“Give a man a fish, he’ll live for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll live for a lifetime,” the blonde-haired, bright-eyed junior Hannah Smith said as she discussed long-term growth in developing nations.
Smith is a student at Mercer University with a big heart for service and a love for international travel.
The environmental engineer has already been on two Mercer On Missions (MOM), but she has a long history of international service.
In 2008, her dad took Smith, her sister and a small church group to Honduras for a mission trip. They returned each summer until Smith graduated high school.
They started out just doing a bible study, playing with kids and giving away clothes. Now they build wooden houses. Smith explained that the more she gave away, the more she realized that while giving was “awesome,” there were long-term side effects.
“The more you give, the more they become dependent on you,” Smith said. “But rather than giving away something, you could build them a house, which is much more long-term. Get them off their feet, literally off their backs and feet, and give them a place to call home.”
On an engineering preview day visit before she chose Mercer, Smith recalls that there was a MOM room set up where Laura Lackey, an engineering professor, was talking about water filters in Kenya. She was passionate not just about the work but the people in Kenya, too.
Smith said she stayed in that room for a solid hour. She fell in love with the program and so did her parents.
Her first Mercer On Mission took her to Uganda with Lackey. Smith said this trip changed her mind about a lot of things.
She started out teaching at a school with some other engineers for the first week. She also got to work with water testing.
“Literally, all you do is dip some strips in the water. I don’t know why, but I was just really excited about that,” Smith said.
This past summer Smith was able to join Lackey on the Kenya trip that she had fallen in love with freshmen year. Smith said she could talk about the topic of biosand filters all day.
She also sat down with local families to discuss how the water changes affected their health, income and living situation.
“Engineering life basically consumes your life,” Smith said with a smile. But somehow she still finds time to be a Peer Advisor (PA), play intramural flag football and be involved with the Wesley Foundation of Macon.
Although many students begin working as a PA their junior year, Smith has been a PA for the past two years and is hoping to continue the tradition her senior year.
Smith explained that being a PA is one of her favorite things that she is involved in on campus. She talked especially fondly of summer orientations.
“[Summer orientations] are great even though they’re literally all day long and your feet hurt, but it’s completely worth it,” she said.
She likes seeing her O-groupers grow as they move through college. She has two former O-groupers — one from her sophomore year and one from junior year — in classes with her this semester.
Smith has also been involved in the Wesley Foundation. Last year she led a Bible study, and this year she transitioned into the encouragement team.
She is currently working on monthly birthday parties for Wesley “because, I mean, who doesn’t love birthday parties because birthday parties come with cake and fun music and dancing,” she said.
Part of the reason she is so invested in Wesley is because it has become her home. Her “squad” from freshmen O-group has stuck together and still go to Wesley together.
One of the things that really drew her to Wesley was the worship.
“Katelyn Herman, our worship leader, is always on point,” Smith said.
She added that worshipping together has created a bond that cannot be broken between her and her friends.
Smith will spend another two years at Mercer pursuing her master’s degree.
“As you get older, you have more serious questions like, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ But as you get older in college, the answer to that question becomes, ‘I don’t know.’ You’re just flying by the seats of your pants,” she said.
Her dream is to jump on with an NGO and go overseas to do mission work, especially through energy or clean water.
“We’ll see where God takes me,” she said.