Name: Shelby Smith
Major and current year at UCI: third year social policy and public service major
Awards: David Rosten International and Community Service Scholarship, Elena B. and William R. Schonfeld Scholarship, and Social Sciences Honors Thesis Award
Hometown: San Francisco Bay Area – Fremont, California
Favorite UCI memory: Olive Tree Initiative experiential learning trip


Why did you decide to come to UCI and what are your future career plans?

UC Irvine was all that I could have ever dreamed of – beautiful SoCal location, support for first-generation students, outstanding academics, and an abundance of opportunities. To place the cherry on top, when I opened my acceptance letter, my long-time role model Erin Gruwell was at the bottom of the page as a notable alum. I got to follow in part of her footsteps and going to UCI provided me the opportunity to intern for her Freedom Writers Foundation for two years.

Switching majors after the first year of college to social policy and public service introduced me to a new understanding of education through research, my studies, and internships. This has truly impacted my viewpoint and my trajectory.

I intend to pursue a graduate degree in education policy after I finish my undergrad in 2021. I have long been passionate about contributing to education since growing up in the Bay Area and witnessing the education disparities across my local communities. I have found the space to explore how to contribute toward education equity in my major through the research, internships, and mentorship so strongly integrated which drives me to continue my education past undergrad to expand my capacity to contribute meaningfully to education equity. 

Tell us a bit about your award-winning research.

During the current academic year, I pursued an honors thesis on the psychosociocultural influences on teachers’ cultural pedagogy in Arab Israeli schools. This qualitative study was funded by SURP and UROP to support my preliminary research through travel to Israel and the West Bank with the Olive Tree Initiative, as well as my primary data collection through interviews with Palestinian teachers in Israel via video calls.

What activities have stood out in your extracurricular work, and what honors, grants and awards have you received along the way?

For the past two years I have had the opportunity to work with UC Irvine’s Upward Bound in a number of ways. I have interned in the office to assist with the annual report, tutored students in Anaheim, conducted a field study on their students’ college aspirations, and created a project providing school supplies for their students through scholarship and grant funding. Additionally, at UC Irvine I have had the incredible opportunity over the past two years to become involved in the Olive Tree Initiative. Through the conflict analysis organization, I have studied the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, traveled to the Middle East, served as president of the chapter, and interned for the headquarters.  I have learned so much from other student leaders on campus who have guided me as a first-generation student, and I am honored to be able to help other students in the same way. 

I am truly grateful for the opportunity the Barnes and Noble College Scholarship and the Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation: Small Change, Better World Grant have provided me to serve students in UC Irvine’s Upward Bound. While the project took many turns this year, I am happy that the funding was able to be utilized to construct technology-oriented school supplies packages for seventy students amid COVID-19. In addition to this scholarship and grant, I have received the Alice B. Macy Outstanding Undergraduate Paper Award, 2nd place for Middle East Paper Award, Elena B. and William R. Schonfeld Scholarship, UCI Office of Campus Writing’s Award for Best Writing Portfolio, and research funding from SURP and UROP.

What’s your best memory from your undergraduate experience at UCI?

The final group reflection of the Olive Tree Initiative trip was truly impressionable. As students from UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, and Chapman University sat in a circle on the grass of a park in Jerusalem, we came together to reflect on the diverse narratives we witnessed from people on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict across the past three weeks. I could see that I wasn’t solely sitting in a park of Jerusalem, but in the intersection of identities, opinions, and diverse people. 


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