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First Generation Student Profile: Drew Smith MBA’23

by Olivia Muñoz, Dean of Students,

To continue the celebration of First Generation Student Success Day (Nov. 8), we are pleased to feature a few of Willamette’s outstanding first-generation students throughout this week.

Drew Smith
Drew Smith MBA’23

Drew Smith MBA’23
Pronouns: they/them
Hometown: Banner Elk, NC
Undergraduate School and Degree: Lees-McRae College in North Carolina, Creative Arts and Design major

What has been your experience as a first generation college student?
There are a lot of resources for undergraduate students, but it’s a little different in graduate school. Growing up, I didn’t even know anyone who went to college or encouraged college, and I didn’t have a lot of family support. My family was more traditional, and hoped I’d get married soon. College was a lonely but validating experience.

Coming into the MBA program, I got to be proud of myself! Getting my bachelor’s degree meant knowing I could do it and graduate school meant really going for it. I moved 3,000 miles away to come to Willamette. What drew me was the MBA program’s opportunities to learn across functionalities of business. It’s an experiential learning program and I’ve gotten so much knowledge by doing hands-on work for nonprofits.

What are you involved in?
I am the president of the Willamette University chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management. We’ve done events like organizing a working professional panel. We would like to do something for undergraduates looking at business degrees. I really try to be a student advocate and care a lot about community development. Taking care of each other and uplifting one another – we need that in school and in our nation.

Being a first generation college student is one part of your identity. What are other aspects about you that you think about as you navigate your academic journey?
Being nonbinary – I don’t see myself reflected in the professionals we interact with. It’s hard to not see that representation in the working world as often as I would like. But I do seek it out. It’s important to find the people who have a similar lived experience as you to learn from them and grow.

What strengths do first generation students bring to higher education?
It can be hard to appreciate what you've always had access to, so first generation students have a unique insight into how a college degree can absolutely change your life. We also have so much internal motivation – nothing could make me quit at this point.

What do your future plans hold?
I am interested in so many things! I would like to do Peace Corps at some point. I would love to work with sustainable supply chain management to look at how businesses can be better for the public good and for our collective world.

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