Airaina Smith is a junior pursuing a degree in legal studies with a minor in political science at UIS. She is a member of the UIS women’s basketball team and currently serves in the US Army Reserve.
Smith came to UIS from Champaign in 2016, having been attracted to “the culture here, it’s not too big.” The fact that the UIS campus is close enough to her home that she can keep in touch with her family was also a factor, plus she wanted a degree from the University of Illinois. She decided to pursue a degree in legal studies because of a longstanding interest in law and a great appreciation for legal-themed TV shows such as Law & Order. She hopes to attend law school after graduation to specialize in either sport or criminal law.
Smith has been playing basketball for as long as she can remember. “I was four years old when I first started playing in my backyard with my brother and my dad,” she remembers. Her position is two-guard on the basketball team but she has recently been out of the game due to surgery to deal with an ankle injury suffered when, coming down from a rebound, she landed on another player’s foot. She expects to be returning to the court within the next month. When asked if it is difficult to balance the requirements of the Army, her team and academics, Smith said, “It’s a lot of time management, planning ahead, and communicating…but no, it’s not that hard.”
Smith was encouraged to join the reserves by her cousin, a veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, “and I just wanted to do something different.” She described basic training as a “fun experience, a lot of learning and tough times…working out for free is fun and I met a lot of friends.” Her funniest story from basic training was her experience with the gas chamber. In this section of basic training, recruits are required to enter a room filled with CS gas (more commonly known as tear gas) remove their gas masks and recite the soldier’s creed. “I was already nervous because I’d seen videos and I thought, oh my God that looks so scary.” When Smith entered the chamber with her platoon and took her mask off, “I felt like I literally couldn’t breathe and my battle buddy is behind me just laughing because it just doesn’t affect her. I’m coughing and snot’s running down my nose, and she’s just laughing.