester because I would not be here without my scholarships. I know that I want to go into public service work. And I could not invest back into Connecticut if I didn’t have this education, the knowledge and the experience I got at UConn. If you want people to then invest back into Connecticut, you first have to invest in them.
What’s the best piece of advice you received?
My SSS counselor, Chelsea Cichocki, told me not to fixate on little failures along the way, because that’s only part of the journey. I got so many “nos” along the way. But just don’t let it make you feel like you are a failure, because everyone fails.