Learning to lead

Two unlikely detours on the road to success

Merrimack College graduates Timmy Smith (math and physics) and Scott Pirrello (finance) took a turn at politics. Merrimack College graduates Timmy Smith (math and physics) and Scott Pirrello (finance) took a turn at politics. (Alysa Seeland)
By Alysa Seeland
Globe Correspondent / May 22, 2011

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NORTH ANDOVER — Grade-conscious students focused on physics, finance, and math are not known for government-friendly personalities. Yet that’s exactly what Timmy Smith and Scott Pirrello represented when they landed the most influential student positions at Merrimack College.

As president of the Student Government Association, Smith, 21, of Needham, graduated yesterday with a degree in math and physics. As senior class president, Pirrello, 22, of Weston, graduated with a degree in finance. Because of their work ethics and leadership, the student government association won the college’s Outstanding Club Award in 2011, and Smith received the Outstanding Student Award for his efforts leading it.

Smith became involved with the student government soon after arriving on campus, and decided early on he would one day be president. He hoped to increase the group’s visibility and reinforce its mission. During his term, he launched a poster campaign that put the group in the spotlight year-round.

“People should know who represents them, and now [the student government] is cool again,’’ he said.

Laura Flynn, assistant director of student involvement at Merrimack, said that in the six years she has been in her position, the student government has never had the presence it does today.

“Timmy is at every campus event and puts himself out there to promote Merrimack pride amongst the student body,’’ said Flynn. “He has influenced a large number of underclassmen to be leaders.’’

Smith credits Pirrello with much of their senior year’s success. They established new events and collaborated to create campuswide breaks from the classroom.

For instance, contrary to what his pocket protector and 4G iPhone might suggest, Pirrello wanted seniors to have fun. So he planned a trip for the entire senior class to Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun casino in November, and also supported a concert by the rapper Ludacris in April.

“I believe that leadership is motivating and inspiring people to perform at their highest level,’’ said Pirrello. “Part of the reason we were so effective is that we enabled people to be their best while having a ton of fun.’’

Faculty and staff acknowledged Smith and Pirrello as a testament to what can happen in a small college community. Merrimack, a private Catholic school with 1,800 undergraduate students, is just that.

“It is a pleasure watching Scott translate his academic success into opportunities he creates,’’ said Jane Parent, professor of business and mentor to Pirrello. “He is one of those rare students that makes me want to be a better teacher.’’

Pirrello’s plans for the future mirror his go-getter attitude. Though accepted to Copenhagen Business School, ranked one of the best in the world, he deferred enrollment to pursue business initiatives in Austin, Texas.

“I just read in Forbes magazine that Austin was the best climate for graduating professionals,’’ said Pirrello. “Given my adventurous spirit, I decided to go somewhere new before heading to grad school.’’

Smith’s path is less clear. Caught between his love for political policy and mathematical proofs, he is keeping his options open.

“I’m having somewhat of an identity crisis,’’ said Smith. “Ever since I graduated high school, I wanted to be a math teacher, but now, my love and success in [the student government] have me considering governance.’’

In fact, Smith admitted it was hard for him when a new student body president was elected, since so much of his identity was his work with the group this year. But as they prepare to leave, Smith and Pirrello are proud of all they’ve done.

“There is no better feeling than walking out of a place where you know you’ve left your mark for the better,’’ said Pirrello.

“And that we have left a bit of ourselves in order to inspire others to do the same,’’ Smith added.