When Ian Smith was a sophomore at Purdue University, he had more than classes and projects and homework and deadlines . . . he had vision. He had a determination to create a foundation which would encourage inner-city students and help them focus on completing their education.
Now, the Ian Smith Foundation in Indianapolis, Indiana is doing exactly that. Founded in 2005, volunteer mentors are paired with at-risk youth to provide the impetus and encouragement they need to succeed. The Foundation differs from organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters in
concentrating on academic goals rather than family or social opportunities.
Mentors are recruited from the community, and students from nearby IUPUI are often the first to volunteer. With a small but dedicated staff, Ian currently does the bulk of the outreach activities. In addition, each summer a Teen Summit is held to help motivate students facing another school year after several weeks of summer vacation. As Ian says, “It gives them an ‘energy boost’ for the coming year.” The half-day event includes speakers, entertainment, food, community resources, and attendees receive school supplies to get them “in the mood” for the coming academic session. Around 250 students attend the Teen Summit, primarily from grades K through 8, but with some from the high school grades as well. Many of the public schools, as well as outlying township schools, are represented.
Ian says his Purdue education helped him realize the importance of obtaining an education and made him take responsibility for completing that goal, which led to his acquisition of a master’s degree in entomology from Kansas State University. He would like to institute a “Bugs-R-Us” insect zoo component of his outreach efforts to expose kids to something new and different, and help alleviate their fear of insects.
Ian is deservedly proud of his Foundation, and of being a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship finalist last year. While he was unable to take advantage of the fellowship at that time, he certainly plans to re-apply for the coming year. This would enable him to acquire additional education to qualify to teach basic STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.
Congratulations, Ian, and best wishes in your continued pursuits!