Few students would turn down the Marshall Scholarship. Then again, few students have traipsed through the mountains of Afghanistan disarming rural warlords. And Whitney Haring-Smith ’07 isn’t most students.
Having both founded a political action group on campus and traveled abroad to work with different United Nations commissions, Haring-Smith is actively working to affect meaningful change both in New Haven and the global community. And he did, indeed, refuse the prestigious British scholarship, but only because he chose to accept the Rhodes Scholarship instead.
Though his scope is broad, Haring-Smith said all of his work has focused on acheiving “real, tangible goals.”
“Focusing on tangible results is very important to me,” he said. “It makes my work more satisfying.”
This sentiment is perhaps the common thread that links the many projects on Haring-Smith’s lengthy and impressive resume. The summer after his freshman year, Haring-Smith interned for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the Protection Unit of the Representative Office in Sri Lanka. For three months the young Rhode Island native wrote emergency refugee resettlement briefings, figuring out how to get refugees and Internally Displaced Peoples back to their homes.
This past summer, Haring-Smith reprised his work with the U.N., this time acting as a summer operations assistant in Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme. Hired after merely sending in an e-mail, he worked in 10 different provinces collecting ammo and helping improve the oversight of ammunition depots. Haring-Smith said the weaponry he helped to bring in was primarily older ammunition from the 1980s and 1990s, most often in the form of helicopter rockets, anti-tank artillery rounds and rocket propelled grenades — all forms of ammo Haring-Smith said are generally used to make IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices; in other words roadside bombs).
On a particularly challenging assignment while in Afghanistan, Haring-Smith said, they had to use donkeys to transport ammunition down a rural and rather treacherous trail that was inaccessible by car.
“It was the first time the U.N. had done this in Afghanistan, and my team and I created the standard for transporting ammo by animal,” he said.
This innovative spirit has prevailed in Haring-Smith’s stateside work as well: At the end of his sophomore year, in May 2005, he founded New Haven Action to enable students to work on important policy issues even after election time.
New Haven Action partnered with CTCleanEnergyOptions to help enlist more homeowners to participate in the program, which allows residences and businesses to support clean electricity generation by spending an additional one cent per kilowatt hour for their electricity. Just last year, a New Haven Action member organized a light bulb distribution effort in the Dwight neighborhood to improve street lighting — and therefore, hopefully reduce crime — in the community. These projects certainly adhere to Haring-Smith’s desire to be involved with work that effects concrete changes.
“[New Haven Action] is designed around achievable and tangible results. I can tell you how many light bulbs were distributed in the Dwight neighborhoods and how many homes have signed up for clean energy. Campaigns with very real results makes it more gratifying for the people involved.”
After graduating from Yale this May with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Political Science Department, Haring-Smith will begin working on his doctorate in politics at Oxford this October. Although he is unsure where he will go after the U.K., he said he hopes to return to Afghanistan before eventually settling down in Washington D.C. Mayor DeStefano’s campaign spokesman Derek Slap said he expects to see great things from Haring-Smith — perhaps even a bid for the presidency.
“He’ll be a force to be reckoned with no matter what he does,” Slap said. “He certainly has the drive [to run for president], he’s certainly smart enough and committed enough.”