Ada Comstock Scholars Program Celebrates 40 Years

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Veronica Brown '17Associate Editor This year, 2015, marks the 40th anniversary of the Ada Comstock Scholars Program at Smith. The program is named after Ada Comstock, class of 1897. After retirement, Comstock remained active in making higher education accessible to women until her death at the age of 97. According to the Ada Comstock website, “As Ada Comstock Scholars, our lives epitomize her ideals. Her enthusiasm for life and perseverance in the attainment of personal goals inspires us all.”

Since the program’s inception in 1975, over 2,200 students have graduated as Ada Comstock Scholars. After the initial enrollment of 35 students, Eleanor Rothman, the founding director of the Ada Comstock program, explained, “The program grew steadily until the late [1980s], reaching a total enrollment of about 400 women on campus.  It then started to decrease to its current level of about 100.” Sidonia Dalby, associate director of admission and adviser to the Ada Comstock Scholar Program, said that, “Smith’s present enrollment goal is 100 Ada Comstock Scholars, which seems to be a great size, conducive to a sense of belonging and intimacy.”

Molly Grover ’AC15, current SGA president of the Ada Comstock class, said that, “the experience of being integrated into a campus as vibrant as Smith’s [is] attractive to non-traditional students.” She continued, “I’m especially thankful for the astoundingly brave and capable people that I’ve grown to know both in the Ada group and among the wonderful ‘trads.’”

Stephanie Schoen ’AC91 said “the program has had a transformative impact on the lives of more than 2,000 women to date.” She says her own experience as an English major “gave me a self-confidence that I had never had before.”

The college offers many resources for Ada students. There are a variety of on-campus housing options, including apartment-style housing for Adas and their families as well as options for commuter students who do no live on campus the entire week. There are also resources for building a community within the school, demonstrated in the SGA Ada Cabinet, peer mentors and a committee of Ada Stakeholders who meet with administrators to review Ada-specific concerns.

The school is also committed to helping Adas financially. Over 90% of Ada Comstock Scholars receive need-based financial aid. Helen Gurley Brown, the late editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, endowed Smith with the funds for Magic Grants. Though she didn’t attend Smith, Brown supported the college’s mission. Magic Grants are available to current Adas or recent alums that require special funding to pursue an artistic pursuit, academic passion or creative project. Balbach Grants are also available to ease the financial burden of a college education.

This year’s reunion will include Ada-specific programming, including an Ada wine and cheese on May 21 and a tea on Friday celebrating the Ada class of 2015. Schoen looks forward to “a lot of reminiscing, seeing old friends and making new ones and sharing stories of how the Ada Comstock Scholars Program changed our lives.”

The Ada program shows no signs of slowing down, despite that many nontraditional students are now attracted to the convenience online options. Grover speaks for everyone at the college when she declares her hope for the future of the Ada Comstock Scholar Program: “may it be thriving in another 40 years!”