The college seed was planted during Ethan Smith’s sophomore year in high school. He and his class at Los Angeles’ Verbum Dei High took part in a program at Loyola Marymount University that introduces students to science and engineering. When Smith graduates in May 2011, with a degree in civil engineering, he will look back with pride in his accomplishments and gratitude for the encouragement he got along the way. LMU was not the first choice for Smith, a native Angeleno. He was a defensive and offensive lineman on a state championship football team and he was looking to play at a larger school. (LMU has not fielded a football team since 1971.) But while he was looking elsewhere, his high school counselor, an LMU alumnus, kept talking to him about the university. Then, Smith took part in SECOP, the Science and Engineering Outreach Program. The campus appealed to him and the program let him see the academic possibilities open to him. During his senior year in high school, Smith attended a panel discussion at Verbum Dei that featured LMU science and engineering students. The discussion, arranged by Dean Richard G. Plumb, made a big impression on Smith.
world of opportunity
Still, his decision to come to LMU was made at the last minute. But it’s a decision he’s glad he made. “LMU has opened up a world of opportunities for me,” said Smith. “I’ve been able to meet all kinds of people and I love the school. The Engineering Department is great.” Smith’s easy smile doesn’t give a hint of the determination that got him through LMU. He’s the third of four children raised by his mother, Barbara, in a rough part of the city. While his brothers and many of his schoolmates went down the gang road, Smith set his sight on college. It was something he wanted to do not just for the sake of his own future, but for the happiness that it would bring his mother. “College has not been easy,” Smith said, “but despite the many adversities that I have faced while here at LMU, I’m proud to say that I can see the finish line and my hard work has paid off.” He has had several on-campus jobs during his time at LMU, but it was his work in the Undergraduate Admission Office that means the most to him. “The students I’ve come across really don’t know about college,” Smith said. “They really don’t know the importance of it. They don’t see many people in college who came from the same neighborhood. I want to inspire them to go to college.” Smith said that after graduation he hopes to establish a nonprofit that works with African-American boys to encourage them to go to college, with a primary focus on the science and engineering disciplines. “I’ve been helped so much in my life; this is a way I can give back.”