Student Speaker

Colette Smith '23

Student Speaker

Colette Smith

Colette Smith was just 11 days old when passenger jets collided with Manhattan’s Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001—but the events of that day and their aftermath shaped her childhood, curiosity and ultimately, her professional path.

“The events of 9/11 and everything that followed were discussed a lot by my parents when I was younger,” said Smith. “I think people had different experiences with 9/11 and for some, it wasn’t as big of a deal. But it fundamentally impacted the world I grew up in, and I wanted to better understand that.”

Graduating with a dual degree in government and politics and psychology, and a minor in global terrorism studies, Smith cultivated an interest in politics and government into a passion at Maryland, buoyed by her experiences in UMD’s University Honors program, as a teaching assistant in national security policy and through the Federal Fellows program.

Smith immersed herself in the intricacies of national security, international relations and diplomacy through internships at the National Defense University and the Embassy of Jordan, where she prepared analysis briefs around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and also witnessed the efforts of world leaders to secure diplomacy and peace, a source of optimism for Smith in a field often marred by violence.

In 2022, She took a summer internship with Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), where she researched the radicalization of domestic extremists and terrorism activities, including the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, and helped map how political extremism had penetrated America. Her attention to detail and drive, said START Junior Data Collection Specialist Alena Akers, prompted leadership to keep Smith on through her senior year.

“It was clear from the outset that Colette had a deep interest in the work we did,” said Akers. “We're very proud of her achievements, and, frankly, not at all surprised, as her hardworking and curious nature perfectly aligns with the path she's on.”

Smith will spend this summer in Morocco on a Critical Language Scholarship followed by a year in Jerusalem as a Fulbright Scholar. With sights on a career in diplomatic service, she will enroll in the master’s program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service when she returns to the U.S. in 2024.