An activist who wants to help support and empower women, Avery Smith stepped out of her comfort zone when she came to UConn – embracing the opportunities in and around UConn Hartford, volunteering in her community, and founding and leading new student organizations at the School of Social Work. She wants to inspire others to rise through injustice and overcome their own personal challenges.
Why did you choose UConn?
I wanted a school that provided me numerous opportunities, such as internships, research, and student involvement. Most importantly wanted to be part of tight-knit community. I was happy I was accepted into UConn Hartford since it’s in a small and urban community. Hartford was the only UConn school that had my program, social work. I was excited that the UConn program allowed me to gain hands-on and valuable practice experience that will prepare me for entry-level employment, such as working one-on-one with clients.
I got the opportunity to work with youth who struggle with behavior issues and shyness, by empowering them with meditation and self-awareness activities. I was excited that the classes were smaller and that I had the opportunity to be an honors student at a regional campus. I admire the diversity on my campus, being around students who are first-generation students and minority students. I like that I got to learn from peers’ perspectives and what shaped their experiences. I wanted hands-on learning and on-on-one with faculty, which the BSW program did provide for me. I learned to be independent and conscious of all walks of life and their circumstances.
What’s your major and why did you choose it?
Social Work is my major. I chose social work because I always wanted to be an advocate for others when I did not have one. I also chose social work due to my experience. I am a first-generation student and a learning disability student who grew up low income and faced poverty through my childhood and college years. I did not have anyone to listen to me or to be an advocate. I want to be an activist to empower women. With my life experiences, I want to be able to help and inspire young girls and women who went through injustice, such as poverty, racism, and abuse, to have a support system and to rise above their challenges. This relates to my favorite author of poetry, Maya Angelou, when she says, “Still I Rise.”
What are your plans after graduation?
I plan to take a gap year. I am considering enrolling in AmeriCorps VISTA or finding a full-time job at a social work nonprofit that works with women, children, and families. I plan to get my Master’s in Counseling, with a concentration in Art Therapy in Social Work, in 2023. I am highly interested in working with women and young girls who experience injustices and helping them heal with art.
What activities were you involved with as a student?
I was involved in creating and serving as president to two clubs on campus: the Social Work Student Association, which promotes a positive image of the social work profession, empowers its members to identify the needs within our communities, and engages with community services; and the Empowered Women Collective, which is a group of diverse women who are promoting unity, leadership, and sisterhood among women who face hardships in society.
I also was part of organizing a protest for solidarity of survivors for Hartford, and my other club, which I am serving as president, the Empowered Women Collective, is hosting a clothing drive with the YWCA for solidarity of survivors for sexual assault. This drive helps women whose clothes were taken for investigation to have some back up clothes at the hospital. I participated in and organized a campus food drive for my local pantry, Hands on Hartford. I also organized a social work panel in my club, which allowed other students to explore different paths in social work.
My other involvement at UConn Hartford was singing as an alto for Hus-keys Acapella. My favorite involvement at UConn is definitely getting involved in student activities and student justices.
What’s one thing that surprised you about UConn?
One thing that surprised me about UConn is how tight-knit the Hartford Campus is. Everyone is friendly and kind and willing to help and support you. I love how the Hartford Campus is in an urban city and the School of Social Work is beautifully hidden, but is noticed.
Any advice for incoming first-year students?
Stepping out of your comfort zone is a must. Join organizations and clubs. Find your true passion, and never be afraid to be yourself and try something new in college. As college can get challenging, students should prioritize their mental health as a must and school work by utilizing resources on campus to help with your school work and overall well-being. Continue to advocate and push for your dreams. You do not have to do college all by yourself. You’re never alone. Once you learn to find your voice, keep advocating! College is not a race – you finish when you’re comfortable and ready.
Who was your favorite professor and why?
Dominique Courts, doctoral candidate student at the School of Social Work – I never had a young Black teacher/professor and one that I related so much to. I’m not used to seeing Black women being so successful in my future line of work.
She taught me a lot about myself, from putting myself first to standing up for what’s right in my community as a minority student. When I was going through personal stuff, she was always there to support me and push myself as an individual and social worker. She inspired me to keep pushing through the bad times and cheer for the good. I loved her class and diverse lectures and different methods she taught. Having a Black professor is important to me due to representation for other girls that look like me and can relate to. As a woman of color, having a professor of color made me feel empowered to keep pushing at my goals and moving higher in my education to get a PhD one day.