Mathematics student wins top Purdue female senior award


Dana Smith

Throughout her Purdue career, Dana Smith has balanced two majors – Mathematics and Apparel Design – and two minors – French and Gender Studies.

Somehow, she found the time to work in community service and organizational endeavors by establishing Purdue’s chapter of the American Association of University Women as well as leading a homeless street outreach team and the United Students Against Sweatshops at Purdue.

This all added up to Smith receiving the 2016 Flora Roberts Award. The distinction goes to the top female senior at Purdue. Smith was surprised with the honor April 2 during the Purdue Fashion Show, which saw Smith’s latest designs impress on the runway in the Cordova Recreational Sports Center.

“I felt very honored and surprised,” Smith recalled. “It’s exciting to represent the College of Science like that. I can think of so many outstanding women that I know, that I do work with, that I’m in organizations with. That makes it more of an honor. They are just as if not more deserving of the award.”

Smith is the first College of Science Flora Roberts winner since 2009 (Lauren Mioton) and only the second since 1993 (Julie Anne Baur).

Smith’s lines are often lauded for their preciseness and fit. The Livonia, Michigan, native said mathematics often comes to play when she designs pieces.

Smith had been sewing her own clothes since fourth grade but it wasn’t until high school when mathematics became a major player. She excelled through calculus classes and decided to keep the momentum going into Purdue.

“Math and apparel design are more connected than what most folks think,” Smith said. “In pattern making, it requires a lot of math. You’re taking someone’s measurements, converting that into a flat pattern that will eventually become a garment. It requires a lot of precision and fractions and spatial geometrical reasoning. It shows up in my designs.”

With Sleigh Bells’ “Crown on the Ground” pumping, Smith’s six pieces were inspired by uniforms and focused on pleating, interesting textures, bright colors and “strong shoulders.” The work explored the idea of how uniforms can unify people but also repress them.

“I wanted to create a team of women to go out and make some change in the world or solve these social problems I think about a lot,” Smith said.

Mark Ward, associate professor of Statistics, taught Smith in his Probability class. Ward said Smith’s dedication was evident then and it was no surprise that the student was able to balance so many interests.

“I do believe that math, fashion, and activism can blend,” Ward said. “In all three areas, it is beneficial to have people with strong opinions and a strong work ethic to match. Boldness of spirit can be advantageous in all three areas, too. Dana certainly has these characteristics, and they have served her well. I'm delighted to have gotten to know Dana during her time at Purdue, and to have seen watched her flourish as a result. I am excited to see what the future brings for Dana.”

Smith is currently interviewing for jobs and has leads in Chicago and Washington, D.C. The senior has successfully made Mathematics and the Flora Roberts award more fashionable.

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