Doctor of Psychology, Mediation and Conflict Resolution specialization
“My calling in life is to serve as a model of leadership to young women who have been abused, neglected, ill, or shunned."Against all odds, Maria R. Smith is working toward her Doctor of Psychology, Mediation and Conflict Resolution specialization, on campus at University of the Rockies. She is the first female in her family to go to college.
Maria’s journey to University of the Rockies was a difficult one. She grew up a first-generation Italian-American, the eldest of five children. She did not speak any English when she first began elementary school in the states, so feelings of isolation began at a very young age. Throughout her childhood and into her adulthood, she was often the victim of bullying. She also faced numerous health challenges, including anemia, triple scoliosis, and several major surgeries. Through all those experiences, she found herself turning inwardly, but at the same time, finding a growing power to overcome whatever obstacles came her way, whether they were cultural, physical, or emotional.
At the age of 31, Maria received her direct commission into the United States Air Force Reserve and began her service as a Health Professions Officer. She served for 16 years before losing her job due to health reasons in 2009, which devastated her. “Along with feeling inadequate, I felt the same feelings of isolation I felt as a child, and I let anger consume me, especially because I could no longer work, be a viable spouse, or even feel adequate as a student.”
Maria and her husband went from a full double-income household down to living solely off her husband’s salary. The time period that followed was financially and emotionally unstable. In retrospect, however, Maria believes this period is when she fully realized she was a survivor. She says, “Movement is vital to surviving personal obstacles one encounters in life. It is the impetus for creating character and personal fortitude. A person’s character is defined by how they react to life’s curveballs, not by the number of curveballs that come their way.
Through all the challenges and obstacles she has faced, Maria is very proud to be moving along in her Doctoral program with clear visions of how she would like to help others. She is focused on helping young women and children see that nothing is impossible, and says, “My calling in life is to serve as a model of leadership to young women who have been abused, neglected, ill, or shunned. It is my hope to spearhead programs throughout the country where women have mentors from childhood on. I want to help young women go further than they ever imagined.”
When she is not furthering her education, Maria participates in art shows and helps with an arts organization in Colorado Springs, CO called Finding Our Voices, which is made up of survivors of sexual assault. She recently attended an international conference for combating human trafficking and has plans to use her creative skills to specifically help women and children who have been victims of human trafficking. She is interested in sharing the spirit of victory in survival with those who have physical disabilities as well. A story she wrote about her own health issues entitled “Training with the Spirit of a Champion” is featured on the Lifetime Fitness website.
Maria advises current and prospective students to never give up on their dreams, regardless of what obstacles they face. She says, “I have learned that it is easy to want to quit and throw in the towel. However, by continuing to move along on the journey, one begins to view life from a different lens; a lens that offers a perspective that could not have otherwise been gained without the experience.”