Nat Smitobol Brings The Best And Brightest To Abu Dhabi

At Skidmore College a few years ago, Nat Smitobol was the 1st admissions officer anywhere to use Facebook to connect with applicants.

Today, as admissions officer at New York University Abu Dhabi in charge of all candidates from the US and Canada, Nat helps select one of the most diverse and globally engaged student bodies anywhere in the world.

Last weekend he traveled from his Westport home to the Middle East for an NYU Abu Dhabi Candidate Weekend. Three hundred finalists– carefully culled from the 15,000-plus applicant pool — came to Abu Dhabi for an intense round of sample classes, written work, one-on-one discussions with faculty, and explorations of the campus and city.

All expenses are paid, from anywhere in the world. It’s mandatory — you can’t get into the prestigious university without participating. That’s one of the many reasons the school is so special.

Nat’s long-standing interest in globalization and diversity was nurtured in Westport.

Nat Smitobol

The son of Thai parents — his father worked for the UN — Nat had some “tough experiences” growing up as a minority here. But, he says, “I wouldn’t be who I am — or be so passionate about social justice — if I hadn’t gone through that.”

His role models at Staples — where he achieved great success in tennis and track — included 2 older black students, Gibran Patterson and Cameron Keeler. As Nat became an upperclassman, he in turn tried to look out for students of color who, he says, “were the butts of racial jokes.” (One is now a doctor at Harvard.)

After graduating in 1994 he went to Skidmore, where he thrived. He majored in exercise physiology, met his wife, and headed to San Diego State to start a sports psychology masters degree program.

He switched to a masters in cross-cultural education. He also taught tennis to top junior players and coached high school, then in 2003 returned to Skidmore. The admissions office wanted someone to “articulate the student-of-color experience.” Nat coordinated multicultural recruitment efforts, and helped increase the number of minority students from 12% to over 20%.

After a stint as a college counselor at St. Luke’s School in New Canaan — where Nat saw the search process through the eyes of students and parents — he moved in 2010 to NYU’s Washington Square campus. He worked on diversity initiatives, then this fall took on the Abu Dhabi assignment.

NYU is, he says, the 1st American institution to run a 4-year liberal arts school in the Middle East. It is “mind-blowing. We’re blowing the doors off diversity. We have incredible kids, from all over the world.”

As an example, he points to a class that president John Sexton teaches on the church and state. In New York, Nat says, nearly all the students say those are 2 separate institutions. When Sexton teaches it to a class of mostly female Muslim scholars in the Middle East, they say church and state are the same.

In Abu Dhabi, though, Sexton finds the NYU freshmen have an enormous range of opinions. “He never knows what they’ll say,” Nat notes.

The Candidate Weekend plays a key role in forming that diverse group of students — and Nat plays a key role in that weekend (there are 4 each year).

This past weekend, 80 applicants from over 50 countries descended on Abu Dhabi. “They’re all super-bright,” Nat said, just 2 hours before boarding a flight to the Middle East.

“Our job is to measure their ‘emotional and intercultural intelligence.’ We take them out of their comfort zone. We want to see how they interact with each other, and what their leadership style is. Those are the kinds of things that are important for them to succeed in today’s interconnected world.”

NYU Abu Dhabi students, ready to challenge the world.

When Nat left Skidmore in 2008 to work for St. Luke’s, he moved back to his home town. Now he lives 3 houses down from his father.

Westport today is more diverse than when Nat was growing up, he says. There are more people of color, and more organizations and programs — like TEAM Westport — that reach out to and speak for them.

Nat says — admitting this is “a gross generalization” — he senses that Westport parents teach their children to be “color-blind.”

“That’s honorable. It’s what most people think they should do,” he says.

“But I think that misses really thinking about the ramifications of what it means to be a minority. People’s hearts are in the right place, but I’d like to see even more in-depth discussions and activities about the experiences of minorities.”

Nevertheless, he says, “My wife and I will raise our family here. We know what to expect. I feel 100% lucky and blessed to live here. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

43 responses to “Nat Smitobol Brings The Best And Brightest To Abu Dhabi

  1. Typical hypocrite liberal, bemoans the lack of diversity in Westport and then in the end stays here with his family when there are many fine towns close by with all kinds of diversity.

    And what is ‘social justices’ anyway? Just another way to take from those who YOU think don’t deserve it and give it to those who YOU think do?

    • So if Nat did NOT want to live here, and contribute to our community, that would be better?

      • Maybe, depends what those contributions are. From what I read about him wanting to create the world in his image with social justice and his U.N. upbringing I doubt I would agree with some of those ‘contributions’.

  2. That’s the brightest and the best?! They look like a bunch of OWS’s after a shower.

  3. Interesting that the most hostile comments come from people afraid to use their real names.

    • That’s right discredit the messenger instead of addressing the message. And what’s hostile?

      Who really cares what you think as you lead the rah rah session with nothing interesting to say? Maybe you would feel more at home on Westportnow.

    • And you offer is an ad hominem argument.

    • Isn’t your comment hostile to me? But of course you don’t see the irony or the hypocrisy in this.

  4. Would you kindly select a pen name so we can track your insanity? All you anons are merging into one looney bin. It’s not fair to hide behind each other. You all can’t be that dumb.

    • Since I’m ‘so dumb’, let me explain this Anonymous posting to you genius.

      If one wants to remain anonymous he cannot put a pseudonym in the name field w/o also putting in an email address, hence all the anons. If you were to put your email than Dan would know the poster, thereby defeating the purpose of posting anonymously.
      However, he could always cross reference the ip address to see if an anon matches a previous name and email and then out them.

      • Not true. You can post a pseudonym in the “Name” box on the comment form and simply not fill in the email address.

        • Th truth hurts

          Not true, I’ve tried.

          • Th truth hurts

            Dan, did you change our settings?
            Okay, it works now. It is the first time it has, I have done so in the past and it ignored my pseudonym and just put anonymous.

            What about you cross reference ip addresses? Have you don’t that yet?

            • I did not change the settings. You have always been able to put a pseudonym in — not sure why it didn’t work for you before.

              I don’t understand your question about IP addresses.

  5. Its a great country and no where more so than Westport. I’m reminded of a line from one of Dick Gregory’s classic comedy routines: “If we had equality tomorrow, all them cats from the NAACP would be outta work.”

    • Ain’t that the truth!
      So the race baiters continue with their stock in trade just as the class warefare crowd does the same as they try to divide and conquer for their own benefit. And with Obama they got two for one!

  6. What’s hostile? These comments just illustrate how Nat is right.

    • What’s he right about, that someone disagrees with him and has a different opinion?
      Oh, poor Nate, “I’m so mean and that’s just not right”.

      That alone proves my point, instead of codling him and cheering him on because he is a minority and wants to give other minorities an unearned advantage in the name of ‘social justice’ just because they’re minorities, he should be called out on it.

      I always tell the truth, even when I lie.

  7. It has been brought to my attention that a comment posted earlier — “Get off my goddamn lawn” — refers to the movie “Gran Torino,” where Clint Eastwood points a gun at Asian-American gang members.

    I was unaware of that reference. Had I known it, I would have deleted it immediately. I have just done so. That comment clearly crosses the line of decency.

    The first initial negative comments about Nat and his “liberalism” all came from the same IP address. The racist comment was posted by a different person.

    I urge all commenters to use common courtesy, and common sense. Racist comments and veiled threats have no place on “06880.” Please respect this community and the people in it, as well as the “06880” blog community.

    Thank you.

    • Hmm, I made the comment and it was intended as a snide characterization of a grumpy old man – i.e. the first anonymous poster. I believe that is the origin of the statement and it predates Gran Torino (see Urban Dictionary below). The comment was in no way intended as racist or bigoted.

      http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=get+off+my+lawn

      My bad for not considering broader, more recent cultural references.

      • Hi Anon,

        I got what you saying and I knew the Clint reference right away.

        I’m the first few anon comments. And as it turns out a number of folks here do agree with me.

        So no one got back to me on the definition of social justice, other than what I said, so tell me again what Nat brings to us other than his bias to change the rules to rig the outcome.

        I believe an equal opportunity should be given, not equal results.

        So what was so ‘hostile’ in having and stating an opinion to some of you? I guess now it too is politically incorrect to express a different opinion or to challenge the heard mentality of the sheeple.

        God help us all, is that what we have become (at least the opened minded and tolerant libs)?!

        And if anyone doesn’t think the U.N. is a corrupt anti-American organization, well you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years.

        If Nat is looking to bring that mentality here along with affirmative action and social justice I just as well have him move on back to California; I’m sure he’ll like Berkeley!

  8. What a very fantastic program, tool of diplomacy and career achcievement. NYU is always making conscientous and practical efforts to be ahead of the curve in regards to international relations.

  9. The Dude Abides

    Interesting guy and kudos to a broad enlightenment program by NYU. I am not sure that “Westport parents teach their kids to be color blind” for there still seems to be little color to be aware of here (and I am not sure many parents have been exposed to it either). But I do think that the Staples kids of today are far more open to all walks of life when they do graduate. Much more so than decades past. Talk to an ABC kid. They will give you a true account of what it is like to be a minority-outsider here in Westport. It is one thing to grow up here with color and another to visit for 4 years.

  10. If NYU were truly interested in diversity, it would select students at random and cut down on the search costs. Or better yet, NYU could just mail out diplomas at the end of each year to a randomly selected population, thereby eliminating the need for a faculty and a campus as well as the admissions department; everyone gets a trophy.

    • The Dude Abides

      The Ivies (or at least Harvard & Princeton) are looking to the inner city for students with an incentive of free tuition for those families making under $60,000 a year. I guess they figured out they were graduating much the same clones? I watched the NYU President attempt to sell the idea of the Abu Dhabi campus but it seemed more like a visual tour of the Middle East than an education? Columbia has chosen Paris as their satellite. Would seem to be more attractive as my daughter found.

      • Why charge a tuition at all ? Just give away the diplomas. A subset of the total population that is diverse as the total population is average. Why spend $50,000 to $60,000 per year to send junior away for a four year vacation? Tom Sowell wrote an excellent essay on the nonsense that surrounds the so called outreach programs at certain elite institutions. Very amusing, but sad.

        • The Dude Abides

          Didn’t know Thomas Eagleton went to Amherst? I agree with you on the over-importance of college. Law suits now from law students who can’t get jobs. If your free market model is correct, they should lower their tuitiion which has become outrageous.

          • The tuition cost are subsidized by your tax dollars and mine. The demand for a college education reflects the transfer of OPM to the education industry. College costs are rising faster than healthcare costs; but the colleges have better lobbyists. We spend more on education per capita that other developed countries and produce inferior results; lose/lose.

  11. Anonymous, what’s your issue? Instead of whining about whatever it is that bothers you why don’t you just get specific?

  12. Okay folks, we REALLY do need to have a range of fake names and not just have 3 or 4 or 5 or 12 guys posting as “Anonymous.”

  13. Dan, thanks for the article. I hope Nat will stay, and come to our next TEAMWestport event if he’s in town. You too!

    • THANKS, Cathy. I was a charter member of TEAM Westport — it’s a great group of people doing wonderful things for the town.

  14. Anonymous, your comments are too stupid to address. Please go back to flipping burgers.

    • Instead of making a coherent argument or defending your non-statement you just try to insult me. So typical of the left!! you got nothing and we both know it! Here’s a new one, why don’t you call me a racist. Even though it’s people like Nate who only see race and color.

      And there is nothing wrong with flipping burgers you elitist, I did it along with three other jobs in high school and now I’m very comfortable living in the top of the .5%!

  15. Richard Lawrence Stein

    Those here who have tried to disparage Dan… Should be ashamed of yourselves. Dan has granted you your soapbox to be as smart, stupid, ignorant, and or brilliant as you might think you are. He rarely gets in the fray and only edits when he finds the rants or info to be inappropriate. For those who do post and don’t assign yourself a name, be it real or phony kudos. For those who want redundant similar monikers your just annoying and gutless. Lastly you can be found out by Dan if he really wanted to know or not… Remember people we are in the age of big brother… You are not anonymous

  16. The Dude Abides

    Bravo, RLS!!! I am usually watching the Professor’s back but apparently, this time, I was asleep at the wheel. I am amazed at the negative feedback on a young man who wants to do some good in this world? Attack his ideology if need be but his race? If you want this man off your lawn, maybe you should start mowing it yourself?

    • The Truth Hurts (only to some)

      RLS, I did say Dan could check the anonymous names by cross referencing ip addresses, etc above.

      And Dude, I only questioned Nate’s ideology and NEVER made any comment toward his race, even though HE does when approving college entrants.

      So wise guy, you tell me, who’s the racist here?!
      And that’s my point!

      • The Dude Abides

        TTH(OTS): You make your point and race has become a far more sensitive topic even in the vanilla ‘burbs these days. Perhaps because we have a Black President??? Quite candidly, it is dealt with in a far more honest and open arena in the Deep South than here where the even mention of race flutters the heartbeats of too many. But this blog is about free speech under the watchful supervision of the Professor. We should all be mindful of that luxury.

        • Th truth hurts

          Dude, where do I make any disparaging comments about Nat’s race or any racist comment?
          It is feel good liberals and Nat who judge people on race, not me!
          So you tell me, who’s the racist one here?!
          And not that I need to justify my cred here, but I too was raised in the south, originally from the northeast, and dated many women of color including black girls/women right up until 1999 (when I met my wife) and let me tell you, it was the black men who gave me/us crap about being together! It happened in NYC and in Killington VT. Not all of course, but the one that did were black.

          • Th truth hurts

            Should say – ‘…the ones…’ (since happened more than once).

            • The Dude Abides

              Th Truth hurts: Chill, man. I was agreeing with you although I can’t really tell who said what or even whose on first on this thread? Light up a dobie and relax. Your point is well taken.

  17. NYU has always been emphatic in regard to it’s ‘outreach’ programs not being a gratuitous ‘feel good, look good’ effort largely because knowing NYU is not Ivy NYU has to work harder, consistently, i.e., ‘outreach’ for NYU, as far as the professors and board members I know, is a product of wanting to make sure that really the best, brightest and most ambitious are brought into the NYU Community; that can’t be done if a portion of the world is not able to access NYU so NYU aggressively, thoughtfully expands access. Nat’s work must be enormously interesting and fulfilling.