"Alabama Scholarships for Service, Not Just Grades"

2016 SSF BCI

Thank you to all students who have applied for the 2017-18 scholarship.  Our application process is now closed.

If you are selected for an interview, you will be notified by the Foundation. The Board of Trustees meets in late April to select the new scholars. Please review website for updates. Due to the large number of applicants, notice is made by email upon completion of the application.

Please do not call the Foundation to ask who has been selected. Additional information will be posted on our website.

Three years ago, I recieved a phone call from the Smith Scholarship Foundation, telling me that I had recieved the scholarship, and would be attending the University of Montevallo. Three years later, words still cannot properly express my gratitude with the Smith Foundation for giving me this opportunity to pursue a college education and to study economics. Wells.Jesse-1It is impossible to explain what it is like to have an organization like the Smith Foundation that is filled with brilliant minds with amazing work ethics look at you and decide that you are also worth investing in. More than that, becoming a Smith Scholar has allowed me to meet some of the best friends I could ever know, people who I cherish and love very dearly. I know I may not always be the easiest person to be friends with, and that I can be harsh and temperamental, but I hope none of the people who I have come to know as a Smith Scholar think I am anything less than eternally grateful to have such brilliant, wonderful, colorful people in my life. I want to express my sincerest gratitude to the Smith Foundation for the priceless opportunity that they have given me, and I can only hope that I will prove to be worth the investment. To teachers like Mike Cordle, Melissa Glasgow Dutton, Janet Mego, Lauren Crawford Vickery, and several others, all titles fail to describe DSCN3332what you were and still are to me, and I can never thank you enough for making me fall in love with the world and learning about it. I know I was difficult at times, but I hope that the passion all of you instilled in me has become apparent. Urist McCauley, thank you for being a mentor in the truest sense of the word. I know your job isn’t easy and that we can be difficult, but I hope you never believe that your work isn’t appreciated. Your dedication to supporting us and making us keep the course has been unbelievable (and unbelievably necessary). And to Mrs. Jolei Hughes Higgins, there are no words. I can’t even begin to explain how much I owe to you. I didn’t believe in myself, and feared to want for myself. Since words would fail anyway, I hope it is enough to let you know that I’m good at what I do, and I would not be here if it weren’t for you. To everyone that helped me get where I am today, I hope that I will prove to be worthy of the support you have given me over the years. Thank you all.    -Jesse Wells 




ABC prime-time anchor John Quinones gave the keynote address Saturday as the Smith Scholarship  Foundation awarded 26 scholarships to graduating seniors across Alabama.
 See this year’s Smith Scholars

“Smith Scholars’ first successes: Longshot college students drawn from the working class.”  

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More pictures from this year’s Awards Day can be found on the Smith Scholarship Facebook page.



Jacqueline Sierra Clark

Jacqueline Sierra Clark

“I would like to sincerely thank you and everyone at the foundation for all of the hard work that helps to make every scholar’s dream a reality. I could not be more thrilled to be a 2014 smith scholar. My GPA has drastically increased from high school (a 3.5 to a 4.0) and I firmly believe that I am excelling because of the burdens that the scholarship has lifted from my shoulders. I couldn’t be more thankful.

    I wanted to write an email to praise Urist McCauley. I could not have made it through the first semester without him. Every time I called, he answered. Every question I had, he helped me to find an answer. Even through the stress of test anxiety, feeling unworthy and unable, and just plain discouraged, Urist was there to help me through it all. He even sent an encouraging text some female smith scholars reminding us of our infinite worth and that boys can be distractions from our ultimate goal: an education. I have had a pleasurable time working with everyone at the foundation; I just wanted to express my love and appreciation and PRAISE for Urist. He truly is a gift to the foundation and everyone he meets.
    As I am approaching my second semester of freshman year, I cannot imagine how life would look without being a smith scholar. Never having to worry about being bereft of money, food, and especially guidance. I am eternally grateful for everyone that makes this dream a reality for me and the other scholars. I cannot wait to someday contribute to the foundation after I have established the career that you all have helped me to attain. Thank you all for believing in me; therefore, giving me a hope and a future that was otherwise forever out of my reach. I love you all.”
Jacqueline Sierra Clark
Troy Freshman
2014 (PROUD) Smith Scholar




Jordan Romine

“One year ago today my life was changed forever. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was expecting results some time that week, and kept refreshing theSmith web page all Monday. All day I did not exit out of that webpage. ”  -more




Regan Gaskin

“Since this summer began I have talked to a lot students graduating high school and college, and it has made me realize how blessed I am to have the Smith Scholarship. When I meet Ahrian at Desoto Caverns I had no idea that the scholarship she was telling me about would give me the chance to go to college debt free.”  -more




AA&M’s Donald presented with new Business Coat.

The Smith Scholarship Foundation is an intensive accountability program providing funding and one-on-one mentoring that requires continued self-assessment and goal planning to optimize college funding collectively for all of our scholars. Our program requires active leadership and cultural experience to foster community service and social accountability.


UA’s Steven Tyree

Students are chosen from a competitive application process of more than 1, 000 annual applications. Those selected must have demonstrated an ability to overcome adversity and hardship and succeed in contradiction to the odds with a selfless commitment to give back to others while continuing to meet personal challenges to become independent self-sufficient young adults.

 A Legacy for Access

The Smith Scholarship Foundation, established by Avondale Mills heiress Mignon Comer Smith, invests in the college education of economically disadvantaged students across the state.

According to civil rights activist Virginia Foster Durr, there were three paths a privileged Southern woman could follow. She could live the unexamined life of a Southern belle. She could lose her mind and go crazy. Or she could honor her rebellious spirit, “step outside the magic circle” and blaze a new path into a world she would have otherwise never known.

Leading an examined life is precisely the unexpected path chosen by Avondale Mills heiress Mignon Comer Smith, who died of a heart attack at the age of 81 while working at her desk two years ago.

An avid horsewoman, in 1954 Smith became the youngest Joint Master of the Fox Hounds in the United States, notorious in the horse world for sporting the pink collar traditionally worn by men, instead of wearing black typically worn by women.

A budding entrepreneur, during her early 20s, this Sylacauga native established the first English-style riding school in Alabama. She also created a pony club for young riders, often providing access and resources for the underprivileged to ride.

She owned a stud farm, now known as Mede Cahaba Stables and Stud LLC, and later became an outspoken proponent of horse track racing in Birmingham.

During the 1970s, Smith moved to Washington, D.C., where, as a pioneering member of the Alabama Republican Party, she redefined her life as a Southern woman.  There, she reported for the Alabama Radio Network for 30 years, acting as the White House correspondent during the Nixon administration. While in Washington, though, she retained a vital connection to Alabama politics, social circles and family.

As CEO of Avondale Mills, her father, J. Craig Smith, instituted a college scholarship program for the millworkers’ most promising sons. He even paid college tuition for many of their daughters. His generosity and belief in education as a way to level the playing field left an impression on Smith.
MCS1Smith believed, like her father, education was Alabama’s greatest resource. She also viewed education as crucial for Alabama to maintain a competitive edge in a global economy.In 2004, following her father’s example, Smith founded the J. Craig and Page T. Smith Scholarship Foundation with a $10 million endowment, also naming it the beneficiary of her $30 million dollar charitable remainder trust.

A tribute to her father’s legacy, the Smith Foundation provides up to full tuition, room, board and books at select Alabama colleges for graduating Alabama high school students who show excellence in character and have contributed to their community through service, despite facing personal challenges. Graduating seniors who have a minimum C+ average are eligible, and each year the foundation’s Board of Trustees chooses deserving students from more than 1,000 applications.

What makes this innovative scholarship program different is the fact these students are not chosen based on pure academic merit or financial need. These students, often first in their families to attend college, have been committed to community service in the face of overwhelming personal circumstances — often holding down a job for the family’s survival and still finding time to volunteer.

During the selection process, a subjective component plays a key part in each decision, says Ahrian Dudley, the foundation’s executive director, chief legal counsel and a longtime friend of Smith. “Is this a good kid who survived beyond what you would expect and thrived helping others? Does he have that extra spark that means he’s going to make it?”

The foundation carefully considers college choices for each student to ensure the best fit. To remain part of the program, students must maintain a minimum C+ grade average and continue to be involved in a civic role. “It is an accountability program, not a welfare program,” says Dudley.

As these students navigate their way through college, they shoulder more than just maintaining their grades, good behavior and community service. Often they face resentment and misunderstanding from the families and communities they’ve left behind. Many times they lack the basic necessities most college students take for granted — clothing, dorm room furniture and supplies, even adequate housing when they go home for the holidays.

Dudley says many students have been in survival mode for so long, they have built a shell around themselves. “They don’t know how to handle someone who cares and loves them and is not expecting a paycheck from them.”

This scholarship program entails more than just supplying the financial means to attend college — the program encompasses learning life skills, building self-esteem and changing ingrained cultural, social and familial stumbling blocks.

Throughout the years, Dudley and Urist McCauley, mentor and director of technical services, have acted as surrogate parents. Students have temporarily lived with them or called in the middle of the night to be taken to the emergency room. Dudley and a staff of five guide the students through mountains of paperwork, academic and social pressures, and practical problems from how to dress for an interview to which fork to use at a nice dinner.

When Steven Tyree, an outstanding athlete and scholar who attended a small high school in Fayette, first went to the University of South Alabama, he had a hard time adjusting to a class with 300 students when his entire high school totaled 280 students. He turned to his mentors to stay grounded.

“They gave me advice about what to expect in the classroom and even tips on where to sit during classroom lectures. I was also assigned my own personal mentor that I could call at any time day or night and just talk,” says Tyree.

He also struggled with choosing a major. Halfway through his first semester, he decided to reconsider pre-med. When McCauley asked him if he’d thought of engineering, Tyree says, “He didn’t know it but he had read my mind and we discussed it — the next day I changed my major to mechanical engineering and it has been the best decision I have made.”
The foundation also has learned from the past scholars’ experiences and input. Forty-one guidelines, all based on the students’ particular learning experiences, have been established. One guideline states that freshman aren’t allowed to join fraternities or sororities — it’s too expensive and too distracting.2010-12-31 23.00.00-90The past decade the foundation has evolved and adapted to meet the students’ wide range of needs by implementing a study abroad program assistance network and providing professional seminars, full-time mentors, dorm packs and adequate room and board during the holidays.

According to a 2009 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 35 percent of employers’ full-time, entry-level college hires originated from their internship programs. In light of this, the foundation has encouraged students like Donald Morgan, a student at Alabama A&M pursuing a degree in urban planning, to work as an intern. He recently accepted an internship with the city of Huntsville’s Planning Division. He will perform demographic analyses and research design standards for the city’s 2035 long range plan.

Once students finish the program, says Dudley, they’ve transformed into polished, confident individuals who often matriculate to graduate school.

And they reach that point without college debt. Cynthia Wozow, a Smith scholar alumna and a first-year medical resident, said she is especially grateful that she could begin her medical studies  debt free and concentrate on achieving her dream.

A true trailblazer, this great-granddaughter of Alabama governor B.B. Comer, who invented a special grass for horses, drove a 1976 Cadillac she named Gigi (Giant Green Gas-Guzzling Goddess), sailed the Chesapeake Bay on her 35-foot sailboat, planned a New Orleans-style party at the Birmingham Country Club on the occasion of her death, and requested her ashes be cast into the Chesapeake Bay, has left her mark on the future of Alabama.

This year, 62 Smith Scholars are enrolled in higher education. Since its inception, the foundation has helped more than 130 scholars.

— Lanier Isom- PRView

Author | Journalist

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