Jolan Smith

Jolan Smith


Charter College of Education

Jolan Smith says her mission is to give back to her community.

Born and raised in Inglewood, the 36-year-old Smith will be graduating in June with a Ph.D. in special education as part of a joint program through Cal State LA and UCLA.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stanford in 2001. Her first job out of college was with Children of the Night, a non-profit shelter home for youth escaping sex trafficking. Her role was to help transition high school students from a school on site to colleges and universities.

“Because of that experience," she recalls, "I had a heart for working with kids who are on the fringes of society and at-risk.”

She then taught at Eko Multipurpose Center, a small private school in Compton. She once again worked to transition students, this time through job development that helped students with disabilities transition into adult life. While working the center, Smith received her master’s degree in special education from Cal State Dominguez Hills in 2006.

Smith was then hired at Hawthorne High School, where she taught special education for seven years and learned the importance of being an advocate in the classroom. “As a special education teacher you have to be an advocate because these are people who often times don’t have access to that advocacy role,” she says. “It’s all about making sure what I’m doing is meaningful.”

During her first year at Hawthorne High, she also helped start the school’s Black Student Union.

Her efforts to help students have not been limited to the classroom. Smith launched an SAT boot camp at the Lincoln Family Life Center in South Los Angeles. She is president of the board of directors of the center, which is affiliated with her church.

In fall 2011, Smith enrolled in the joint doctoral program through Cal State LA and UCLA. She credits her professors at Cal State LA with being accessible and supportive.

“It has been amazing because of the faculty support. I’ve been able to work more closely with the faculty here, and that’s something really unique to Cal State LA,” Smith says.

Smith says her keys to success are staying humble and listening to the stories of others. “When you work with at-risk youth and children with disabilities you learn to celebrate the small victories,” she says. “I celebrate when I wake up on the good side of the bed.”

Smith hopes to use her passions for advocacy and research to continue to help others. She will be completing her post-doctoral research at UCLA, and she hopes to eventually obtain a tenure-track position at a university conducting research and training teachers. She would like to focus on topics involving the African American community and bring a cultural understanding that she says is often lacking in such research.

“I want to do research and know that it’s going to help and benefit my people,” she says. “We need to have minorities participating in research.”

She is determined to keep challenging herself and continue seeking more ways to work on behalf of the African American community.

“I am a product of my community, I am a product of all these programs, and so my job is to go back and funnel it back into my community,” Smith says. “I’m recycling Black knowledge back into my community and hopefully pulling someone else up by doing so.”