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Women to Watch at UA Little Rock 2023: Alyssa Smith

Alyssa Smith
Alyssa Smith

In celebration of Women’s History Month, UA Little Rock is profiling women in leadership positions who are making a difference at the university and in the community.

The next Woman to Watch at UA Little Rock of 2023 is Alyssa Smith, a senior mechanical engineering major. A Donaghey Scholar and president of Baptist Collegiate Ministry, Smith will graduate, get married, and start a new career as an engineer this summer.

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I have lived in Arkansas my whole life, so I have lots of love for my home state. I was raised in Texarkana, AR, where I graduated in 2019 as an original Razorback at Arkansas High School! I have no siblings, so my small family has always valued time with each other, especially through traveling and various adventurous activities. Between traveling to famous museums, theme parks, or national parks and monuments, my childhood has developed my love for learning and also my appreciation for the world around me.

Ever since I was young, I valued school above many other things. I loved the challenge that a really difficult math problem presented or the satisfaction I received from completing a project that I worked really hard on. From such a young age, I knew that I had the ambition to succeed not only in school but wherever life takes me also. I have carried this in all aspects of my life, whether it is college, leadership positions, community involvement, and even my future career.

What brought you to UA Little Rock? 

I had quite a few very close family members that studied at UA Little Rock before I ever began looking for colleges. So when the time came, I wanted to develop my own path and, oddly enough, go anywhere but UA Little Rock! I very quickly realized that UA Little Rock had every aspect of a university that I was looking for and not finding in the other colleges I toured. Not only was it a close two hours from home, but it had a great department for engineering and a lively campus environment.

What finally sealed the deal was my acceptance into the Donaghey Scholars Honors Program, a highly competitive honors program that only accepts 25 students a year! I was so honored and beyond excited about the full tuition scholarship, apartment dorms, and most of all, a funded study abroad program. With study abroad being a distant dream of mine that was now coming true, UA Little Rock was the place for me!

What is your major? 

I am a mechanical engineering major! I love telling people what my major is, as their response usually involves something along the lines of  “Oh wow, you go girl!” I am so proud to be a woman in STEM!

My interest in engineering first started with the various travels with my family, as roller coasters were always a big part of my childhood. I was fascinated by how they worked, what made them move, and how they brought so much joy to my family and me! Once I noticed that I had a strength in math, especially calculus in high school, I knew the path I was meant to take. Now, I enjoy the coursework and how engineering applies to so many different areas of our lives, but most of all I can not get enough of the challenge. The work is not easy, and it takes a lot of practice. I am proud to say that even with such a daunting major, I have maintained a 3.97 GPA and can not wait to see what challenges being an engineer allows me to tackle after graduation.

When will you graduate, and what do you plan to do after graduation? 

I have quite a few major life milestones coming up! I will graduate in May 2023 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Only four short weeks after graduation, I will be getting married and officially moving into my own apartment! Soon after, I plan to continue in my current field of engineering and work as a natural gas engineer at Summit Utilities. As I interviewed for this job, I loved everything the company valued and especially that I would work in Little Rock, but be able to serve various parts of the state that I call home! I am incredibly excited to begin working after graduation. Life will look very different with no homework or tests to study for, but that just leaves room for new tasks to complete and new problems to solve. Besides, I’m sure I will return for a master’s degree someday!

What activities are you involved in at UA Little Rock? 

I am most involved with the Little Rock Baptist Collegiate Ministry. The BCM is a religious organization that is one of the largest student organizations on the UA Little Rock campus. When I came to UA Little Rock, I didn’t know anyone and felt very lost in terms of where to go or how to be involved on campus. I quickly got connected and went to worship every Tuesday and I have continued ever since!

In terms of leadership, I started on the Freshman Leadership Team where I learned under mentors and built many leadership skills that I value today. In my sophomore year, I moved to the “real” Leadership Team for upperclassmen, where I was the new student orientation leader. My role was to reach out to new students, make them feel welcome, and overall grow the organization! In my junior year, I became a vice president also focusing on new students and freshmen. Finally, I am currently president of the BCM for my senior year. I have been so blessed to be a part of an organization with an emphasis on not only faith, but also leadership, outreach, and personal growth.

With the BCM, I lead weekly meetings with the leadership team but also small group Bible studies with various women across campus. Over the years, our studies have allowed us to share stories, learn together, and have a support system as we endure various trials of life. Also with the BCM, I have been able to attend leadership conferences and leadership retreats, and help lead on mission trips to serve my community.

Recently, I have been initiated into the Arkansas Beta chapter of Tau Beta Pi at UA Little Rock, an engineering honor society recognizing the top fifth of the graduating class who shows exemplary scholarship and character. Here, I get to extend my leadership skills to my area of study. This association is aimed at gathering UA Little Rock engineering students to make a difference through campus outreach.

What are some of the exciting projects that you are working on at UA Little Rock? 

I am currently working on my Senior Capstone project. Alongside two other team members, we have designed a Vibrational Guidance Device for Visually Impaired Recreationalists. The idea came from considering daily activities and how we could make them easier or more efficient. Cycling came up, as riding a bike is not only a common activity, but promotes many health benefits. How could we change the fundamentals of cycling?

We decided that there was a group of people, the blind community, that likely was not getting the experience of riding a bike, or even walking or jogging individually. Our device consists of a harness with vibrational elements on the left, right, and back to signal for a turn or stop. A bystander will input signals through a control module that can either be hand-held or placed on the handlebars of a bike. Now, the rider can bike without being in tandem or jog without a partner directly by their side in a safe and controlled environment. It gives the experience of individuality to those who may otherwise not be able to enjoy such freedom.

In Tau Beta Pi, we are working hard on projects such as Fundamental Engineering exam preparation sessions and making these accessible and helpful to students, planning study sessions, and planning other fun events on campus. I am new to this organization but am so excited to begin helping with these projects. Since joining, I have taken the role of social chair, meaning that I make our organization well-known to the public and also display what a great organization Tau Beta Pi is through pictures. Therefore, I am working on projects on various social media platforms with the goal of focusing on community and campus outreach.

What woman has inspired you the most and why? 

Long before I knew about my heart for learning and my community, I was captivated by Dolly Parton’s music and quick sense of humor. Little did I know about her vast philanthropic outreach that has changed millions of lives, especially in education. She has selflessly used her platform to give back to a variety of well-known charities but also focuses on her own community where she grew up in Tennessee. Targeting children’s education, high school dropout rates, and supporting college tuitions, Dolly has given the gift of learning to thousands of children and young adults. I admire her investment in academics and am inspired by the number of new students eager to learn in classrooms thanks to her. 10-year-old me, who dressed up as Dolly for Halloween, would not be surprised at all if she knew how much I look up to Dolly today.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders? 

Being in a male-dominated field, I know what it feels like to feel out of place or that your skills aren’t good enough because they aren’t like your peers. Everyone is different in what they excel at. Just because the people around you seem better, more knowledgeable, or simply make you feel as if you don’t belong, it does not mean that it is actually true! You may be exceeding differently, and that works just as well.

Name something about yourself that most people would be surprised to learn. 

Much of my independence developed during my study abroad trip to Prague, Czech Republic. Here, I spent two months alone in a foreign country when I had never really gone anywhere by myself. Traveling alone is quite scary, but I would recommend it to anyone looking for a way to kickstart their decision-making skills, critical thinking, and overall self-confidence.

I came back from this trip a new person in terms of confidence, as I knew that if I could make the 18-hour flight to Prague and back, get around the city using public transportation while not knowing the language or work at a Czech electronics company, I can do anything I set my mind to! It was such a beautiful city and I will always have fond memories of this trip, but it is the character development that this adventure provided that I will always take with me.

What is your favorite quote and why? 

My favorite quote comes from a comfort song of mine, Vienna, by Billy Joel: “Slow down, you’re doing fine. You can’t be everything you want before your time.”

This song is a frequent listen before big tests, when I am nervous about an interview, or any other event that takes my mind into states of stress or worry. Billy talks about Vienna as a metaphor for the peace in life after all is done and you have accomplished everything you set out to do. I take this quote to heart as an encouragement when I feel as if I am not succeeding fast enough or how I want. I strive so hard to achieve everything I want all at once, but life comes in phases. It is important to know that if I take things one at a time, I can achieve everything I aim for when the time is right.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

I encourage any young woman to take leadership positions even if you don’t feel strong enough to handle them. I have learned so much about myself and my own strengths through my leadership positions, and this has allowed me to learn and work on my weaknesses as well. These are skills that I will always carry with me long after I graduate.