Joan T. Smith, a lifelong learner, trailblazer, and philanthropist, left an estate gift upon her death in late 2019 that nearly quadrupled her original endowments to the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS) and Carlson School of Management. She established the Joan T. Smith Scholarship in 2005, after hearing Mozambican humanitarian Graça Machel talk about her work on behalf of refugee children in Africa in a speaker series hosted by CCAPS called Great Conversations. 

"The Joan T. Smith Scholarship allows students like me the opportunity to foster new beginnings and to get the most out of their college experience."

Joan T. Smith portrait

“Joan was very moved by Machel’s work,” says Mary Nichols, the dean of the College at the time the fund was established. “She had traveled to Africa and was familiar with the struggles of its people, and so was inspired to help young African women through the scholarship.” 

Since the fund was established, a total of 60 CCAPS students have been awarded scholarships totaling nearly $70,000 through spring 2021. CCAPS anticipates it will now be able to double the number of students that receive funding annually. 

“Joan just sparkled, especially in environments where she was learning,” says Nichols, who moderated Great Conversations and Headliners, where Smith was a consistent attendee. “She valued education and was so grateful for any opportunity to learn. She expressed her gratitude freely to the event staff and presenters and by giving back in her way, through the establishment of the scholarship. And she relished hearing and reading about the ways that the fund helped make things better for the award recipients.”

Scholarship recipient Makko Kadir, a Health Services Management student, expressed her appreciation in a recent letter. “As a first-generation and young Black Muslim woman, I’m so proud to receive this scholarship because currently I’m working part time to support myself and my family. Both my dad and my mom never got the chance that I have now and they left their homeland to make our life better. Overall, I’m not only the first-generation graduate from my family but also the first female within my family roots to graduate from university or with a bachelor degree thus far.”

Jibril Abdi

Jibril Abdi, also a “Smith Scholar,” as they are affectionately called, is another impressive example of a scholarship recipient who gives back to the community. In a CCAPS profile of Abdi, he talked about the nonprofit high school tutoring program he founded. “During my freshman year at the U, I was reflecting on the things that got me where I was. There was so much opportunity available to me, and I wanted to give that to others. Aflah Tutoring is very similar to College Possible, but I think it might be more accessible to some.” 

Lifting up those who need help

The endowment to CCAPS was a natural extension of Smith’s dedication to “lift up those who need help,” says Tonia Weber, director of advancement at the U’s Carlson School of Management, where Smith earned a degree in finance in the 1950s. Having worked her way up from an administrative role to become the first woman vice president of her division at Norwest Bank (now known as Wells Fargo), Smith understood the challenges women face in a male-dominated field. With that in mind, she endowed the Joan T. Smith Fellowship for the Advancement of Women in Investment Management at Carlson in 1999. Seeing the impact of her gift, she was moved to established the CCAPS scholarship in 2005.

“Joan was a quiet philanthropist," says Weber. "She valued education, for herself and for others. The fellowships and scholarships she endowed are legacies of that commitment.”

Abdi agrees: "The Joan T. Smith Scholarship allows students like me the opportunity to foster new beginnings and to get the most out of their college experience."

The Joan T. Smith Scholarship Fund supports full- or part-time undergraduate students at CCAPS. A plus factor is given to women who have a financial need and are recent African immigrants, refugees, asylees, or citizens of African countries living in the USA.

Philanthropic gifts in support of continuing and professional studies at the University of Minnesota will advance career opportunities and produce the diversity of talent essential for thriving communities. To learn more about how you can invest in the University of Minnesota College of Continuing and Professional Studies, contact Courtney Barrette at or 612-625-1253.