theGrio’s 100: Zakiya Smith, Harvard graduate with a passion for equality of access

Who is Zakiya Smith?

Zakiya Smith, 29, is passionate about supporting social equality by promoting educational access for low-and moderate-income families.

Currently a strategy director for student financial support at the Lumina Foundation, the ambitious Harvard University graduate (master’s degree in education policy and management) is focused on developing new models of financial aid for higher education through strategic grant making.

Her tireless commitment to education has not gone unnoticed and in 2012 she was listed on the Forbes Under 30: Education List, an annual list of “the best and brightest young minds across the country.”

Why is she on theGrio’s 100?

Prior to her work in philanthropy, Smith served as a senior policy advisor for Education at the White House Domestic Policy Council, where she was tasked with developing higher-education policy. She contributed to what some say are President Obama’s “boldest and [most] innovative” higher education proposals including those related to college access, affordability, and completion. She has also served in the Obama administration as a senior adviser at the U. S. Department of Education.  Before her tenure in the Obama administration, Smith was Director of Government Relations at the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, where she authored reports on college access.

What’s next for Smith?      

Smith comes from a family of educators (her maternal grandmother taught at the historically black college Morris College in South Carolina) and she is clearly passionate about the life-changing role of higher education. In an interview with theGrio, she said her big goal is for college to be more affordable, especially for low-income, minority, and first-generation students.

“Even in the super long term I want to do something that has an impact on low income communities and promotes racial and social equality,” she said.

“I don’t think any of the major obstacles are insurmountable and I believe there are solutions for every challenge, we just need to figure out what they are,” she adds in an interview with the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “I hope to be out of the job by the time I’m 45 because the American education system is so improved that I can move into retirement!”