Amanda Jiang ’20 | Jandon Center Student Fellow
The Smith College Jandon Center for Community Engagement recently welcomed Xie Xianxiu AC ’18, a new Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). Xie will be working closely with the Jandon Center, Holyoke STEM Academy and community organizations on assisting and connecting with mentoring programs and organizations that support first-generation students and underrepresented groups in STEM. More specifically, Xie will be collaborating with Holyoke STEM Academy to use Five College resources to engage students and the Holyoke community in STEM-related programs and to increase funding for STEM-related activities.
“We are delighted to have Xie on our team,” said Jandon Center Director Denys Candy. “She plays an important role in Smith’s commitment to working with schools across the Pioneer Valley. We are grateful to the Dean of the College Susan Etheredge and New England Campus Compact (the organization that oversees VISTA) for helping us make this happen.”
Xie graduated from Smith in the spring of 2018 with a degree in engineering. She was an Ada Comstock Scholar and resided on campus with her two children. In addition to taking classes at Smith, she took advantage of many resources that Smith offered. A particularly memorable opportunity was the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs, a stepping stone for undergraduate women seeking entrepreneurial opportunities. Xie entered the competition and created a project that sought to help low-income and underserved families through a community mentorship program. The project inspired her to continue to pursue community-based work, which led to the decision of joining Americorps.
Xie traces her motivation of helping underserved communities back to her life experiences. “I want to make an impact for people who come from low-income backgrounds, whose hardships I can identity with. At Smith, I learned to believe in myself because I met mentors and peers who told me to never give up. I want to make sure others — particularly children — are given the opportunity to pursue their dreams without feeling afraid or lost.”
A first-generation, non-traditional student and a single parent of two, Xie had to overcome several obstacles to arrive at Smith. Born and raised in China, Xie’s college dream was delayed when she was forced to quit school at the age of 16. She worked long hours at a factory before coming to the United States in her late 20s. After receiving her GED, Xie enrolled at Southern Maine Community College, where she joined a pre-engineering program. Two years later, with an associate’s degree in hand, she transferred to Smith College.
Reflecting on her personal experiences and future goals, Xie said, “Having worked hard to receive an education while raising two children on my own really changed the way I view the world. I became wiser.”
Now embarking on the new journey of being an Americorps VISTA, Xie is full of enthusiasm and excitement. Although she has big goals in mind, she understands that she will face challenges along the way. “The most challenging part is to motivate the children; a majority of them come from a low-income background. It’s hard to stay motivated as a student and learner when you come from such a background because you are not only worried about completing homework and attending school but also meeting your basic needs, such [as] having food and shelter.”
However difficult the challenge may be, Xie knows that she is not alone on the journey. “I know that I will be working with the community. This is not something I can accomplish alone. Change is only possible when the whole community comes together — works together — to make it a reality.”