Abigail Smith, of Cleveland, Ohio, says she lives by the words of renowned cellist Pablo Casals: “To live is not enough; we must take part.”
It’s a mentality that the 2017 Undergraduate Student of the Year carried through her four years at Virginia Tech, and one she plans to maintain after graduating in May with a bachelor’s in industrial and systems engineering from the College of Engineering.
An honors student with a minor in green engineering, Smith co-founded Service Without Borders, a transdisciplinary, student-led service organization with a mission to share the spirit of Virginia Tech's motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), locally and globally by partnering with communities in need through cross cultural exchanges.
Under Smith’s leadership, the group raised more than $125,000 in funding and launched projects at home and abroad, including a partnership with an earthquake-affected and culturally Tibetan community in the Himalayas of Nepal.
Smith was one of three students who traveled to Nepal in January 2016 to assess sites damaged in the 2015 earthquakes and aftershocks. While there, she met with community partners, signed a memorandum of understanding, and collected data to prepare for a subsequent trip.
“Through her grace, confidence, drive, teamwork, and unending enthusiasm, Abby has, in two short years, steered Service Without Borders into a major student organization that has made a real impact both internationally and locally,” said Deb Eason, administrative advisor to Service Without Borders and global engagement specialist in the College of Engineering. “Abby is uncompromising in her dedication being a responsible, global citizen.”
Outside of school and Service Without Borders, Smith is an avid reader and National Public Radio listener, a two-time summer intern for Deloitte Consulting LLP, and first violinist in the New River Valley Symphony Orchestra.
Smith credits her musical upbringing with initially broadening her understanding of the world.
“From an early age, I was playing violin for veterans, hospital patients, and elders in diverse communities,” Smith said. “It opened my eyes to the world that existed beyond my family, school, friends, and teammates.”
At the same time, Smith says the contrast of growing up just outside of the industrial city of Cleveland while frequently visiting nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park ignited a deep appreciation for the environment.
In college, Smith blended her global mindset with her passion for green engineering and public policy through Service Without Borders, her coursework, and a wintermester spent abroad in New Zealand learning about resource conservation and sustainability.
For Smith, a winner of both the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering’s 2017 Don Taylor Outstanding Leadership Award and the College of Engineering’s Davenport Leadership Scholarship, it was the opportunity to expand her boundaries beyond the classroom — to take her part — that defined her time at Virginia Tech.
“We are here to learn so much more than just what our degree teaches us,” Smith said. “We’re here to become informed citizens of the world and see how we can apply what we’re learning to make a meaningful impact.”
The Virginia Tech Undergraduate Student of the Year award recognizes a graduating student who has achieved overall excellence during his or her undergraduate career at the university. The recognition is the most prestigious nonacademic undergraduate award given at Virginia Tech and is awarded to a student who has exceptional and balanced achievement in academics, leadership, and service. The recipient exemplifies the qualities and values important to a Virginia Tech education, captured in the university motto, Ut Prosim.
Written by Erica Corder