From Detroit to Houghton to Japan

Chanavia Smith is getting ready for a year of study in Japan.
Chanavia Smith is getting ready for a year of study in Japan.

It’s a long way from Detroit to Houghton, Mich., and it’s even farther to Osaka, Japan, but distances don’t seem to faze Chanavia Smith. As a teenager, she left her home in Detroit to travel nearly 500 miles north by northwest to attend Michigan Technological University on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This fall, she’s off to Japan, where she’ll study international relations, international law and Japanese for the coming school year. 

Smith won a competitive national Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to support a year of study in Japan. The Gilman Scholarships offer grants for academic studies abroad to US undergraduates with limited financial means. The program’s goal is to better prepare US students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world.

Smith’s personal goal is to motivate more students of color to participate in study abroad programs.  “During the 2010-2011 academic year, only seven students of color from Michigan Tech studied abroad,” she said in her scholarship application. “These numbers need to increase.”

Smith, who works part-time in the University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), plans to help CDI develop an interactive web site that will enable students to envision themselves immersed in another culture. The web site will also answer questions about studying abroad, air video journals by students about their own overseas study experiences, and provide access to resources—including financial aid information—for students who want to explore their own options for international study.

A third-year student in Michigan Tech’s College of Science and Arts, Smith is majoring in social sciences with a concentration in law and society and a double minor in diversity studies and international studies. She is looking toward a career in international relations or international law.

Japan began to tug on Smith as she got to know Saho Komeda, a Japanese exchange student who studied at Michigan Tech a couple of years ago.  “I like the Japanese culture,” says Smith “It seems so welcoming, so interesting.”

She also likes the language, which she is learning through a private tutor. Although her classes in foreign relations and Japanese law at Kwansei Gakuin University in Osaka will be in English, she plans to continue studying the Japanese language too. “And of course that will be taught in Japanese,” she quips.

Smith cuts an active figure on the Michigan Tech campus. In addition to her efforts at the CDI, she is working with 24 down-state community college students this summer in the Michigan College and University Partnership (MiCUP) program, helping them prepare for a successful transition to the university setting.

CDI Director Shezwae Fleming sang Smith’s praises. “Chanavia worked really hard this year, and last summer, she coordinated CDI’s summer trip to Cedar Point all by herself,” said Fleming. “She has served as an officer in so many student organizations. She definitely deserves this award.”

A member of the Women’s Leadership Council, the Japanese Club, the American Indian Science & Engineering Society and the National Society of Black Engineers, Smith served as treasurer of the Black Student Association during the 2011-12 school year.  A Rising Star nominee in 2010, she received a Michigan Tech Student Foundation Scholarship and a Black Student Association Executive Board Appreciation Award.

Smith is a 2009 graduate of Lewis Cass Technical High School and the daughter of Sean L. Smith Sr. and Cherry Smith of Detroit.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.