Alumni Now: Johann Smith

Johann Smith enrolled at BMCC in 2017 after more than a decade traversing the world playing professional soccer. “In addition to mourning my sports career when it ended, I was trying to figure out my life’s purpose and whether or not I should go to college,” said Smith. A history buff, he began to have multiple conversations with friends and family and eventually landed at Capital Community College near his hometown in Connecticut. But Smith wasn’t satisfied in a smaller city. “New York City has always been my dream city, so I literally looked up the largest community college there and BMCC was the first place that popped up,” he said. Fast forward to 2022 and Smith, now 34, is an undergraduate transfer student at Stanford University who got his start at BMCC. “The professors at BMCC care deeply about their students,” he said. Smith cited History Professor Erik Freas who encouraged him to look at the world and history differently, from multiple viewpoints and perspectives. In 2020, Smith was named a BMCC Kaplan Scholar and he says, the program was instrumental in his successful transfer process. Smith eventually plans to apply to medical school. “I’ve lived one life already; I’ve lived one dream,” he told an interviewer at the Stanford Report. “And now I’m here to realize another.”

What is your favorite memory (professor, class, etc.) of BMCC?
I met some great professors at BMCC. Community College professors care deeply about their students and that’s especially true at BMCC. I formed a great relationship with History Professor Erik Freas. He encouraged me to look at the world and history with a critical eye, from multiple viewpoints and perspectives. Specifically, he got me to step outside of myself, and contemplate and reflect on how people lived in different eras in different parts of the world. I was in his World Civilization and History Research and Methods classes. We had in-depth discussions and we were able to connect the past to the present. By pushing me the way he did, he was instrumental in shaping the way I study and appreciate many of my current courses now at Stanford.

How did BMCC help you get where you are today?
I’d been playing soccer professionally for nearly 13 years and had been an avid athlete more or less my entire life. To do something your entire life, you dream about it, you bleed for it, you cry for it, you push your body to its limits and then it’s all gone. What’s next for me at age 30?

For at least a year, I thought about going back to school. I love to learn and I’m obsessed with history. I’d have multiple conversations with friends and family. One friend in particular, we’d talk about going to college and I ended up making the decision to initially go to college in Connecticut at Capital Community College. I was there for about a year. But I just wasn’t satisfied with my life in Connecticut. I’d been living around the world, and New York City had always been my dream city. So, I decided to move to my dream city and looked up the biggest community college in New York and the first place that popped up was BMCC.

I was living Brooklyn and love it there, but going into Manhattan and just being in the hustle and bustle of the city where everyone is doing their own thing, that in itself is inspiring so BMCC seemed perfect from that end. The experience turned out to be so much more though. I met people from around the world from all age groups at BMCC and that too was eye opening. The college truly does have a sense of community. In terms of support services, especially the transfer process to university, the Kaplan Leadership Foundation helped a lot with the application process to Stanford. BMCC was so important, because it provided me a springboard to a major university. I got a quality and affordable education at BMCC.

What advice do you have for today’s BMCC students?
You don’t have to stop once you’ve completed your Associate degree. There is so much opportunity out there including scholarships and financial aid at four-year universities. The data shows you’re going to be more successful, and make more money, with a four-year degree. Also, moving away from home is an amazing experience. You experience a different climate, culture, it helps you grow. Don’t stop once you’ve completed your work at BMCC. You can do amazing things. You can explore your passions.

In five to ten years, I see myself in Medical school or already working as a doctor.

Why is it important for alumni to stay involved with BMCC?
Community colleges are so important to this country. Not everyone takes the traditional path, straight out of high school into college. It’s important for us to share our stories with current community college students.