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Looking back, looking ahead and coming full circle with Rainier Scholars

The pathway to college is a journey. J’Kela Smith had the support of her mother Margie and Rainier Scholars to help her access greater opportunities and reach her destination. Looking back, she remembered the experiences along the way as a promising future opened up through hard work, commitment and a community of support.

My mom was really excited for me to get into Rainier Scholars, she said ‘you have to do this, it’s too big of an opportunity,’” J’Kela recalled. “Once I delved into to it, I got really motivated, despite how hard it is— it is really challenging—but Rainier Scholars definitely showed me that they were there for moral support, not just academics.”


Rainier Scholars was that drive and that push that told me you can do anything. Now I know it’s up to me.”

J’Kela Smith, Cohort V, Garfield High School, Union College, class of 2017


Growing up, it was always just J’Kela and her mom. And there were reasons why J’Kela’s mother Margie was so enthusiastic. “My hope for J’Kela was to get a better education. I didn’t go to college,” she explained. “I’ve worked in the same restaurant for 24 years, and I don’t want this life for my daughter. There’s a smarter way of working and education is the key.”

The journey in the Rainier Scholars program took J’Kela in unexpected directions. “Sophomore year, I decided to do a two-week program at Rochester Institute of Technology,” she recalled with great enthusiasm. It was an eye-opening experience. “I got to get out of Washington State and see another place. I learned a lot about myself—that I can be independent—and there are so many other things I can do as well.”

Margie wasn’t surprised at her daughter’s passion for new discoveries. “Growing up, J’Kela wanted to get involved with everything she could possibly get involved with inside and outside school. Because she had such a passion to do things, that made me say ok, whatever you have to do, let’s just do it.”

Mentoring is a key pillar of the Rainier Scholar program, and the opportunity to be a student advisor brought J’Kela’s experience to a full circle. “I wanted to become a student advisor to younger scholars, and it was definitely one of my favorite jobs,” she said. “I know I can be a big sister.”

For a mother, the rewards for her daughter’s resilience, hard work and determination are clear. “She got into five colleges, and now she is ultimately going to graduate from Union College this spring. It just doesn’t get any better than that to me.”

J’Kela agreed. “I know there are kids who don’t have someone pushing them, they don’t have the resources to be successful. And Rainier Scholars was that drive and that push that told me you can do anything. You just have to put your mind to it. Now I know it’s up to me.”

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