For most people, getting into Harvard would be a big accomplishment. To go on to be one of the university’s top students would be an even bigger feat – especially when you’re from a little-known city off the coast of Canada.
But that’s what Campbell River’s Meghan Smith, 21, has done. After a gruelling four years at Harvard University, she’s just four months away from graduation and she’s thriving in the Ivy Leagues.
Smith was recently named one of the 22 Most Impressive Students at Harvard by Business Insider for her work in tearing down the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Smith said it’s humbling to be recognized from among the 20,000 plus students who attend the school.
“There are so many incredible students at Harvard, so to be named as one of the most impressive is a great honour,” she said while at home in Campbell River on a break before classes resume Jan. 28. “I was surprised.”
Smith was selected by Business Insider for her work with the Student Mental Health liaisons (SMHL), in which she’s striving to let students know it’s okay to ask for help with stress or mental illness.
Smith joined the group of peer educators during her first semester at Harvard – in the fall of 2009 – became the recruitment and marketing chair in 2011 and co-president in 2012. As a peer educator, she has helped organized and implement mental health events, panels and campaigns, speaker events, depression screenings and freshmen workshops.
Her work with Student Mental Health also earned her the prestigious David and Mimi Aloian Memorial Scholarship last year. As one of four recipients, Smith was recognized for embodying the leadership traits of the late David and Mimi Aloian and for improving the quality of life in her dorm – Leverett House.
Smith said upon arriving at Harvard it was an easy decision to get involved with Student Mental Health because “a lot of people I truly care about have been affected by mental health disorders and the stigma surrounding mental health.”
In the same fashion, during her second year at Harvard, she also became a Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisor, trained to educate on alcohol and other drugs and to raise awareness of responsible drinking practices and bystander intervention.
“Similar to my reason for joining SMHL, I have multiple people who are very close to me, who have suffered from addiction problems,” Smith said. “My interests in neuroscience, combined with my personal experiences, drew me towards this group.”
Her interests in science and human health have also led her to pursue medical school, the next step for Smith after her graduation from Harvard this May.
Smith, who studies neurobiology, global health and health policy, and German, wants to be a doctor.
It comes natural to Smith, who has always been helping others.
Before going off to Boston for university, Smith was involved in various activities here in Campbell River, ranging from Timberline’s Interact and Global Issues clubs to the city’s Youth Advisory Committee to volunteering at Yucalta Lodge. In her spare time, she took dance classes at CR DanceXtreme.
Smith applied to Harvard after some ribbing from a high school friend while at Timberline.
“I had a friend in high school who would joke with me about getting good grades,” Smith said. “He’d nudge me and say ‘Harvard, Megs, Harvard?’ when I’d get exams back in class,” Smith said. “One day I went home from school and started looking into Harvard, and thought, ‘why not apply? You never know…’”
She was accepted and she’s enjoyed every minute of her experience.
“I could talk for days about (Harvard),” Smith said. “I am constantly learning and meeting new people from all around the world. My experiences at Harvard have been incredible. The diversity of the Harvard community allows me to constantly learn both in and out of the classroom. There is a lot of support in the college community. There is a sense of feeling that you will be supported in whatever you pursue.”
Still, she said it’s nice to run into a fellow Canuck.
“Some of my most exciting times are when I meet other Canadians, particularly from Western Canada since there aren’t too many of us,” Smith said. “I can tell them I’m from Campbell River, rather than just Canada or Vancouver Island, and they know exactly where it is.”
Despite the size of the school, Smith said she’s also been able to get to know her professors.
“They’re available and willing to meet with students, giving us the opportunity to get to know them outside of the classroom,” she said. “They’re such interesting and accomplished individuals who seem to be genuinely interested in and passionate for the subjects they teach.”
So is Smith, as is evident by the recognition she’s receiving.
But it doesn’t come easy. On top of Smith’s obligations as a Student Mental Health liaison and Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisory, she is also on her dorm’s intramural crew women’s boat, part of Women in Science at Harvard-Radcliffe, and a member of the Harvard Canadian Club.