The Founders of Wellesley SMiLES Reflect on Three Years of Pop-Up Fun

May 13, 2016
Hannah Ruebeck '16 and Anne Dickinson Meltz '16, founders of Wellesley SMiLES

Hannah Ruebeck '16 and Anne Dickinson Meltz '16, the founders of Wellesley SMiLES (Spontaneous Moments in the Lives of Everyday Students), held their last pop-up event earlier this week. The two walked around Clapp Library and the Science Center, inviting students to take a punching balloon or a foam finger and leaving some of each on random tables for people to pick up later. In all, they distributed about 250 punching balloons and 200 foam fingers.

Students were thrilled. "When you came to our table with balloons, it gave us all the chance to take a much-needed break without having to leave the library," said an appreciative Sarah Brodwolf '19. Jenny Ross ’19 agreed. "The mood of the entire library shifted. People were laughing and having fun. The break gave me the energy I needed to keep studying!" she said.

Those comments delighted Ruebeck, an economics major and math minor, and Dickinson Meltz, a sociology major and education minor. The two started Wellesley SMiLES in the fall of 2013 in an effort to foster a sense of spontaneity and community on campus. Their first event—a popsicle giveaway—was met with skeptical enthusiasm by students who were unsure of the event’s purpose. After a few more activities, including an invitation to write happy thoughts in blue chalk near Green Hall, Wellesley SMiLES was featured in USA Today’s college section as an example of "random acts of kindness" movements that were developing across the country.

Since then, the duo has hosted a variety of giveaways, leave-for-later activities, and group events each semester. Students now look forward to finding balloons or ping-pong tables set up in Tower and Bates dining halls, a doodle board in the campus center, or large bouncy balls to play with on Severance Green.

They also created the SMiLESpace in Clapp Library, a section of the first floor that contains comfortable furniture, a large table to color on (it’s covered in blue paper), and lots of games. The space, which encourages loud, fun breaks from academics, was designed with the help and support of Heather Woods, director of research and instructional support, and Laura Sherriff, manager of public services.

"It's really easy, both at Wellesley and elsewhere, to put on blinders and only connect with people that you already know," said Dickinson Meltz. "I think SMiLES has encouraged people to seek and embrace connection everywhere, not just in expected places."

Since the beginning, Ruebeck and Dickinson Meltz have worked closely with the Office of the Dean of Students, which understood the duo’s conviction that kindness and laughter contribute to—and spring from—a strong community. "We have been incredibly supported by the administration at a high level, and their belief in the values of the SMiLES initiative has allowed our vision to have ripple effects throughout the community," said Ruebeck. "We're grateful that so many staff members have collaborated with us, from building managers to AVI Fresh. At the end of the day, everyone wants the best for Wellesley students."

Ruebeck and Dickinson Meltz want a bright future for SMiLES, too! They have partnered with Carol Bate, associate dean of students, to develop a plan to recruit a "SMiLES Team" of six or eight students who will pair up to direct and facilitate two or three events per year. This team will work with Abigail Stevenson, assistant director of student involvement. (Interested students can find info on the SMiLE Facebook page.)

"Dean Bate, and Dean DeMeis before her, has been instrumental in helping us effect change within the Wellesley community," says Dickinson Meltz. "We’re excited about the future of SMiLES under her guidance."

As the two look forward to their next adventures (Ruebeck will conduct educational research as a pre-doctoral fellow at Harvard, and Dickinson Meltz will work as a project manager for a tech company), they often think about how bringing joy to others has changed and enriched their lives.

"I make an effort now to connect with people passing by or sitting at a table by themselves," said Ruebeck. "As a relatively introverted and personal person, I credit this new outlook to the experiences I've had with SMiLES, which have definitely gotten me outside of my comfort zone."

"SMiLES has taught me that time doesn't need to be a zero-sum game," said Dickinson Meltz. "There are plenty of opportunities to slow down and incorporate other people into your life!"