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Student earns prestigious Truman Scholarship for impact on homeless youth
Jahneé Smith

Student earns prestigious Truman Scholarship for impact on homeless youth

Jahneé Smith joins a select group of students across the country who will receive Truman scholarships to help fund grad school

April 12, 2024 at 11:57am

Jahneé Smith has become the second student in FIU history to receive the competitive Truman Scholarship. The award recognizes students who demonstrate outstanding leadership potential, a commitment to government or nonprofit careers and academic excellence.

Smith is one of only 60 new Truman Scholars across the country who were selected from more than 700 candidates representing 285 colleges and universities. The scholars were recommended by 17 independent selection panels comprised of civic leaders, elected officials, university presidents, federal judges and past Truman Scholarship winners. Smith is the only student in Florida to receive the scholarship this cycle. 

Through the scholarship, Smith will receive funding for graduate studies, leadership training, career counseling and special internship and fellowship opportunities within the federal government.

Smith is double majoring in global studies, part of the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, and women and gender studies, under the College of Arts, Sciences and Education

Earlier this week, Smith discovered the good news during a special Panther moment. President Kenneth A. Jessell, Provost, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth M. Béjar and Director of Prestigious Scholar Development Ashley Kuntz hosted a surprise congratulatory meeting with Smith.

"I was completely shocked and surprised," Smith says. "I thought I was just going to fill out some paperwork at Provost Béjar’s office. I saw President Jessell and shook his hand, but didn’t [realize it was part of a surprise], considering their offices are next to each other. It really wasn’t until I saw Dr. Kuntz with balloons that I realized what was happening."

Smith says what followed was surreal. "Once they told me I was a 2024 Truman Scholar, I was full of so much joy. I got teary-eyed and was in disbelief, processing this tremendous milestone. It felt humbling and joyful to see all of [the] hard work that I have dedicated to this application and to my larger community pay off. I am grateful for the village of support I’ve gotten from my FIU community throughout this process! I’m extremely honored to represent FIU and Miami Dade County with this award.”

President Kenneth A. Jessell, Provost (center, left), Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth M. Béjar (left) and Director of Prestigious Scholar Development Ashley Kuntz (right) hosted a surprise congratulatory meeting with Jahneé Smith (center, right) to celebrate Smith's earning the Truman Scholarship.


Smith has worked on an impressive array of public service projects, civic engagement initiatives and advocacy campaigns in Miami, New York and California. Smith’s work particularly focuses on ending homelessness and advocating for homeless youth. Smith has also volunteered with grassroots campaigns for LGTBQ+ issues, incarcerated people and universal FAFSA completion, among other topics. Smith has participated on a variety of county and nonprofit programs and committees, including serving as a Miami Dade Youth Commissioner, a program that allows young people to be actively involved and engaged in the process of county government.

Smith, who uses the pronouns they and them, currently works full-time organizing youth initiatives at Miami Homes for All, a non-profit organization that works to ensure residents have safe, affordable housing. The topic is dear to their heart: When Smith was 17, they became homeless. Thanks to FIU's Fostering Panther Pride program, which supports students experiencing housing insecurities and former foster care youth, Smith currently lives on campus in the dorms. 

Even before landing the full-time job, Smith distinguished themselves as a leader in the organization during a two-year fellowship as a Youth Voice Action Council member with the Miami Homes for All team. Smith championed an initiative to create the organization’s first young people’s assembly, which brought together 50 attendees — 60% of whom were homeless youth and 28% of whom were service providers and community members.

“I wanted youth with lived experiences to have a space where we can honestly speak about these experiences and where we can come together as a community, do some healing, and talk about what it is that we are truly facing.”

Smith adds, “It’s important for adults to know the youth perspective, to hear from the youth. Let’s make sure solutions and services can actually help them.”

Additionally, Smith co-authored a piece entitled “Changemakers for an Inclusive and Just Future” for the Fall 2023 edition of Southern Poverty Law Center’s Learning for Justice.

Smith is as involved at FIU as they are in the community. Smith is a member and tutor at Student Support Services; a member of the youth advocacy group Power U at FIU; and a mentor in the Fostering Panther Pride program.

Smith says FIU has been critical to their success. The university has also become home.

“I love FIU,” Smith says. “I’m Cuban American, and FIU is the largest Hispanic-serving institution in the country. I felt like I belonged here. That’s why I chose FIU. Through FIU’s Golden Scholars and Fostering Panther Pride programs, I’ve been given so much support as a first-generation student. I’m very much able to do everything that I’ve done because I’ve been supported by community members, educators and FIU.”

Smith plans to pursue a Master of Public Administration and a law degree, both from FIU.

“Jahneé is a highly capable, motivated and resilient young leader with the potential to be a change agent,” Kuntz says. “The future is bright with young people like Jahneé devoting themselves to careers in public service.”