First-generation USC student models herself after those who helped her succeed

Photo of Saianna Smith
Los Angeles native Saianna Smith graduated from USCÕs college access program and is pursuing a masterÕs in educational counseling at USC Rossier. (USC Photo/Eric Lindberg)

Saianna Smith found her calling thanks to encouragement from teachers and mentors. Now the USC master’s student is helping others follow in her footsteps.

Sometimes a few caring adults can make all the difference to a child’s future. USC student Saianna Smith is living proof.

Smith grew up with 10 brothers and sisters, and education wasn’t a priority in her South Los Angeles home, so she didn’t get a lot of individual attention. When a middle school English teacher insisted that she enroll in a USC program that would get her ready for college, she felt like someone believed in her potential. A door opened into another world.

She joined the Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), which helped her conquer subjects like trigonometry and English literature. The extra support paid off: She got into college and is now earning her master’s degree at USC.

“If I wasn’t involved in a college access program like NAI, I don’t think I’d be where I am today,” Smith said. “Most of the students who went to my high school didn’t have those same kinds of resources to get to college.”