News » Latest Articles
Apr 12, 2024 MOST Staff

Shynia Smith: Inspiring the Next Generation of Discovery and Innovation

A focused and ambitious student, former M.O.S.T. Scholar Shynia Smith dreamed of becoming a biologist working at the forefront of research. But a high school opportunity to work in early child education and an undergraduate epiphany revealed a different path.

By 2025, she’ll have earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Memphis in Biology with minors in Psychology and Health in Society and will join the Memphis Teacher Residency graduate program, launching her career with a four-year contract to work at a high-risk Memphis school.

“I grew up in Orange Mound, and just recently moved to Bartlett,” said Shynia, a 2018 graduate of St. George’s Independent School and current University of Memphis senior. “I've been here my whole life, and I plan on staying even after my contract with the Memphis Teacher Residency ends.”

A M.O.S.T. Scholar since 1st Grade at St. George’s in 2006, Shynia remembers a culture of academic bravery cultivated at her school by faculty and peers alike.

“Because of the setting I was very academically driven, always making sure that I set goals for myself and focusing on achieving them,” she said. “I remember teachers making sure that I stayed on the right path. And it wasn’t only teachers, but others who worked at St. George’s and even the students in my classes.”

“Shynia is a great person who clearly took full advantage of what was offered her,” said Dr. Marianne Leung, Social Studies Department Chair at St. George’s, who taught Shynia history and worked with her on a Morton Museum of Collierville exhibit on non-combat veterans of the Vietnam War.

“She interviewed her grandfather who had served as a cook. She knew he’d been in Vietnam but didn't have any context because he didn't think his service was important and didn’t talk about it,” said Dr. Leung. “She was motivated to learn his story and honor her grandfather by doing this deep research. He's standing there on the day of the opening and I heard him say, ‘Well, I guess if I'm in a museum, I am important.’ It was really sweet that she could do that for him, and also for her family and for herself.”

While the school’s academic courses shaped Shynia’s intellect, it was an on-campus job opportunity that began quietly reshaping her career ambitions, in ways that weren’t obvious even to her.

“While I was in high school, I was hired as an aftercare teacher for the little kids,” said Shynia. “After school was over, I would join my students, take attendance and manage snack time, supervising them until it was time to go home. We did homework, explored and discussed nature outside, and I engaged them with learning-based playtime.”

By her senior year she was a co-director of the program, managing staff and seeing to overall needs for the students and caregivers.

“I saw one of my former 5th graders the other day when I visited the school, and they remembered me,” she said. “’When are you coming back to see us?,’ they asked. I don't think I would have had that experience at a public school.”

After graduation Shynia enrolled in Baptist College of Health to pursue a degree in Medical Laboratory Science, staying on that path for three years before something in her subconscious started whispering about a different future.

“I was so certain that I would become a scientist. But as my junior year ended, I realized that my love of working with kids and impacting their futures was something that I could not walk away from,” she said. “When I decided to transfer, becoming a high school science teacher was 100% what I had in mind. My love of science didn't go away, it just evolved into something more true to myself.”

As she speeds toward a May 2024 graduation from the University of Memphis, she feels gratitude to the many people who made her M.O.S.T. Scholarship possible.

“My M.O.S.T. Scholarship opened doors for me. Without it I would not have been able to go to St. George's and I don’t think college would have looked the same,” she said. “My Mom graduated from Melrose High School in Orange Mound as Valedictorian so I've seen success come from places where people would say it wasn’t achievable. I was also aware of her work with M.O.S.T. to help pay for my education, and I know today what a big sacrifice she made.”

“Donors gave their resources to help me attend a college prep school and I’m very grateful. Their generosity and my Mom’s sacrifice gave me this opportunity and I never wanted to let it pass me by. M.O.S.T. has changed my life for the better and I’m eager to show my gratitude by lifting up the next generation of scientists in Memphis.”

Published by MOST Staff April 12, 2024