Nicole Heads North

Nicole Smith ’23 becomes the first Mission Squash Scholar to attend a prestigious national boarding school

When Nicole joined the Mission Squash Scholarship program back in 2015, she’d never set foot on a squash court before – in fact, her dad Ernie thought it was the name of a vegetable, rather than an elite racket sport played at Ivy League universities and around the world.

Fast forward four years, and this gifted scholar-athlete began a new chapter in her life at one of the nation’s most prestigious private boarding schools, Westminster School, in Simsbury, Connecticut, with a full package of financial aid and scholarship award to play squash and softball on their varsity teams.

Nicole arriving at Westminster School, CT

Grit and Grace

Founded in 1888, Westminster is a diverse, close-knit community of 88 faculty and 390 students (two-thirds boarding, one-third day students) from across the country and around the world. Set on a beautiful campus over 200 acres, with 400 students, a 5:1 student/teacher ratio, and an average class size of 12, Westminster is a place where students have unique opportunities and support to succeed.

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The school is highly selective with less than 10% of applicants awarded a place. Nicole’s four-year enrollment has been made possible through an extraordinary financial aid package, and an additional scholarship award from Houston-based firm Novum Energy. This generous support reflects her bold achievements as a talented, driven, and humble scholar-athlete, and her commitment to academic and athletic excellence during her time in the Mission Squash program.

Nicole with the employee team at Novum Energy

Nicole’s Journey

After demonstrating socio-economic eligibility and signing the Scholarship Contract, all Mission squash scholars commit to participating in a minimum of 100 hours of academic tutoring and 100 hours of athletic training (primarily in the sport of squash) over the course of each year, at our purpose-built squash and education facility in the Heights, which is the first of it’s kind in the US. Students participate regularly in an extensive program of local service and enrichment trips, mentoring, national travel and more, and remain in the program grades 6 through 12 with the goal of college graduation always in sight.

Nicole joined the Mission Squash Scholarship program in 6th grade, and began attending academic tutoring and squash training after school, at weekends and over summer.

Nicole in 2017, with three of her fellow scholars at the Urban Individual Championships held at Williams College, MA

From her first few steps on the court Nicole displayed natural ability, and more importantly, a quiet determination to excel in the classroom. She was a regular competitor in Bronze, Silver and Gold level tournaments around Houston, representing Mission Squash in junior team matches against the Downtown Club, Lifetime Fitness and Trafton Academy, and played in national tournaments in Boston and Philadelphia.

From 7th Grade, Nicole took part in additional “Private High School Placement” programming, an internal program for which scholars had to apply and be approved. Students committing to this process, which lasts up to two years, take part in additional academic tutoring that goes well beyond the 100 hour basic minimum, and which includes specific preparation for the SSAT test (private boarding school entrance exam), essay writing practice, resume writing, school visits, entrance and financial aid application assistance plus direct communication (and interviews!) with admissions staff and coaches at these boarding schools.

In fact, Nicole was already familiar with the popularity of the sport in the North East, from having visited private high schools including Miss Porter’s and Avon Old Farms, and college campuses like Harvard, Yale and UPenn where she represented Mission Squash on the national stage in team events like the Urban National Team Championships. Having been inspired by what she saw, she knew that boarding school was where she wanted to be.

Nicole receiving Most Valued Player in her first year as a Mission Squash Scholar

The Final Set

Nicole persevered through the application process, overcoming several setbacks along the way, having been waitlisted to several top schools in 2018. It is testament to her grit and determination that this did not dent her confidence, but only served to further increase her hunger for an opportunity that she knew was tantalizingly close.

Following more hard work, applications and interviews, Nicole found out in May 2019 that she had finally been accepted to Westminster, her dream school. On Friday September 6th, Nicole and her dad Ernie, a maintenance worker here in Houston, checked a single bag at George Bush airport and flew together via Charlotte to Hartford, CT, where they picked up a rental car, drove to Target to pick up some essentials, and made their way onward to Simsbury, Connecticut and the stunning 200-acre campus of Westminster School.

Remarking on the moment they first arrived at the school, Ernie said:

I literally couldn’t believe it when we drove through the gates. It was like arriving in a fairytale. Nicole still can’t believe she’s actually there. Since I left her to get settled in, we’ve been FaceTiming and although she misses home she’s doing great and is in love with the school. I knew things were going to be ok when, after the first couple of days, she stopped returning my calls!

Nicole in front of her new digs at Westminster School, CT

Although both Nicole and Ernie had already got to know some faculty members via skype, email and phone call over the last few months, this was their first time visiting the campus itself. Nicole is now settling in and getting acclimatized to her new surroundings, her dorm and her new roomies as part of orientation week.

Although Westminster is thousands of miles away, technology is a wonderful connector, allowing Mission Squash staff to stay close to Nicole’s progress and keep regular touch-points with her advisors, tutors and team coaches to ensure she is always set up for success.

Naturally, Nicole will remain a Mission Squash scholar, and will be visiting program during trips back Houston: to volunteer, mentor our middle school scholars and tell stories of her incredible new experiences. She’s also promised to keep a diary to document her progress as she learns about her new school culture, and gets involved with all there is on offer. Watch out for updates on our website and social media!

Thank you

Mission Squash would like to thank Westminster School and Novum Energy for believing in Nicole and supporting her journey to future success – and to Nicole, for always taking advantage of opportunities, acting with Grit (and Grace!) and going boldly into the unknown!

To help other students like Nicole achieve their full potential, please consider making a contribution to our Road to College Fund. All donations are tax-deductible.

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