Senior wins competitive national scholarship for women pursuing U.S. national security and defense careers

Maureen Smolskis ’15 has won an $11,000 Women in Defense HORIZONS Scholarship.
Maureen Smolskis ’15 has won an $11,000 Women in Defense HORIZONS Scholarship.

Maureen Smolskis ’15 was only 8 when two hijacked passenger jets slammed into the World Trade Center.

And she was just one year older when the Beltway snipers terrorized her town in Maryland.

Even at such a young age, these major events affected Smolskis — and set her career path.

Smolskis, a standout international relations major and scholar in Connecticut College’s Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, has won an $11,000 Women in Defense HORIZONS Scholarship that will help her wrap up her studies at the College this year.

She hopes to enroll in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Officer Candidate School next year and pursue a career in national security.

“This is a very competitive national award,” said Government and International Relations Professor William Rose, who is advising Smolskis on her senior honors thesis. “Mo thrives with the challenges. She really wants to understand. She has drive, determination and discipline.”

Why national security? The question takes Smolskis back to her childhood in Kensington, Md., and the two terror attacks.

“In both instances I saw adults in my life terrified, but they refused to explain what exactly was happening,” Smolskis said. “Not knowing what was happening — and seeing the strongest people I know scared — really affected me.”

Later, Smolskis learned more about national security while listening to NPR with her dad during her half-hour commute to and from school.

“I became interested in many of the debates surrounding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At some point in high school I figured out I wanted to be an international relations major.”

Smolskis thought she’d do something with human rights. But after taking Rose’s “Introduction to International Relations” course, with its heavy focus on security studies, she decided to stick with those issues because of her longstanding interest in them.

Smolskis is one of only four women nationally to receive 2014-15 HORIZONS Scholarships from WID, a nonprofit networking and development organization for defense industry professionals. Awards are based on academic achievement, participation in defense and national security activities, work experience and financial need.

Smolskis is using her grant this semester to wrap up her studies at Conn. She plans to graduate in December — a semester ahead of her class.

For her honors thesis, she is following up on work done by counterinsurgency expert John A. Nagl on the effectiveness of Army and Marine Corps tactics in Vietnam. “Mo said, ‘What about the Coast Guard?’” Rose said. As part of her research, she is consulting with staff across Route 32 at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Smolskis is applying to the OCS program because she wants to use what she has learned about national security at Conn to increase the safety and security of U.S. citizens, especially on waterways. She also hopes to continue studying the role the Coast Guard can play in unconventional warfare.

Rose said Smolskis took full advantage of Conn’s offerings — courses that helped her develop a diverse and deep understanding across disciplines, outstanding language programs, study abroad, a nationally recognized career-planning program and the CISLA interdisciplinary program. Smolskis also took advantage of every opportunity to have drafts read by professors before she submitted final versions of papers, he said.

Her College-funded internship was at the U.S. embassy in Peru, where she worked as an assistant to foreign service officers. Smolskis said she chose Conn for its strong international relations program and for the College’s Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA).

“I have learned how to think in a variety of ways and to work with diverse groups of people. This not only made me a good candidate for the HORIZONS scholarship, but will help me in my future career,” she said. “My experiences at Conn and through the programs here have prepared me for the Coast Guard or for whatever my future career will be.”

She also chose Conn for its location.

“My parents are both from Connecticut and my mom's family has gone to the beach in East Lyme every summer since my mom was little, so this area is like my second home,” Smolskis said.

“I knew I wanted a small school close to the water and to my grandparents homes and Conn fit that perfectly. Once I heard about CISLA, I was hooked. I compared every other school I visited to Conn and none were quite as good of a fit for me.”

November 5, 2014