International studies student makes an impact

Marketing and Communications

By Ann Krebs

Toni Smith is making a difference in the world. For more than three years, she has been making jewelry and selling it at Lily's, a retail store in Perrysburg, Ohio, and donating her proceeds to World Vision, an organization that works internationally and domestically to provide a better life for children and women through education, nutrition, health care and other initiatives. With the help of her loyal customers, she has been able to give more than $12,000 to World Vision.

After realizing she wanted a career in international development, Smith looked to Bowling Green State University for a degree in international studies with a focus in development to gain practical knowledge of how the world works. She also found that internships and volunteering were beneficial in guiding her career aspirations of starting her own philanthropic organization.

"International studies is a major I would highly recommend," Smith said. "Through the classes I have taken, I have gained a good knowledge base that I feel will be helpful in my future."

Though she would like to list all faculty who helped her at BGSU, two that especially encouraged her throughout her college career are Dr. Apollos Nwauwa, director of the Africana Studies Program and a professor of history, and Dr. Federico Chalupa, director of the International Studies Program and an associate professor of romance and classical studies.

"Both professors have given me incredible opportunities such as presenting at conferences and having papers published, have been empathetic and understanding about issues outside of school that impacted my performance, and have taught me so many things both in their classes and when I visited them in their offices," Smith said.

Chalupa described Smith as an exceptional performer who works hard and is extremely modest.

"Toni has been one of the best students I've had in my more than 20 years at BGSU," he said. "She did an outstanding senior project, titled "The Effect of the Gender Divide on the Rights and Status of Sub-Saharan Women in a Globalized World" that was selected for publishing in the online International ResearchScape Undergraduate Journal" and will be available next fall."

Last summer, Smith had an internship with Women at Risk, International (WAR, Int'l), a U.S.-based, nonprofit organization that creates safe havens and healing for at-risk women and children in over 31 countries. She has volunteered at two of their Michigan locations for a couple of years.

"I want to work for and start my own organization like WAR, Int'l," Smith said. "I have found both interning and volunteering there to be extremely beneficial to my career plans."

Chalupa, who also manages student internships and receives evaluations from the employers, said one of Smith's employers stated that "if they had a job opportunity they would hire her immediately" and that she was one of the best interns they ever had.

Smith had the opportunity to study abroad this summer in France and Burkina Faso in West Africa.

"It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life," she said.

If she had to choose just one thing that stood out from her experience it would be perspective.

"France was beneficial in making me appreciate certain aspects of my life in America, and also helped me to see that there are very important aspects in life that I wish we as Americans cared more about, like history," she said. "It didn't matter the age of the people I met in France, all of them had an incredible sense of history and because of that they also had a rich understanding of who they were and why specific sites, buildings and landmarks are important."

In France, she studied at the Institut de Touraine and found it to be a wonderful establishment.

"My professors were kind and helpful, and class was really fun though also challenging," Smith said. "I learned so much. The students were from all over the world, and I met people from China, Japan, Singapore, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Canada, and also from America.

"The level of perspective I gained in France was superseded by the perspective I gained in Burkina Faso. Living in a country that is one of the poorest and most illiterate in the world was incredibly beneficial for my worldview and personal development."

Electricity going out numerous times every day, no air conditioning in extremely hot weather, and Western-standard toilets only in limited places all made her appreciate so many things, she said. Even though living in Burkina had its challenges, she gained perspective through the relationships she built with her host family, and had some "absolutely incredible" adventures and experiences.

"Living in a country that is one of the poorest and most illiterate in the world was incredibly beneficial for my worldview and personal development." "In order to actually be effective in international development, it is essential that I have experienced the cultures, societies and needs of developing nations," Smith said. "Studying abroad in Africa allowed me to do just that. It was a beneficial supplement to the research, readings and theories I have learned in the classroom."

Smith admitted she was at first not exactly excited about studying abroad, mostly because she didn't like the prospect of leaving her family and fiancé, but in hindsight, she would do it again in a second. She now thinks everyone should study abroad.

"It is not only a great way to build your resume and see the world, but also a catalyst for personal development and awareness," she said. "Being in a foreign country without family and loved ones puts you in a position to learn more about yourself and find out what you are really made of."

Smith was the recipient of the Outstanding Senior Award through international studies, and will graduate with honors and a minor in Africana studies this month. After graduation she plans to take time off to get married before starting the Master of Public Administration program at BGSU next spring.

"Once I finish my master's degree I want to work in international development," she said, "I want to work with issues that affect women and children in the developing world. I want to work for the promotion of human rights and social justice."

Smith continues to give back. She recently started working with a local safe house, The Daughter Project, where she trains girls to make jewelry, which they also sell at Lily's. This endeavor provides an unconventional means of rehabilitation for girls who have been verbally and physically violated.

"It is amazing to see them take pride in the jewelry they make and find confidence in their ability," Smith said. "This project also teaches them practical skills such as money management and basic business skills. In my eyes, anything I do to make the world a better place, even for one person, is a success."

(Posted August 12, 2013 )