K y n n e d y S i m o n e S m i t h
P h i l a n t h r o p i s t , S T E M i n i s t ,
V i o l i n i st , S c h o l a r
What inspired you to start The Dream Scholars?
I started The Dream Scholars as a way to encourage youth to get involved in community service. Service has always had a huge impact on my life. It’s because of the service of others that I have the opportunities that I have had and still have today. In high school, I participated in many extracurricular activities and service initiatives in my school, and the broader community. Not only was I earning community service hours, but I was learning life skills, networking, and getting introduced to potential career interests. When I graduated high school, not only did I have over 300 community service hours, but I graduated as the Phi Beta Kappa, traditionally known as Valedictorian, and with over $1.4 million in private scholarships. While most of those scholarships were based on merit, many were also based heavily on civic engagement and service.
Today as a college junior, I still engage in service. On a personal level, most of my service is through The Dream Scholars. However, I am also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated where our mission is ‘Service to All Mankind’. Service is important to me. I recall a speech that Oprah did and she said, ‘If you look at all the most successful people in the world, they have the paradigm of service.’ I believe that, and it has been true for me. I believe that it can be true for others too.
"I recall a speech that Oprah did and she said, ‘If you look at all the most successful people in the world, they have the paradigm of service.’ I believe that, and it has been true for me. I believe that it can be true for others too".
How does The Dream Scholar's mission support students through its mentorship program?
The Dream Scholars Mentorship Program is a new initiative that allows undergraduate scholars to mentor high school scholars. Scholars are connected based on interests and meet virtually one on one monthly. Our goal is to encourage the scholars by providing talking points, information on opportunities related to career, education, networking, and conferences.
Can you tell us more about the "I am the Dream Scholarship" program?
We first introduced the Kynnedy Simone ‘I Am The Dream’ Scholarship in January 2023. The vision was to get scholars to creatively see how what they have accomplished both academically, personally, and socially is part of the greater universal goal of success and achievement for Black women. The scholarship was open to high school seniors, who identified as Black, female or who used the pronouns she/her/hers, who held a gpa of at least 2.5, and who had community service experience. For the upcoming year, we want to expand on the ‘I Am The Dream’ Scholarship, by first increasing the award amount, and secondly, opening up opportunities for others to apply. The scholarship will open up again in January 2024.
How can people best support your mentorship and scholarship programs?
The easiest way to support The Dream Scholars is through donations and sponsorship. For the 2023-2024 school year, we would like to incorporate additional programming and supportive services for scholars both in high school and college. This requires access to funding. This funding would allow us to increase the award amount for the Kynnedy Simone ‘I Am The Dream” Scholarship and add a second scholarship to our programming that will support scholars in the local community where I grew up, Northeast Ohio.
Volunteer support is also greatly needed. Earlier this year, we facilitated ‘Junior Jumpstart’, a college preparation seminar. We were only able to do that with the help of volunteer speakers and sponsorship from local agencies. However, volunteers will also come in handy with marketing and media. One of our future goals is to bring on board volunteers and interns to help run our social media and to act as ambassadors.
As it directly relates to our mentorship programs, people can support by becoming mentors. If someone has expertise in a certain area that they believe will help scholars, whether it is based in academics, career, finances, or wellness, we welcome them to collaborate with us for future programming.
People can also support by talking about The Dream Scholars. Word of Mouth is our greatest friend. Like, share, and follow our programming.
What was your area of study at Columbia University?
Currently, I am a junior studying Computer Science and Neuroscience.
Do you have a memorable college experience?
I will never forget when I attended the Afropolitan Gala during my freshman year. Afropolitan is an annual cultural showcase hosted by Columbia’s African Student Association. It is a grand celebration of black culture and traditions through food, fashion, performances, and storytelling. I had a great time getting dressed up in traditional clothes with my friends, dancing the night away, and eating GOOD! There was so much black joy in the room. Thinking about that day always makes me smile.
Was it challenging for you to gain access to scholarships when you were a student?
Yes and Yes! Not only was it challenging, it was humbling. First, finding scholarships is a skill. However, I learned the easiest way to find them is to be specific in your search and use scholarship search engines. Because I am a STEM major, it was not as difficult to find scholarships related to my career. However, the challenge came with meeting other eligibility criteria, such as socioeconomic status, experience, etc.
The whole college and scholarship application process allowed me to learn so much about myself. It provided me the opportunity to really see my life journey from a different perspective because so many of the scholarships required personal essays and interviews. I was given a chance to tell my story in so many ways that I began to see my life differently after verbally telling my story and creatively writing it so many times. I really began to appreciate my journey more.
In the beginning, one of the other challenging parts was the disappointment when I was not selected for a scholarship. I had to quickly learn that the denial of the scholarship was not personal and that it did not define me. Also, I will be honest, it was very hard to meet deadlines. When you have school deadlines along with college and scholarship application deadlines, it becomes overwhelming. The entire college and scholarship application process really challenged me when it came to setting priorities, dealing with procrastination, and being organized. In the end, I won a total of 27 private scholarships.
"I learned that when I keep my focus on my own journey, I simply get closer to my dreams and goals. I achieve more, and learn more".
Are there any challenges you've had to overcome as a scholar and speaker?
The greatest challenge that I have had growing as a scholar, was learning not to compare my journey to others. I went to a very competitive high school. Everyone was focused on what other people were doing or what they had achieved. It was a huge distraction for everyone and it was a lot of ‘keeping up with the Jones’ and unnecessary hate. I learned that when I keep my focus on my own journey, I simply get closer to my dreams and goals. I achieve more, and learn more.
I have always been naturally shy, so speaking in front of others sometimes feels overwhelming. However, I also enjoy storytelling and helping others. When I share my story and knowledge with others, it feels like a very personal and meaningful act of community service. I really enjoy it.
What are some words of advice you can give to future scholars who want to start a mentorship or scholarship program?
Do it. There are never enough mentorship programs and there are never enough dollars to support scholars. Since I could remember, I have been in mentoring programs. Even today, I am in so many that all impact me in different ways. So do it! Start that program. It doesn't matter if someone else is doing the same thing. You have something unique to offer.
Can you leave our readers with a tip on how to successfully navigate the college application process?
There are so many tips. But the first and most important tip is to start early. Don’t wait until your senior year. You can start as early as freshman year, even middle school. The college application process is not just about completing the applications and applying for scholarships. It is also about putting yourself in ready mode. As early as you can, start researching careers of interest; get involved in your community, specifically in areas that are meaningful to you; build a network of mentors who can help guide you and eventually write your letters of recommendation; get yourself together academically and develop a relationship with your school and/or college counselor; also, be a good citizen. Your reputation and brand matter.
Another important tip is self-care. The college application process is overwhelming, so it is important to make time for the things that you enjoy, get rest, and find an accountability partner who can support you through this process.
"The college application process is overwhelming, so it is important to make time for the things that you enjoy, get rest, and find an accountability partner who can support you through this process".
When did you begin your journey as a violinist?
I started playing violin at 9yrs old when I was gifted a violin from my local Boys and Girls Club.
How has music impacted your life?
Music made me the leader and civil servant I am today. Before the gift of music education, I was a shy, soft-spoken girl who lacked confidence. I didn’t believe my voice held power. However, playing the violin in an orchestra taught me that I could be a leader, even from the sidelines. Chamber music taught me that I could help someone with just a simple acknowledgment and a smile. Solos taught me that there is power in my voice. Music education taught me the art of speaking up, being confident, leading others, and most importantly, how to accept myself as a masterpiece in progress.
I share this because my confidence is in part due to the service of others. Civic engagement is embedded in my personal culture because of the opportunities afforded to me through the service of others. I would not have the level of success I have been able to achieve, had others not engaged in community service. After being gifted my violin from my local Boys and Girls Club, I participated in numerous volunteer-ran student orchestras that helped nurture my talents. The things I learned in these ensembles and the people I met there helped propel me to where I am today.
This is where “To whom much is given, much is expected” fits in for me. Community service is vital to our communities because it is a revolving gift. When we give back to our communities, we create opportunities, we help manifest dreams, we save lives, and we create a legacy. I was able to recognize this in middle school, and it inspired me to create my first non-profit to help create more youth leaders by connecting other underrepresented youth to arts programs just like the ones I participated in.
"This is where “To whom much is given, much is expected” fits in for me. Community service is vital to our communities because it is a revolving gift. When we give back to our communities, we create opportunities, we help manifest dreams, we save lives, and we create a legacy".
How has music impacted my life?
It taught me leadership, confidence, discipline, and self-love. It inspired me to start my first non-profit. It has allowed me to perform with artists like Jason Mraz and Kenny Loggins, perform on an international tour, play solos on national television, and participate in music videos, albums, and even a video game soundtrack! Reflecting back on my 12 years of playing the violin, I can confirm that learning how to make music with others revolutionized my life.
While becoming a full-time musician is no longer a dream of mine, I fuel my love for playing the violin as a member of the Columbia University Orchestra while I am in school. Also, I give violin lessons to kindergarten students through a student volunteer group at my school. As I move on to pursue my dreams of becoming a scientist, I will always make sure to incorporate music-making into my life.
Outside of your business, what are some other hobbies that you enjoy?
I like roaming rare bookstores, listening to podcasts, exploring New York City, going to concerts, and trying new restaurants with friends. When I am at home, I love tending to my plants, watching k-dramas, and consuming any content related to my favorite music group - BTS!
Photographers: Alvin Smith and Stephen Midget