Dr. Carrie Smith got pretty good at campaigning this summer.
The trick is to not start too early, she said. Families are working during the day, so she avoided the cruel summer heat by knocking on doors beginning in the late afternoon, ending after the sun went down. By the time she got home, she was still able to settle in and catch her favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants.
She found that campaigning could be stressful, too. An associate professor of sociology at Millersville University (MU), Smith felt the pressure to reach every constituent in the Millersville Borough.
“Campaigning is not for the weak,” she said. “It was hot, it was muggy; on some days, it was dispiriting. Because Millersville is a smaller borough, there’s actually more of a pressure too canvas all of it.”
But all of her effort paid off in a big way. Smith, in the midst of her 15th year at Millersville, was elected to the Millersville Borough Council in November 2019 and elected by her peers as council president by her peers in January 2020, then chaired her first meeting later in the month. It’s not an opportunity she’s taking lightly.
“It was tiring and it was surreal. At the end of it, I sat down and realized ‘OK, this is happening,’” Smith said. “I was also immensely grateful for the people who helped me get there. It’s a big team of people, from the people who design the website, the campaign manager, my family who was in this from the very beginning; it’s a lot of gratefulness.”
To understand Smith’s passion for local government and determination to be a board member, you have to understand the person.
Smith was born in Singapore, an island city-state on the southern tip of Malaysia. She moved to northern California to attend community college just shy of her 17th birthday, then transferred to the University of California at Santa Cruz to continue working on her bachelor’s degree.
Smith described her early college years as formative. Her campus was engaged in both local and national matters. Even if she kept to herself, the constant discussion from her classmates had a lasting effect.
“I think there was a lot to be said for how engaged students were at Santa Cruz, how interested they were and how much they paid attention to what was going on,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience to have, and also very different than what I grew up around. Singapore has quite an authoritarian form of government.”
Smith earned her master’s and doctorate from Vanderbilt University and upon graduating, took a job teaching sociology at Millersville University.
Sociology, at its core, is the study of development, structure and functioning of human society. Smith is interested in how people and organizations work, a reason she is a board member on three local non-profit organizations, including Ambassadors for Hope, Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation and the Edward Hand Medical Museum.
Smith also grew more and more interested in the workings of American politics. Her voting record is consistent and reliable since becoming a citizen around nine years ago. She made so many appearances voting in local elections that greeters at polling stations told her she should run for office.
“I think a lot of people think, electoral politics, local ordinances, I don’t know anything about that,” she said. “People said to me you may think you don’t know it, but you can learn.”
Above all else, Smith loves learning. It’s the reason she chose a career in higher education. Ultimately, she decided running for borough council was something she had to do.
“I spend 90% of my time in the Millersville borough,” she said. “There’s an investment when you spend this much time to make sure that the borough does well and there’s a good quality of life for people.”
Smith started campaigning in the summer of 2019 but had to cool down her efforts by the time the fall semester started. When the election came around in November, Smith was feeling nervous and not optimistic.
On election night, she received the second-most number of votes of anyone on the ballot and was elected borough president.
On Jan. 14, 2020, Smith chaired her first complete borough meeting. Her ability to learn and understand was put to the test immediately, as members of the public came to listen to a development group with plans to develop a plot of land.
“I’m a sociologist so I love learning how different organizations work,” she said. “This is a new organization to learn. I think if you go in with that approach, it’s a lot to learn but it’s also enlightening. It can be a joy to learn something new.”
Moving forward, Smith hopes she can bridge the communication gap between Millersville University and the Millersville borough. To do that means new means of communication, and the ability to listen. The University can offer a lot to the public, Smith said, the two entities just need a way to communicate with one another.
Smith understands there will be new challenges ahead, but she’s looking forward to solving new problems.