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Three Lehman Students Capture 2010 Women's Forum Awards

November 19, 2010


Rhoda Smith

This is the first in a series of profiles of three Lehman students—out of seven recipients—who won this year Women's Forum awards: art major Regina Farrell, nursing major Rhoda Smith, and developmental disabilities major Nelida Velez. The Women's Forum provides these annual awards to encourage mature women of need to fulfill their potential through the pursuit of an undergraduate college education and to enhance their capacities to provide productive and supportive service to their communities. According to the organization, its award recognizes "extraordinary and often heroic effort in overcoming adversity and the most daunting of odds in restructuring lives for success." Each award carries a $10,000 scholarship. This year's four other awardees were from City College, Columbia University, and Long Island University. The awards ceremony was held in Manhattan on November 17.

Lehman nursing student Rhoda Smith has emerged on the other side of an abusive relationship, won a battle against homelessness and drug addiction, and is now a 2010 Women's Forum Fellow.

The 41-year-old — and mother of one — began her college career at Borough of Manhattan Community College at the age of 20, but was forced to drop out as her husband's physical abuse increased. In 1997, as she stared down the barrel of a gun, Smith left her home and young daughter behind with only the clothes on her back. She began to live on the streets, too ashamed to return home, and eventually turned to drugs, beginning a downhill spiral.

Nevertheless, she continued to believe that "as long as I have breath in my body, there is always hope." She eventually entered Samaritan Village's Detox program, where she went through nineteen months of intense drug rehabilitation.

When she came to Lehman as an Adult Degree student in 2009, she was very nervous. "I had not been in school in almost eighteen years," she says, "and I jumped in head first, carrying 13.5 credits and working full-time. I was determined at this point in my life, because at 40, I was finally developing."

Knowing how competitive Lehman's nursing program was, she spent many hours in the science learning center preparing to enter the program. Not only is Smith now a nursing major, but she is also a member of the Herbert H. Lehman Leadership program and the Nursing Student organization, where nursing students network and build their skills. She is also a member of Lehman LIFE (Leaders Involved for Everyone) and plans to travel to Kenya for ten days in June to help build a school.

Smith also will travel to Washington, D.C. to volunteer at Walter Reed Medical Center and with the Homeless Veterans organization. "My mission is to make a difference by supporting the men and women or our armed forces," she says. This is an opportunity I would not want to pass up, primarily because I, too, have been homeless."

Smith says her ultimate goal is to become a nurse practitioner and take part in public speaking to encourage those who doubt themselves. She chose the nursing field, she adds, because she wants to be part of mankind's healing process on all levels.

"Rhoda is a wonderful example to our students, many of whom have also struggled against adversity," says African and African American Studies Professor Anne Rice. "Lehman has been greatly enriched by her presence among us."

"When I was nominated for the Women's Forum scholarship, I couldn't believe it," says Smith. "I've never won anything in my life. I never thought my story mattered or even inspired anyone. Lehman has taught me that my story does matter, and it's even more heartfelt when there's a success story that follows it."

Today, Smith has full custody of her daughter, who entered college this fall. She says she has always been ashamed of what she has been through, but that being at Lehman has taught her that there are people who value her opinion and care about her.

"Being in the nursing program is an honor and privilege, as the nursing educators continue to teach me what nursing care is all about," says Smith. "What I enjoy best about Lehman is that hard work and perseverance are always noticed, and if you have questions, you can usually find the answers."