March 30, 2021

Following Her Path to Success

UW-Superior student Jessica Smith receives Campus Compact fellowship.

UW-Superior student Jessica Smith receives Campus Compact fellowship.

UW-Superior student Jessica Smith is one of 212 students to receive Campus Compact fellowship

To say Jessica Smith’s time at the University of Wisconsin-Superior has been transformative, would be an understatement. It’s only fitting that in her senior year Smith is being recognized as one of 212 students named to Campus Compact’s 2021 cohort of Newman Civic Fellows.

“I cried when I found out,” said Smith, who is majoring in legal studies with a minor in First Nations studies. “I was really emotional about it because I never would have thought that in my senior year at UWS I would be representing as a Newman Civic Fellow. It really took me off guard when I was selected and to read the chancellor’s statement really made me proud.”

The Newman Civic Fellowship is a year-long program for students from Campus Compact member institutions. The students selected for the fellowship are leaders on their campuses who demonstrate a commitment to finding solutions for challenges facing communities locally, nationally, and internationally.

For Smith, the path to this award took some time to travel.

“I was out of school for 10 years after I graduated with my AA and AS,” she said. “I was living in Superior and was having a difficult time finding peace, healing, and happiness. I remember walking through the campus one night looking at the school. I just thought I should go back to school. Standing there envisioning myself being in school really brought me feelings of joy.”

Soon, Smith was exploring UW-Superior’s program offerings that aligned with her pervious educational achievements.

“I looked into programs and read about the legal studies program,” she said. “Already having my A.S. in law enforcement, I knew that it was the right decision for me to pursue the legal studies degree. It was the best decision I have ever made because UWS has completely changed my life.”

As a student, Smith has been able to participate in a variety of organizations and opportunities such as the Native Nations Student Organization, Student Support Services, McNair Scholars Program , and as a student representative for the Legal Studies and Criminal Justice Program Advisory Board. She was also able to complete the new equity, diversity, and inclusion certificate.

“I have enjoyed being involved in all these different amazing things outside of my normal coursework, and it has made my time at UWS much more fulfilling,” Smith said.

While the extracurricular activities have been both enjoyable and beneficial toward her future goals, it was time in the classroom that Smith has found most enjoyable.

“The thing I have enjoyed most about UWS is the ability to do independent studies,” she said. “My first independent study, I started researching the missing and murdered people epidemic, because the things I have personally gone through are things that contribute to this epidemic. It made me very passionate to get involved and tell my story in hopes of helping to put an end to the violence against Indigenous people.”

Smith has also been able to lend her expertise to help educate multiple groups and organizations.

“I was able to present my research at Research in the Rotunda before the pandemic hit, which allowed me to get this research in front of legislatures to help pass Savannas Act which addresses the issue and gives tribes more jurisdiction in cases,” she said. “My research with the McNair Scholars Program allowed me to train different agencies on how they can better support Indigenous victims. I trained the judicial council of California on how they can be more supportive of Native LGBTQ2S victims. With my research and expertise, I was a legal studies student, training lawyers, judges and court personnel. I am also presenting my research at NCUR this year, which will bring this issue in front of many people who probably know very little, so the opportunity to keep raising that crucial awareness is extremely important and it is a huge honor to do this work.”

At UW-Superior, she has received numerous UW-Superior Foundation scholarships and awards. Last year, Smith received the Justice Service Award and this year she also received the Tommy Thompson Public Leadership Scholarship. Smith is also quick to credit many supportive staff and faculty for helping her achieve her success.

Kat Werchouski has been my mentor from day one at UWS,” said Smith. “ Kat was the first person I told about my story and survival of human trafficking. Kat's support has been sort of like the glue that held me together through this research because it is emotional to study your own personal traumas. Allison Willingham has been my mentor through my McNair Scholars Program research and was my internship instructor. Without Alli’s support, I would not be where I am today, she has helped me more than she knows. Nathan LaCoursiere has been the best advisor, instructor and support person I have ever had the chance to learn from. He is the reason I started being civically engaged. He really inspires his students to go above and beyond. Nate is an incredible teacher and I feel incredibly blessed to be learning from him. Monte Stewart talked me into McNair when I was about to pull my application because I was doubting myself. Monte helped me so much through the entire McNair program and still continues to support me. Sam Maday, Cassie Brown, T Leeper, Heather Rickerl, Chantal Norrgard, Erica Backstrom, all of these staff and instructors have changed my life. I would not be as successful as I am right now if it weren't for them. I have so much love and gratitude for each and every one of them.”

For the UW-Superior community of faculty and staff, it came as no surprise that Smith was selected for the cohort of Newman Civic Fellows.

“Jessica is an outstanding representative for our institution,” said Jenice Meyer, community engagement and strategic partnerships senior officer, and director of the Link Center. “She has been applying her passion and the knowledge gained from her education to address issues that plague Indigenous communities on a local and national level. Her work to address missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two spirit people is vital and it makes her so deserving of this national recognition.”

Campus Compact is a national coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education. This award will be officially presented to Smith during the Yellowjacket Student Excellence Awards virtual event in May.

“This recognition means so much to me because as a Two-Spirit Native American survivor of human trafficking, we are all too often not recognized,” said Smith, from Cloquet, Minnesota. “Some systems do not even track race, and even in the election results in a poll by CNN we were referred to as ‘something else.’ I am not sure what demographic is for common Newman Civic fellows, but as a Two-Spirit Native American survivor, I'm fairly sure I am the first to gain this national recognition. So, for me, it is helping to remove the invisibility of Native Americans in these systems. The University of Wisconsin-Superior feels proud that their Newman Civic Fellow wears a two-spirit ribbon skirt, I know that and that makes me feel proud to be a part of a university that truly values diversity.”

The academic journey isn’t over for Smith, who will be pursuing a master’s degree in the fall.

“I plan on continuing to work at a national level to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous people and initiatives that address human trafficking by fighting for steeper penalties in the justice system,” she said. “I plan on continuing my work as a research assistant for Sovereign Bodies Institute and advocating for families with missing or murdered loved ones. Long term, I would love to start a non-profit agency that partners with tribes to create restorative justice programs for our youth, brings culturally based services to survivors, and practice trauma informed mediations within our tribal communities.”

The Newman Civic Fellowship is named for the late Frank Newman, one of Campus Compact’s founders, who was a tireless advocate for civic engagement in higher education. In the spirit of Newman’s leadership, Campus Compact member presidents and chancellors nominate student leaders from their campuses to be named Newman Civic Fellows.

Through the fellowship, Campus Compact provides Fellows with a variety of learning and networking opportunities that emphasize personal, professional, and civic growth. Each year, fellows participate in numerous virtual training and networking opportunities to help provide them with the skills and connections they need to create large-scale positive change. The cornerstone of the fellowship is the Annual Convening of Fellows, which offers intensive skill-building and networking over the course of two days. The fellowship also provides fellows with pathways to apply for exclusive scholarship and post-graduate opportunities.

“We are proud to recognize these extraordinary student leaders and thrilled to engage with them,” said Campus Compact President Andrew Seligsohn. “The experience of the last year has driven home to all of us that we need open-minded, innovative, public-spirited thinkers and doers. That is what Campus Compact is about, and the stories of our Newman Civic Fellows demonstrate it’s who they are.”

Campus Compact is a national coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education. Campus Compact supports institutions in fulfilling their public purposes by deepening their ability to improve community life and to educate students for civic and social responsibility. As the largest national higher education association dedicated solely to campus-based civic engagement, we provide professional development to administrators and faculty to enable them to engage effectively, facilitate national partnerships connecting campuses with key issues in their local communities, build pilot programs to test and refine promising models in engaged teaching and scholarship, celebrate and cultivate student civic leadership, and convene higher education institutions and partners beyond higher education to share knowledge and develop collective capacity.

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