International Student Award honors Nancy Schmulbach Maly `61


Contributed by Justin Hayworth

Nancy Maly `61 was honored with an award for international students in her name. From left: Konstantinos Kambouroglou `95, Vivek Venugopal `01, Nancy Maly `61, Al Maly, Suha Gillani `16, Natz Soberares `13 and Alexander Kambouroglou `93.

Taylor Nunley, Staff Writer

The International Student Leadership Award has been created in honor of Nancy Smulbach Maly `61, Grinnell alum and pioneer of international student admission and affairs at Grinnell College and in the U.S.

“International student admission and affairs at Grinnell College is inextricably linked to Nancy’s dedication, forethought and creativity,” said Karen Edwards, dean of International Student Affairs and one of the people responsible for spearheading the creation of the award, according an article published on the Grinnell College website. “This award commemorates Nancy’s pioneering work, and it will lift up student leaders from around the world for years to come,” Edwards said. 

Each Spring, the $1,000 award will be presented to one third-year international or U.S. student who largely grew up overseas. The student’s eligibility for the scholarship will be determined based on their leadership and involvement within their community both at the College and in the greater Grinnell area.

Maly said she hopes the student will use the award money to further finance the commitments they are involved with. “It’s my hope that the money the student will be given, will in some way enhance, broaden, enlighten, change or develop his or her own background life on campus. If it’s to be used away from campus, it will help that student in his or her development at Grinnell,” said Maly.

In her conversation with the S&B, Maly emphasized how important she believes it is for every student to experience a different culture.

The summer before her senior year of high school, Maly, an Iowa native, boarded a steamship headed for Bremerhaven, Germany. For the next three months, Maly would be living in unfamiliar Bavaria, located in Southern Germany, with her host family. Just 17, Maly’s own first international experience would pave the way for a lifetime dedicated to global engagement at Grinnell College.

The following year after her stay in Germany, Maly and her family hosted their first international student at their home in Cedar Rapids. They continued the trend in the summer of the next year when both she and her sister visited Germany.

“It was three years of exposure to international life,” Maly said. “I got to a point where I was advocating that every U.S. person should spend at least three months out of the U.S. to experience another culture. I felt it would change their perspective on life. My belief was it would make them more appreciative of what they had as U.S. citizens.”

Maly also mentioned the lifelong relationships that international experiences, especially those related to hosting families, cultivated. She told the story of how she and her husband were traveling to Poland and the Czech Republic and offered to conduct admission interviews for any international students who were applying to Grinnell College from these countries. Maly at the time served as a student recruiter in the New England and Mid-Atlantic areas. It was in the city of Brno in the Czech Republic that Maly met Alexandr Gagamov.

Gagamov was admitted to Grinnell College following their interview but needed more time to develop his English. Maly offered to host him at her home. “He ended up not coming to Grinnell, but that was okay because he became a part of our lives for a year. And he still is now — he lives in Illinois and is married to a classmate of his. We call him our fifth child,” said Maly.

At the official announcement of the award in her name, Gagamov and several others of Maly’s close friends, family and coworkers surprised her with the news. “I understand now from my own children that they were working on this with alumni and development since last April,” Maly said. Maly attended the meeting under the guise that it would be a presentation on international student affairs when it instead shifted to focus on her. “They [those in attendance] all knew about it and nobody spilled the beans,” she said.

Edwards helped to plan the surprise for Maly. “It could have been an announcement that involved her more directly, but it felt extra special to turn it into a surprise reunion of that cohort of friends and family who love her dearly,” said Edwards.

Maly, who is 83, said she is honored to have a legacy of this scale to leave behind in the years to come. “I wanted it [the legacy] to be something about the International Student Program. And so this is like a dream come true,” she said.

Edwards said the award still has a few kinks to work out. In tandem with Maly, the Office of International Student Affairs plans to finalize the award and its details over winter break.