Duke University | Baldwin Scholars Program

Sierra Smith


Sierra Smith

 My parents named me after the Sierra Nevada Mountains hoping that I would love the outdoors, and – after growing up in California – how could I not? Living in the Bay Area allowed me to spend summer afternoons at the beach in Santa Cruz, enjoy camping at Big Sur and Yosemite, and go skiing near Lake Tahoe. Every summer from when I was about 10 to 15 years old, my family would spend one week at a dude ranch and then visit a nearby national park. A dude ranch is a large ranch that is designed for visitors and gives guests the opportunity to enjoy many outdoor activities including horseback riding, rodeo games, hiking, white water rafting, fly fishing, archery, and target shooting. My dude ranch and national park visits strengthened my love of outdoor activities and have taken me to ranches in California, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, and Montana.

In addition to visiting dude ranches, I have been fortunate enough to travel to many other places both in and out of the country. My favorite travel destinations include the Atlantis hotel in the Bahamas, The Grand Wailea hotel in Maui, Puerto Rico, and Italy. While I love to ski, I definitely prefer warm vacation spots, and I always try to visit new places so that I can see as much of the world as possible.

As part of my travels, I have also taken two philanthropic trips to Tanzania, during which I taught English at a local primary school in the mornings and tutored at an orphanage (Friends of Tanzanian Orphans) in the afternoon. My experiences in Tanzania have inspired me to help others, which I continue to do through local philanthropic opportunities when I get the chance. Throughout middle school and high school I was a member of National Charity League, a mother-daughter volunteer organization that does local philanthropy. Through this organization I was able to give a lot back to my community and also strengthen my bond with my mom.

Aside from traveling and philanthropy, I also enjoy playing volleyball, photography, reading, and writing. In high school I wrote my school’s newspaper, serving as co-editor of the specialty section during my senior year. The section was centered around service-journalism, or providing advice to the student body. The experience taught me a lot about leadership, organization, and I also learned a lot about my school and community in the process.

After spending 18 years as a California resident, I wanted to experience a new environment and decided to pursue my college education on the east coast. I was drawn to Duke by the wealth of opportunities offered here, and, so far, it has surpassed my expectations. I am inspired every day by the incredible passion I see in my professors and fellow students, especially the amazing women in the Baldwin Scholars program.  My fellow scholars have opened my eyes and taught me so much through their unique perspectives, and have also given me incredible support that I know will help me flourish throughout the rest of my time here and even after graduation.

I discovered my passion for computer science during my senior year of high school while taking AP Computer Science, and am pursuing a BS in computer science here at Duke. I guess it’s not surprising given that both my parents work in the technology industry. I love the challenge of developing new programs and the satisfaction I get when I complete a program.

In addition to pursuing my own degree, I hope to find a way to introduce this field to more women and increase the percentage of women who pursue computer science at Duke. I’m also earning a minor in statistics and a certificate in Markets and Management. Outside of class I enjoy playing on the women’s club volleyball team and taking photos for Duke’s yearbook, the Chanticleer.

I’m happy to answer any questions about the Baldwin Scholars Program, Duke University, or anything else I’ve mentioned by email at sierra.smith@duke.edu.