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College was never a certainty for Frank Smith III, a first-generation college student and former foster youth.
“It was never something that was talked about in my family,” Smith said.
Now this Arizona State University senior is graduating with not one, but two degrees in political science, and public service and public policy, and he has been selected as the Spring 2018 outstanding overall undergraduate for the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
Smith entered Arizona State University as a journalism major — initially drawn to the university’s reputable Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. But then something happened.
It was while helping to pass a foster care tuition-waiver bill in the state Legislature his freshman year that Smith realized he wanted to dedicate his life to public service.
“I saw that through public policy, you can be an active participant in the decisions being made that are going to impact the lives of the community,” Smith said.
Despite his challenging upbringing and time in Arizona’s foster-care system, Smith was determined to change things for the better.
“Frank is just really motivated to create opportunities for other people,” said Amanda Andrew, manager of student services in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. "As a former foster youth, he wants to create a path for other foster children to have opportunities like he’s had to be really successful in college.”
Smith was awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship for his work on the bill. Former Governor Jan Brewer signed it in 2013.
In his sophomore year, Smith was elected the youngest student body president at ASU, and later was re-elected for a second term.
He was also named one of 12 Spirit of Service Scholars for 2017-2018 — a scholarship program that honors outstanding students who are not only interested in pursuing careers in the public service and nonprofit sectors after graduation, but who are already making a difference.
With the successes he’s seen throughout his undergraduate career, one of the biggest his advice Smith would offer to incoming students is to get involved from day one.
“Easily one of the best decisions I ever made was getting involved with student government as a freshman,” Smith said.
A choice he says helped him build social capital, get connected with the university and hone his leadership skills.
Smith took a semester off school in 2016 to work on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, after which, he seized the opportunity to travel Europe. That time, combined with studying in Ghana for a summer and volunteering in Mexico, has since expanded his horizons beyond Arizona policy.
“The more I’ve gone abroad, the more I see that you can’t just look at public-policy issues through the lens of a single nation or single point of view — you need to see it from that global vantage point,” Smith said. “I’ll always be an advocate for foster reform, but now I want to tie my previous work into much larger goals.”
Those larger goals are exactly what Smith will focus on at Oxford when he starts his philosophy in comparative social policy master's degree program in the fall. He is one of 43 American students to receive a prestigious Marshall Scholarship for graduate study in the United Kingdom in 2018.
“The U.S. and the U.K. have a lot in common in terms of how society is structured,” Smith said. “I want to study how we can combine knowledge in education and economic and social policy to help close the opportunity gap and provide equal opportunities for all.”
As he graduates and reflects on his undergraduate career, Smith is filled with gratitude.
“I'm very fortunate, and I'm very thankful for all the teachers, mentors and everyone in between including friends and family that have helped me along the way," he said. "I definitely think I wouldn't be here if it weren’t for them.”
So what’s the end goal for Smith?
“I'd like to go to Washington D.C., work on Capitol Hill and work my way up to one day being a policy adviser or a chief of staff to an elected official.”