College of Humanities

Congratulations to the 2024 College of Humanities Outstanding Scholar Jessica Smith

College of Humanities Outstanding Scholar Jessica SmithThis year’s College of Humanities Outstanding Scholar was what you might refer to as a reluctant matador. You see, as a high school senior, earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree at CSUN was not in Jessica Smith’s plans. As a matter of fact, when it came time to choose a university, she only landed at CSUN as a last resort. That’s because in 2020, during the height of COVID, she received rejection letters from every other school on her college wish list. Her only acceptance was from CSUN. Jessica acknowledges that having to make a compromise so early on her academic path felt like a failure. In retrospect, however, it turns out that pedagogical providence was on her side all along. 

Bending to the influence of others, Jessica applied to college as a Nutritional Science Major, but during registration she changed her course of study to English Literature. It was the first of many bold steps she would take along the way. Eventually, her path veered again. “I chose Creative Writing and Africana Studies because together they are the root of who I am: a creator and a cultural analyst,” she says. “I had spent my life creating stories and comics while seeking to learn more about my history.” It wasn’t only in her classes where Jessica strived for excellence. During the 2022 revival of the Northridge Creative Writing Circle (NCWC), she served first as the group’s Social Media Historian and later as Vice President. On a recommendation from English faculty, she also interned for the LA Public Poetry and Prose Project. And for three academic years she served as lead tutor at the Africana Studies Writing Center. In Africana Studies, she also worked with the CAPTURED Journal as Assistant Editor during her final semester and helped create an editorial that reflected Black and Brown students' experiences at CSUN. In addition to those accomplishments, she was active in a number of campus organizations, including: Black Student Union, Trans Wellness Alliance, Students for Justice in Palestine, Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, and Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society. While keeping herself very busy at CSUN, Jessica also made it a priority to strengthen her ties to the off-campus community and spent her senior year as a Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC) Outreach Intern working with low-income students at Panorama High School.  

Jessica had a number of faculty who she credits with helping her along the way. These mentors helped grow her confidence and offered valuable support all the way through her graduate school application process. “Professor Martin Pousson was the first teacher to call me fierce,” she recalls. “And Professor Kimberly Young was the first to say that I held sophistication in writing.” Words she says she will carry with her always. She’s also grateful to have inherited her father's love for science fiction and some of her mother's writing skills. Both helped transform her into the highly imaginative Afro-Futurist writer she is today. Her educational journey will continue in the fall at San Francisco State University where she will pursue her MFA on a Brainard Scholarship with the goal of becoming a professor of Creative Writing. Looking back now, she is grateful that fate brought her to CSUN. And moving forward, she will forever remember that this is where she met her best friend, discovered her passion for writing, and had her first articles published in The Sundial, The Northridge Review, Kapu Sens, and CAPTURED among others. Once a reluctant Matador, Jessica is now a proud alum. And we will always be honored to have been a part of her inspiring story.