Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Merrimack Grads Consider Constituents, Coefficients and Graduation

By Alysa (Obert) Seeland
Gordon College News Service
(This story appeared Sunday, May 22, 2011, in a series for the Boston Globe North print and online editions.)

North Andover—Grade-conscious students with interests in physics, finance and math are not usually considered likely candidates for government personalities. Yet this is exactly how Timmy Smith and Scott Pirrello landed the most influential student positions at Merrimack College.

As president of the Student Government Association (SGA), Smith, 21, of Needham, MA, graduated May 21 with a bachelor’s degree in math and physics. As senior class president, Pirrello, 22, of Westin, MA, graduated with a degree in finance. Because of their combined work ethic and leadership, SGA won the College’s Outstanding Club Award in 2011, and Smith received the Outstanding Student Award for his efforts with SGA.

Since coming to Merrimack, Smith participated in SGA and decided early on he would one day be president. He hoped to increase the group’s visibility on campus and reinforce its mission. During his term, Smith launched a poster campaign that put SGA in the spotlight year-round.

“People should know who represents them and now SGA is cool again,” said Smith.

While Smith maintains that he just put a magnifying glass to the initiatives SGA accomplished all along, Laura Flynn, assistant director of student involvement at Merrimack, said that in the six years she has been in her position, SGA has never had the presence it does today.

“Timmy is at every campus event and puts himself out there to promote Merrimack pride amongst the student body,” said Flynn. “He has influenced a large number of underclassmen to be leaders.”

While the two had little interaction outside of government policy, Smith acknowledged that Pirrello’s charge of the senior class was a large part of the year’s success. They established new events and collaborated to create campus-wide breaks for students.

For instance, contrary to what his pocket protector and 4G iPhone might suggest, Pirrelo wanted seniors to have fun. So he planned a trip for the entire senior class to the casino resort Mohegan Sun in November, and also supported the campus-wide Ludacris concert in April.

“I believe that leadership is motivating and inspiring people to perform at their highest level,” said Pirrello. “Part of the reason we were so effective is that we enabled people to be their best while having a ton of fun.”

Faculty and staff also acknowledged Smith and Pirrello as a testimony to what could happen in a small college community, since Merrimack is a private Catholic with 1,800 undergraduate students.

And both Pirrello and Smith admitted that the attention and support they received from faculty and staff were what made them able to take on such demanding leadership roles.

“It is a pleasure watching Scott translate his academic success into opportunities he creates,” said Jane Parent, professor of business and mentor to Pirello, who said she admired his ability to shift his tenacious academic pursuits to real-world positions. “He is one of those rare students that makes me want to be a better teacher.”

Pirello’s plans for the future mirror this shift. Upon his acceptance to Copenhagen Business School, ranked third to Harvard and London, he deferred to pursue business initiatives in Austin, Texas.

“I just read in Forbes magazine that Austin was the best climate for graduating professionals,” said Pirrello. “Given my adventurous spirit I decided to go somewhere new before heading to grad school.”

Smith’s path is less clear. Caught between his love for political policy and mathematical proofs, he is keeping his options open.

“I’m having somewhat of an identity crisis,” said Smith. “Ever since I graduated high school I wanted to be a math teacher but now, my love and success in SGA have me considering governance.”

In fact, Smith admits it was hard for him when the new SGA president was elected since so much of his identity was his work with SGA this year. But as they prepare to leave, Smith and Pirrello are proud of all the effort they’ve given.

“There is no better feeling that walking out of a place where you know you’ve left your mark for the better,” said Pirrello.

 “And that we have left a bit of ourselves in order to inspire others to do the same,” added Smith.

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