OMAHA, (Neb.) July 26, 2021 – There’s a very special group of college freshmen heading off to universities from New York to California this fall. While some of them came to their communities and high schools from as far away as Ethiopia, South Korea, and Cuba, all are graduates of high schools from across Nebraska and all are first-time recipients of $25K scholarships.
Last September, a $3M Smith Diversity Scholarship Fund was established at Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, Inc. (LFS) by Omaha couple Coyner and Donna Smith. LFS issued a statewide invitation to graduating high school seniors in the class of 2021 who come from low-income, minority, and refugee families. Nearly 250 graduating seniors applied for five $25,000 college scholarships (renewable for four years) that were made available.
The Smiths’ intention is to engage the support of additional donors. “We want to inspire other people to know the fund is open to others who wish to contribute. We made it open-ended and put it in our will so it can be sustained after we are gone,” Smith said last September. “They are committed to seeing the fund grow so at its peak, more than 20 scholarships may be awarded per year until the program sunsets,” said LFS Chief Development Officer Mark Versen. The Smiths have pledged to add another $1M to the fund in 2022, allowing LFS to increase the number of scholarships awarded next year to seven.
LFS’s Statewide Smith Diversity Scholarship manager Megan McDowell said, “We have selected an impressive group of young adults from across Nebraska. They come from Scottsbluff, Madison, South Sioux City, and Omaha with plans to attend colleges across the country from Stanford and New York University to UNO and UNL.” Each applicant will receive $25K this year with the opportunity to renew the scholarship for four years as long as they maintain a GPA of 3.4 or better.
McDowell added, “Our selection committee is designed to reflect the geographic and cultural diversity of Nebraska and we welcome the opportunity to engage new and more people in the process.” She would like to see the roster grow to 13-15 people and invites anyone who’s interested in becoming involved to contact her (email@example.com).
A private send-off party for the scholars and their families is planned for early August. “We are so grateful to Coyner and Donna for their insight, passion, and generosity! When donors, like the Smiths, have a vision that is centered on fulfilling the needs and dreams of the people we serve, they allow us to remove obstacles and clear a path to opportunities that will help break generational cycles of poverty.” Versen concluded, “There simply isn’t anything more fulfilling than that!”
Meet the Smith Diversity Scholars of 2021
Josephine Amoo – Scottsbluff, NE
High School: Scottsbluff High School
University: Stanford University
Planned Major: Political Science
“The Smith Diversity Scholarship has changed my life forever. I feel so honored and grateful for this opportunity and to have this level of educational support from the Smith family. My dreams feel more like a reality than ever, and I can’t wait to enter college with this newfound sense of stability!”
Kendry Arrazcaeta Duray – Madison, NE
High School: Madison High School
University: University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Planned Major: Computer Science
“The Smith Diversity Scholarship lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders. Born into a low-income family, finances have always been a struggle for us and I didn’t know if I would be able to attend university. Thankfully, with the help of this scholarship, I will be attending university in good financial standing.”
Dhugomsa Mohammed – South Sioux City, NE
High School: South Sioux Senior High School
University: University of Nebraska at Lincoln
Planned Major: Biochemistry
“This scholarship has changed my dream into a reality. My lifelong dream of becoming a physician has now started because of your generosity. Thank you so much for making my dream come true!”
Safiyyah Rab – Omaha, NE
High School: Central High School
University: University of Nebraska at Omaha
Planned Major: Molecular and Biomedical Biology
“Receiving the Smith Diversity Scholarship opens the door to discovering what I have to offer the world. I now have the opportunity to focus solely on my academics as I pursue a career in medicine. I am immensely honored and blessed for this support on my journey to deliver compassionate healthcare to my community.”
Elora Trotter – Omaha, NE
High School: Duchesne Academy
University: New York University in Abu Dabi
Planned Major: Communications
“In Voltaire’s iconic novel Candide, its central character, Candide, maintains the philosophy: ‘Everything is for the best in this best of all worlds!’ When the Smith Diversity Scholarship team revealed that the Smiths had chosen to gift me with the scholarship, thinking about the impact it would have on my university life and family, I shouted in my head, ‘Everything is for the best in this best of all worlds!!!’ I am ineffably grateful.”