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Center for Professional Development
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Dartmouth College
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Alumni Stories: Victoria Smith '78

A Daughter of Dartmouth by Lisa Birzen '03


Vicki Smith truly has green blood running through her veins. Dartmouth green, that is.

Arriving at Dartmouth College in the fall of 1974, Smith, a Geography and Environmental Studies major, had no idea that her four-year stay on campus would turn into a life-long commitment to the Upper Valley community.

Having spent summers in New England, she cites Dartmouth's "rural area, challenging academic environment and good location to ski" for putting the school on her map of college choices.

She was particularly moved by the unity existing between the school and the surrounding town. Other places she visited showed a "distinct demarcation between the campus and the community," and she appreciated the fact that "the two were intertwined here." She took advantage of the beautiful outdoors while living in off-campus housing, thus strengthening her relationship to her natural surroundings.

Going into college, she always knew she wanted to pursue a career in the field of environmental design. Her exact focus, however, would be determined by her choice of classes and her life experiences following graduation.

The defining moment of her academic experiences came during sophomore summer when she participated in the Geography department's off-campus program called The Stretch.

As part of the project, she conducted survey work for a non-profit regional planning commission called Two Rivers Out of Quechee, working with forty year-round households in Vershire, VT. She learned about survey instruments and land use controls and studied how these families related to their landscape.

In addition, that summer she worked in the New Hampshire and Maine region of the Northern Forest, exposing herself to a "whole line of inquiry [she] hadn't considered before."

The timing could not have been more conducive to exploring these environmental interests. During the 1960s, people began to become more aware of human effects on the ecosystem and "beautification and litter concerns" became more prominent.

Due to this environmental emphasis, both inside and outside of Dartmouth, Smith knew that it was "important to find a job where [she] could affect change." She aimed to, "maintain environmental quality and make things better for the bunnies, bees and people."

She mentions University of Colorado's Environmental Design major as a good option for her to have considered, given her academic curiosity. The technical aspect of the program, however, did not completely appeal to Smith, who claims, "there's so much more to schooling than just professional interests."

In retrospect, she is pleased with her decision to go to Dartmouth and despite the fact that Environmental Studies was not yet a full department but only a program at that time, she was nonetheless able to obtain an enriching educational background for the career path that lay ahead.

After graduating a term early, she remained in the Hanover area, working at Peter Christian's, a restaurant formerly located at 35 South Main Street, and as a Map Librarian at the College's Baker Library.

She admits being somewhat "antsy about not getting a real job for nine months after graduation" but recognizes now that "things don't really happen like you think they should." Out of all the "many paths, people find something that ultimately works for them," she confirms.

In her quest for her particular path in life, Smith possessed the strength to investigate any idea and follow any lead, and encourages others to be able to do the same.

Commuting daily from Orford, NH to campus, and seeing the same people driving on the same roads, Smith considered investigating potentially harmful effects of transportation on the environment. Pursuing this line of reasoning, however, she found it too quantitative for her tastes, and opted instead to focus on land planning.

She also advises students to "not be afraid to quit." It is important to set goals and achieve them but equally so, it is crucial to be honest with yourself and others and get out of situations and work commitments if they do not pan out as you had hoped.

She recalls persistently contacting a company in downtown Boston, MA for five months in the hopes of working for them. Two days after she was finally hired, it became clear that although she "really liked the work," she didn't feel a connection with the people whose land development she was supposed to be planning and supervising.

Despite her apprehension at appearing a "wishy-washy female," she made the important decision to leave, allowing her to ultimately find a much more suitable working environment.

After college she says she initially had no intention to go back to school, exclaiming, "I was finished!" "Getting feedback on [her] skills and where [she] could find a job," however, revealed to her that she wasn't "liking the responses, salary levels and commitment she had to make."

"Applying to graduate school was a desperation move," she confesses. Although she "enjoyed working at the Library," she says: I had more energy and ambition and didn't want to sort 40,000 pages until I was eighty!

Deferring graduate school for two years in the hopes of finding a decent place to live in Boston, she eventually attended Harvard University in pursuit of a Master degree in City and Regional Planning, graduating in 1982.

Despite the fact that the entire class received the same academic preparation in the program, Smith marvels at how she and her classmates implemented their interests quite differently. One of Smith's classmates went on to develop Coney Island in New York City, while another focuses on septic systems.

Smith knows that, as the saying goes, people can make a place, but they can also ruin and destroy it and it was important for her to work with people whose care and concerns for their surroundings mirrored hers.

Thus, her own interests took her back to Hanover, by way of the North Country Council in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Her experiences at Dartmouth not only introduced her to a world of career opportunities she would pursue but helped prepare her for handling her future male coworkers as well.

Coming from a Quaker Friends School in Philadelphia, PA, she "never thought about gender issues," and admits she did "not know the implications about [Dartmouth] becoming co-ed recently," just three years earlier in 1972.

The male dominated society at Dartmouth, however, helped her to establish herself and gain respect and recognition from her male colleagues in Northern New Hampshire, "who weren't used to having professional women planners."

"Being a woman, especially a professional one, you need to be certain of yourself," and Dartmouth helped provide her with the necessary skills to show herself to her fullest potential.

Today, she happily works as the Hanover Town Planner in the Hanover Town Hall at 41 South Main Street and resides a short drive away in the town of Hanover. Her current duties include issuing permits, performing site assessments, working with the land, figuring out efficient land use and "developing the land with a light touch," as opposed to bulldozing the entire place.

With age "what you care about changes," she says. Now married with three children, she is pleased with her office's 'family-friendly' environment, which allows her to pick up her kids after school and help out with their homework before heading back for occasional evening meetings.

It was a not a difficult decision to move back to this area: when given the option, she willingly took a pay and responsibility cut to allow for the relocation to happen. "I care a lot about Hanover," Smith says and believes, "everyone should be so lucky to live in a place like this."

Working in such familiar surroundings, Smith admits to "falling into the trap of 'I remember when...'" "The College has ambitious plans for larger scale buildings, but it would be nice to have some un-programmed, wild land" around as well, Smith explains.

Smith worries most about College Park - the location of the BEMA, Observatory and Bartlett Tower. This "highest spot on campus has been developed all around," and Smith believes that it "should not be cluttered too much."

Dartmouth and its environment have instilled Smith with a sense of appreciation and respect for natural surroundings, which she applies to her work. As a product of all that Dartmouth has to offer, Smith gives her alma mater the ultimate contribution: ensuring that the College's beauty remains to motivate and inspire current and future generations of students.

Last Updated: 6/21/12