Davis & Elkins College brings together our individual journeys through life. Personally, this 2019 graduate forever holds a special place in my heart. Her childhood was traumatic, yet her courage, tenacity, and passion have resulted in an unfolding life of meaning and purpose. If ever there is one individual that epitomizes the life-changing experience of D&E, MacKinzie Smith is that person.
Raised in the foster care system of West Virginia, her childhood experience included bouncing from house to house but never finding a home. Arriving at Davis & Elkins in the Fall of 2015, MacKinzie excelled on the hallowed grounds of this campus despite not experiencing the family support most other students enjoy. A chemistry and biology double major, she was an excellent student. She moved into the College’s Morrison-Novakovic Center for Faith and Public Policy and found like-minded students with big ideas and passionate about making change in society. She was a campus leader, among other things helping bring sororities back to D&E. She explored her love of the arts. Notably, she found a supportive community of faculty and staff eager to provide whatever she needed to succeed and excel. “It was not in their job description to show kindness and patience. It was simply who they were,” MacKinzie told me in a recent conversation.
Noting her undergraduate education was extremely well-rounded, she said “It has enabled me to approach both medicine and current research from the scientific, sociological, moral, and ethical perspectives.”
Before graduating, MacKinzie came to see me to discuss her desire to establish a scholarship at D&E to benefit foster care youth. Nationally, only 3% of children raised primarily in foster care graduate from college. The first $1000 pledge for the scholarship came from MacKinzie herself. She requested it be named after her younger sister, Melody, who MacKinzie hoped would have a chance to attend D&E.
Following graduation, MacKinzie completed a one-year fellowship at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. From there she accepted into the MD/Ph.D. program at West Virginia University where she is now completing her second year. Her Ph.D. dissertation topic focuses on how adverse childhood experiences can result in PTSD. MacKinzie was the very first person in the United States with a foster youth background accepted for admission into such a prestigious and rigorous academic program.
As for her younger sister Melody, I am pleased to report she is doing well in her junior year at Davis & Elkins College. Last week, I sat down with Melody and she told me how grateful she is to have decided to attend D&E as MacKinzie had done.
The Melody Smith Scholarship, designated for West Virginia students from the foster care system, now stands at $115,000 thanks to generous donors inspired by MacKinzie and Melody. Donations are always welcome.
The day MacKinzie shared her desire to establish what is now the Melody Smith Endowed Scholarship, she told me she told me that she only had a home once she came to Davis & Elkins College. The welcome mat is always available for all willing to come and open themselves to the transformative educational experience offered in this blessed place known to some as MacKinzie’s home.
The journey continues….
Chris A. Wood
Davis & Elkins College