Alumni Story

A role model

She’s teaching, learning and leading with love and perseverance

By Jonathan Riggs Published on

Saianna Smith ME'19 is well known for her inspiring journey, but she is quick to give credit to those who have helped her along the way. A scholarship recipient who spends her time giving back to her community--and serving as a role model for her siblings and countless others--she recently took the time to volunteer at a session of Professor Sandra Kaplan's Discovery Project, and to talk about where she's going and where she's been.

Why is education your calling?
Education is my calling because ever since I was in middle school and was lucky to have ONE teacher see the potential in me—a student from South Central LA and invest a lot of time and money in me because she wanted me to go to college, I knew that I wanted to serve as that same type of educator for other students.

What did receiving a scholarship mean to you personally?
Receiving a USC Rossier scholarship personally means to me that even a big university like USC sees my potential and wants to make sure that I accomplish my education goal. It also personally means to me that I have to do what I need to do in order to successfully complete my degree because my donors took a chance on me to ensure that I have limited financial burdens while I am at USC.

What did receiving a scholarship mean to you professionally?
Professionally, receiving a USC Rossier scholarship means that I have to strive to meet all of the expectations that both Rossier and the university have set before me so that I can be an example for future students who take on this same journey. It also means that, this scholarship has opened a whole new realm of possibilities for me to conquer whatever the professional world throws at me.

What makes you proudest of your journey?
The thing that makes me proudest about attending Rossier is that ever since I was 10 years old I declared that I was going to be a student at USC. I was a scholar in the McMorrow NAI program here at USC from middle school until high school but did not get to attend USC for undergrad however being here at Rossier for my Masters is a result of my hard work, determination and perseverance from even as early as 10 years old. It's just so amazing seeing the fruit of my labor manifested in me being able to sit in a classroom in WPH knowing that it was a dream of mine early on!

How do you want to pay all this forward?
Because of all of the support and resources that i have been granted I would love to be that same type of resource for others in the future. I do not want to leave my community, my plan is to stay in this community. I have attend USC family of schools from K-12 and now being here for my Masters just means it is my responsibility to assure that other students in this community have access to the university just as I did. I want to one day be able to provide scholarships or aid for other deserving students just as it has been done for me.

Anything else you'd like to say?
I want to just say thank you to my donors (The Hagens) for their financial support in this journey. I would also like to thank the USC McMorrow NAI program for always being a source of support for me and making sure that I have access to the things that my heart desire—it is such an honor to call myself an NAI Scholar! Of course, I would not be here without the constant support of my family and mentors and the support of my church. I truly cannot ever repay you all for what you have poured into me. Finally, to my 10 siblings—I truly believe you all can accomplish all that I have accomplished and more! Just because we are first generation college students does not mean that it cannot be done!

Article Type

Article Topics