Native American student Sara Dailey-Smith to Finish Degree After 16 Years
A significant milestone in a long journey is on the horizon for one dedicated Rogers State University student. Sara Dailey-Smith will graduate in May 2021 with a degree in Justice Administration, having spent 16 years attempting to complete her undergraduate degree at RSU.
Despite challenges and setbacks, she has high hopes for a future of meaningful impact. Dailey-Smith is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. She was raised in the traditional culture and is following in the footsteps of her ancestors to spread awareness, acceptance and advocacy for all Native Americans.
“Rogers State is filled with an environment of forward-thinking individuals who live to foster change. I was inspired the moment I walked into RSU as a young adult, and I will continue to be inspired upon my exit. That is why I have always returned, and why I am here today finishing my degree,” Dailey-Smith said.
RSU’s Foundation has supported and encouraged Dailey-Smith throughout her academic career.
“We believe it is truly a privilege to be a part of the educational journey of our students. Our donors, RSU Foundation Board and the RSU Development Staff are eager to help our students,” Tonni Harrald, the senior director of development, said. “We realize earning a college degree at RSU will change the trajectory of each student’s life, ensuring greater earning potential and an improved quality of life.”
The RSU Foundation’s mission to advance the pursuit of knowledge begins with the individual care for student success. The Foundation offers many scholarships to help students focus on their studies and worry less about making ends meet.
“The Foundation has been exceedingly generous to me during my time here. It truly means so much to have a home here at RSU, with people who wish you much success at every stage of your academic career. That is so rare for a university,” Dailey-Smith said.
The Foundation supported Dailey-Smith financially when one of her children underwent surgery.
“My eldest child was born with craniofacial abnormality and suffered brain damage from increased cranial pressure on his brain. He underwent brain surgery, cranial vault remodeling and facial reconstructive surgery,” Dailey-Smith said. “I had to prematurely withdraw from that semester of classes. The Foundation forgave any remaining balances and allowed me to focus solely on my family and my child’s delicate health.”
Despite setbacks in earning her degree, she is determined to finish strong.
“I knew at a young age that if I didn’t pursue a college education, that I would not have an escape from poverty, or any opportunity thereafter to broaden my development. Statistically speaking, Native Americans have the highest poverty rate among all minority groups. I couldn’t accept that,” Dailey-Smith said.
Dailey-Smith’s professor and mentor Dr. Diana Clayton has guided her through many trials and heartbreaking disappointments. Nevertheless, Dr. Clayton has ensured Sara’s future by creating a shorter path to graduation as well as providing the most important things, unwavering faith and a determined spirit to help her thrive.
“Many of our students, especially non-traditional students, experience life events that complicate their academic pursuits. Sara does not give up. My life has been so enriched by knowing her. She will make a difference, and I am so proud,” Clayton said.
Professors like Dr. Clayton is what makes the Technology and Justice Studies department so attractive to students. The program teaches law enforcement and legal foundations, but most importantly teaches compassion and care for human life.
“Justice studies is about fundamental issues that affect everyone, nationwide, not just at home, in a classroom, on a college campus. RSU’s program understands that people’s lives hang in the balance and it’s important to ensure justice for all powered by constitution rights and due process of law,” Dailey-Smith said.
After graduation, Dailey-Smith will head to OU College of Law to focus on Tribal Law and specifically, the Indian Child Welfare Act.
“Justice and equality are very near and dear to my heart as is Native Law and advocacy, so this degree is the product of those passions. I will be able to attend graduate school, further influence communities, speak out against racial inequality and inspire others to fight for what they believe. And do all of this, always leaving room for kindness,” Dailey-Smith said.