Ellen Smith '80

Publication Date
Ellen Smith '80

Ellen Smith '80 earned a BSME from Union, where her favorite class was “Dynamics” with Professor Panlilio and her favorite experiences were playing field hockey and skiing. She grew up in Woodstock, N.Y., and now splits her time between Killington, Vt. and Putnam Station, N.Y. (Lake George). Ellen is a senior managing director at FTI Consulting.

How did you find Union and why did you choose to attend?

My mother was influential on making sure I attended a “good” college. My parents never went to college but made sure my brother, sister and I would go to college. Many of my parents’ friends always spoke to us about college as well. This included our Ulster County attorney, Abe (Abram) Molyneaux ’44. Abe was a great friend and he introduced me to the idea of going to Union.

Who were your mentors and how important was their guidance?

My mentors included my advisor and my professor whom I worked for on my work study program and so many others. These relationships were all extremely important to me.

Students often feel pressure to do well in college. Did you feel any particular pressure?

Of course, I came from a rural/central high school in the Catskills. At the time not many students went to college. I was on a significant student financial aid package, so it was critical to do well. I also had 3 jobs, which was not the norm. Juggling jobs and engineering classes was always stressful but thinking back, I don’t think I would have changed anything.

Where did you feel most seen on campus? Most invisible?

I lived in Smith House for two years. This house was a women’s “coop,” and I was one of the house stewards. As a coop, we planned and ate dinners together. I really liked doing this job and got to know all my housemates extremely well. Anytime food is involved – what you do is visible. We all had a blast living at Smith House.

I never really felt like I completely fit in well at fraternities but did attend parties.

Have you provided any mentorship yourself, academically or otherwise?

I speak with students who reach out frequently. I encourage them to continue to seek learning experiences outside of Union as well.

What made you click? Where did you find your niche? What experience made you feel like you belonged at Union?

As I mentioned above, it was when I moved to Smith House that I felt like I belonged. This was in my sophomore/junior years. Freshman year for me was very challenging. I was working and trying to understand what engineering was and studying pretty much all the time. When I moved to Smith House, I also met a woman who turned out be a great friend. This also made a tremendous difference in how I felt at Union.

Do you feel your Union experience differed from that of your peers? If so, how?

This is a hard question. I think everyone experiences Union individually. My professors, as I recall, were great and so helpful, and for that I will always be thankful. And Union was so critical to my first post-graduate job at GE, where I spent the next 20 years. I can’t express how grateful I am for Union paving the way for that transition.

A graphic that says being a first generation college student

Students and alumni share their experiences as the first in their families to attend college.

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Were there any programs or people at Union who really made a difference to you, either academically or personally?

I was very fortunate and able to do a term abroad in socialized medicine. This trip was really life changing. (Our leader let me be an assistant so I could still get paid, even!) Our trip went to London, Stockholm and Poland. We did a trip to Auschwitz that was just the most sobering experience I have, to this day, ever had. I truly feel every student should have the opportunity to do a term abroad for these reasons.


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