Taos Pueblo student earns top community college honors

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Samuel J. Smith III, of Taos Pueblo, has been named a 2017 New Century scholar, placing him among the top 200 community college students in the country.

Smith will be graduating next month from the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, located in Albuquerque, with associate degrees in both pre-engineering and geospatial information technology.

More than 1,800 students were nominated from more than 1,000 community colleges for the New Century Scholars program, which is sponsored by the Coca-Cola Foundation, Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, Phi Theta Kappa and the American Association of Community Colleges, according to a press release from the institute.

The award came after Smith achieved the state of New Mexico’s highest score in the All-USA Community College Academic Team competition. Scoring was based on academic accomplishments – he has a 3.96 GPA – course load, essays, community service and recommendations from professors. Smith is also the outgoing 2016 student of the year at the institute.

Smith, 29, is the son of Valentina L. Romero and Samuel J. Smith Jr. and a member of Taos Pueblo, with Navajo and Acoma Pueblo heritage.

“Back when I was in high school, I just couldn’t find my niche in the public school system,” Smith told The Taos News in a recent interview. After dropping out, he worked for several surveying companies in both Taos and Colorado.

“I really got into surveying because I like the physical and technological aspects of it. We’re outside most of the day, but then you come back to the office to draft maps and clarify the geo-data. It was a good fit,” he said.

Smith was accepted to New Mexico State University in Las Cruces to pursue a bachelor’s degree in surveying engineering. Though he doesn’t start that program until the fall, he’s already eyeing a master’s degree in civil engineering and potentially a doctorate in physics.

“There are a lot of things I want to do – yes, open my own surveying company, but I also want to continue on and bring back programs to our youth there in Taos so they know there’s these different options, not just in STEM, but in higher learning, too. We have some very creative individuals who could definitely lend a hand in the engineering field that can get a little drab sometimes,” he said.

Smith thanked his community that shaped him; his academic adviser, Andrew Stratton; Phi Theta Kappa adviser, Jim Snyder; and instructors Massoudi Ahghar and Nader Vadiee.

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