Family members (from left) Sivya, Chani and Dodi Smason have all chosen the University of Missouri–St. Louis for its high academic standards, inclusivity and strong community values. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Chani Smason almost didn’t attend college.

“When I graduated high school, I didn’t feel ready to go on. But education was always a big value in my family, and my dad told me I was either going to school or moving out, so I went to college — and I tanked,” she said with a laugh. “Then I dusted myself off, tried again and found my thirst for knowledge.”

After completing an undergraduate degree in literature and teaching language arts, Smason came to the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 2004 and earned a master’s in education. With her interests piqued and nurtured, she went on to earn another master’s in English and, most recently, pursue a PhD in education.

“I wanted my first master’s degree to get a raise at work,” she said, “but I quickly outgrew that goal — I wanted more than a higher pay grade. I wanted to understand arts and politics and history and strive towards universality. Now I champion students who want to grow in understanding and experiences.”

And two of the most important students Smason champions are her daughters Dodi Smason and Sivya Smason, who are both undergraduates enrolled in the Pierre Laclede Honors College. Chani’s love of learning has guided Dodi and Sivya throughout their lives.

“For the longest time,” Dodi said, “my mom had a poster in her office with a quote by Epictetus: ‘Only the educated are free.’ In so many ways, this is one of the mantras of my family. Growing up, we had shelves filled with books and were always provided with many opportunities to advance our education. But we were never forced by my parents to attend college or further our education; rather, we were encouraged to do so on our own.”

The combination of encouragement and intellectual freedom has allowed Dodi and Sivya to pursue their studies in earnest. While both Dodi and Sivya are majoring in psychology, Dodi is focusing on research and clinical psychology while Sivya has taken an interest in how interpersonal interactions apply to industries and organizations.

Besides her scholastic efforts, Sivya has also served as a group leader for the Sue Shear Institute’s Girls Summit and has won a logo design award sponsored by the American Democracy Project.

Of course, Chani takes great interest in Dodi and Sivya’s activities and achievements.

“I’m so proud of Sivya,” Chani said. “She’s really shown pure grit, and the whole family is cheering her on.”

Chief among family supporters, Chani’s father made it a point to expose his grandchildren to culture at an early age.

“My grandfather is huge on education,” Sivya said. “Since we were young, he’d take us to lectures and piano recitals.”

And even though Chani felt intimidated by the prospect of college at first, she has made good on her educational journey and made a way for her daughters, fulfilling a family value emphasized by her father.

“My dad called me the other day and told me about the most recent letter he got from Dodi,” Chani said. “She’s been writing him since high school, and he told me the Dodi he knew before had all the impressions and thoughts of a young girl. But this last letter was from a highly intellectual woman. And it was written so beautifully. He said he was impressed, and I told him ‘Well, your investment paid off.'”

The UMSL Experience

Ron Austin

Ron Austin

UMSL Tritons weekly rewind

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