Alumni

KU alumna Sarah Smarsh receives National TRIO Achiever Award
Citing her “long-standing commitment to the mission of TRIO programs through her writing and journalism,” the Council on Opportunity.

Citing her “long-standing commitment to the mission of TRIO programs through her writing and journalism,” the Council on Opportunity in Education (COE) will award author and University of Kansas graduate Sarah Smash a 2021 National TRIO Achiever Award. Smarsh was recognized during COE’s 40th Annual Conference Award Banquet on September 13 in Atlanta, GA. While she was unable to be present, Smarsh will accept the 2021 award in-person at COE’s next annual conference in September 2022.

 

The TRIO Achiever award acknowledges TRIO alumni who have accomplished something extraordinary in their designated professions. Sarah Smarsh has not only accomplished in her field as a writer of journalism and books, but the topics she writes about—class, privilege, place, politics, gender—specifically relate to TRIO Programs.

 

The Federal TRIO programs provide support services for first-generation college students, with the goal of achieving academic success through post-secondary education and beyond. There are several TRIO programs housed at the University of Kansas, such as TRIO Upward Bound, TRIO Talent Search, and the program Smarsh participated in was the KU TRIO McNair Scholars Program, which is designed to diversify academic and research fields by preparing students for graduate school through scholarly activities and research opportunities. Prior to becoming a McNair Scholar, Smarsh earned work-study money as an Upward Bound tutor providing academic help to middle- and high school students in Topeka and Kansas City.

“As a first-generation student, I lacked many things my middle-class peers took for granted: parental financial support, a computer, family guidance through the college experience. I was an engaged student who performed well in and outside the classroom yet was often food-insecure and psychologically overwhelmed.” —Sarah Smarsh

“As a first-generation student, I lacked many things my middle-class peers took for granted: parental financial support, a computer, family guidance through the college experience. I was an engaged student who performed well in and outside the classroom yet was often food-insecure and psychologically overwhelmed,” Smarsh said. “When I passed a McNair Program flyer printed with the terms “first-generation” and “low-income,” I finally had words for the otherness I felt on campus even as a racially privileged student. The KU McNair Scholars Program did more than just provide needed resources and push me toward higher academic goals—it validated my struggles and showed me that I was not alone.”

 

Becoming a McNair Scholar her senior year at KU provided her a research stipend to help her begin research on her long-dreamed book project and also led her to apply for graduate school. As a first-generation college student, this was something she had not considered prior the program. Smarsh went on to graduate school at Columbia University, where she earned an MFA in non-fiction writing. She was a tenured English professor at Washburn University in Topeka before leaving academia to focus on her writing.

 

In 2018, Smarsh published her first book Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, which became an instant New York Times bestseller, a National Book Award finalist, and earned rave reviews in various publications. Detailing her childhood growing up on a family farm outside of Wichita, Heartland explores themes common to Smarsh’ work, such as class, economic hardship, and busting stereotypes of rural America.

 

In 2020, Smarsh published She Come by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs, a cultural analysis of the celebrated singer, songwriter, and philanthropist. The book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Non-Fiction.

“This award is special to me not so much because it recognizes my professional accomplishments today, but because it comes from higher-education advocates who know about the difficult journey it took to get there. I share this honor with all of them and hold their work in the highest esteem.”

“I am deeply humbled by the National TRIO Achiever Award,” Smarsh said. “This award is special to me not so much because it recognizes my professional accomplishments today, but because it comes from higher-education advocates who know about the difficult journey it took to get there. I share this honor with all of them and hold their work in the highest esteem.”

 

Smarsh is the second TRIO alumnus from the University of Kansas to receive the Achiever award. In 2018, Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, Creator & Executive Producer of the television show S.W.A.T., received the honor.

About KU TRIO McNair Scholars Program:

 

The KU TRIO McNair Scholars Program’s mission is to diversify the academic and research fields by preparing low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented college students for the Ph.D. The program provides engaged and experiential learning through research and scholarly activities to produce lifelong learners and leaders who represent the diversity of our society at large.

 

Facilitated by the Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP), federal TRIO Programs at the University of Kansas provide support for academic, financial, social, and career goals to students, adults, veterans, and families by partnering with Kansas school districts and communities in Northeastern Kansas.

More Headlines

Driving with Jayhawks
Driving with Jayhawks: KU mascot coach Brian Carpenter

KU mascot coach Brian Carpenter, c’02 joins Driving with Jayhawks. Learn what it takes to fill the boots of Big and Baby Jay!

News
‘Hawks & Highways’ brings KU Alumni, KU Endowment across Kansas

The University of Kansas Alumni Association and KU Endowment are hosting “Hawks & Highways” gatherings in several Kansas communities this summer.

Career
Copy the Leader: Stephanie Wittman

Stephanie Wittman, d’10 is a Health and Strength and Conditioning teacher at Tonganoxie High School. We sat down with Stephanie to learn what leadership means to her.

Career
Copy the Leader: Jon Sabillón

Jon Sabillón, c’11, is an international DJ, entrepreneur, and music futurist. We sat down with Jon to learn what leadership means to him.

Jayhawks Give Back
Jayhawk helps communities grow through The Giving Grove

Tucked away in urban neighborhoods across the U.S. are little orchards making a big impact.

KU Alumni Association
KU Alumni receives Insight Into Diversity Magazine’s Inclusive Excellence Award

The KU Alumni Association will be featured, along with 31 other recipients, in the June 2024 issue of Insight Into Diversity magazine.

Driving with Jayhawks
Driving with Jayhawks: Flying Jayhawks

In the monthly Driving with Jayhawks series, we’re taking the best of KU on a ride through campus as we talk about their Jayhawk experience.

Students
Tradition of Excellence Award honors student leaders

Eleven University of Kansas students were honored for their leadership on the Lawrence.

Career
Copy the Leader: Kelsey Galle

Kelsey Galle, c’12, is assistant director of alumni engagement at the KU Alumni Association. We sat down with Kelsey to learn what leadership means to her.

Welcome to the University
of Kansas Alumni Association

Your membership in the KU Alumni Association is the single most powerful way to make all of KU stronger, including the value of your own degree. Through your membership, the Association: