Educating a Champion: Valerie Smith - SUNY Cortland

Educating a Champion: Valerie Smith

 Educating a Champion: Valerie Smith

02/22/2012 

Since grade school, SUNY Cortland senior Valerie Smith has admired the Chinese culture.

The geography major recently put her passion to practice when she temporarily relocated to Capital Normal University in Beijing, her study abroad destination for the next four months.

Sure, the Chinese capital likely will be a far cry from the city of Cortland and Smith’s hometown of Auburn, N.Y. But she isn’t harboring many worries outside of a fear of missing her connecting flight overseas.

“This is my chance to let the Chinese tell their story, unfiltered by Westerners,” Smith said.

The study abroad experience likely will be louder and busier than life in central New York. Beijing’s population, for instance, hovers around 20 million people, which is 1,000 times more than that of Cortland. Her new Chinese university claims a student population of 25,475 by itself, while her hometown totals 27,138 residents.

“I want to see how the residents live and work and compare it to what I’ve seen in central New York and large cities like San Francisco and New York City,” she said.

Valerie Smith
Valerie Smith

The geography major’s confidence and curiosity are two major reasons she won the College’s Wah Chip and Yuki Chin Scholarship, a $1,000 award established by a local Cortland couple in 2003.

Throughout their lives, Chinese native Wah Chip Chin and his Japanese-born wife, Yuki, opened their hearts and home to Chinese students visiting Cortland. Wah Chip survived his wife and established the scholarship in his estate.

Smith’s achievement marks the first time an individual American student has won the award. In past years, the scholarship money has gone to a SUNY Cortland class traveling to China or to exchange students from Asia studying at the College.

It’s a well-deserved honor, too, given that Smith has spent the majority of her life embracing Chinese culture. She vaguely remembers learning about the world’s most populated nation as a kindergartner. Her interest shifted to Japanese culture during her childhood and teenage years, but she ultimately rekindled a love for learning about China.

“My fascination stems from (China) being one of the oldest civilizations on the planet and the similarities and differences between it and our Western culture and society,” Smith said.

She transferred to SUNY Cortland from SUNY Plattsburgh in the fall of 2010 and in the three semesters since, she’s taken three Chinese language courses with Hai-Ying Wang, a lecturer of modern languages. Learning the Mandarin language was exciting and easier than Smith anticipated, she said.

“One thing about my professors, they cared enough to encourage me to refine my skills and follow my interests,” Smith said. “Instead of just telling me I did a good job, they let me know where I needed to improve and were genuinely happy to answer my endless questions.”

Smith said her interest in people and their cultures led her to pursue geography as a major. The field is broad, she said, and it allows her to incorporate her major interests in life.

Right now, one of those interests is Chinese culture.

“The opportunity to go there fits perfectly with my goal to become a geographer,” said Smith, who will study in Beijing until late June and graduate from SUNY Cortland in August. “I’ll be seeing new infrastructure developing and social changes being made that most older generations of Chinese did not witness in the previous decade.”

Eventually, she hopes to earn a doctorate related to geography. Her older sister taught English as a second language in South Korea after college and eventually landed a job in research and development overseas.

Smith is already planning her own long-term return across the Pacific.

“I’d like to find a way to get back to China,” she said.


More News

College to Host Conference for Writing Teachers

College to Host Conference for Writing Teachers

Writing Matters III, which takes place Saturday, March 19, follows the theme “What Comes After the Writing Process?”


National Author Survived Eating Disorder

National Author Survived Eating Disorder

Cheryl Kerrigan will share tips to achieving a practical recovery.


Electrical Upgrade to Close Campus Buildings

Electrical Upgrade to Close Campus Buildings

In total, 11 buildings will be affected by the power shutdowns spanning from mid March to mid June.


19th Century Mnemonic Methods Revisited

19th Century Mnemonic Methods Revisited

Memory was essential for polite conversation in 19th century society.


College Announces Spring ‘Wellness’ Series

College Announces Spring ‘Wellness’ Series

"Treasure Your Health" talks will include mental health, financial wellness and other important topic discussions.


Biology Grad Advises National Geographic Series

Biology Grad Advises National Geographic Series

Todd Curtis ’11 is a back-country medic for a new National Geographic Channel series.


Residence Life and Housing Set to Host Major Conference

Residence Life and Housing Set to Host Major Conference

Approximately 350 people from 20 colleges and universities are expected to attend.


Cortland Basketball to Host ‘President Bitterbaum Appreciation Night’

Cortland Basketball to Host ‘President Bitterbaum Appreciation Night’

Students will receive a free t-shirt honoring President Bitterbaum at Friday night’s games.


SGA President Literally Gives Everything

SGA President Literally Gives Everything

Patrick Viscome gives the majority of his $5,000 SGA president’s stipend to charity.


SUNY Cortland Celebrates Black History Month

SUNY Cortland Celebrates Black History Month

A full event calendar includes weekly guest lectures, a student open mic showcase and a Pan African dance performance.


Explore

Visit

Contact