Dreaming of College and Laundry | Brianna's Story

Last updated: October 10, 2023, at 12:38 p.m. PT

Originally published: October 10, 2023, at 12:38 p.m. PT

young girl smiling in graduation gown and holding graduation certificate

Brianna Lynn Smith remembers the summer when her dreams snapped into focus. At 12 years old, Brianna participated in a coding camp at the University of Washington. It was then that she knew she wanted to attend UW one day and learn more about engineering. She could picture her whole journey. All of it. She even fantasized about doing laundry in a dorm.    

“I’m a very goal-oriented kind of gal,” admitted Brianna.   

She also remembers when her dreams felt very distant. In high school, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brianna wondered what the future held and how she could attain her UW dreams. She was trapped at home, separated from friends and teachers, watching life unfold online.   

“It was a struggle,” Brianna recalled of virtual high school. “Motivation became an issue. I would lie in bed and try to figure out what to do.”   

Brianna credits her mother for finding a unique resource that helped her move forward. While researching support for teens online, her mom learned about the YMCA’s Y Scholars program during Brianna’s first year of high school. A program that built community and friendships while holding students accountable for daily assignments and planning for college felt like a good fit for Brianna.   

During the pandemic and the national reflection on racism, Y Scholars provided an opportunity for students to gather online and discuss current issues. Brianna used this opportunity to reflect on means to inspire civic action, work she’d been doing for years, including her design of an informational website inspired by Black Lives Matter, which she created back when she was 12 at her UW Camp. “Y Scholars gave me lots of opportunities. The staff supported me and helped me keep chugging along,” said Brianna.  

In 2021, when schools reopened, Y Scholars returned to in-person meetings. Brianna’s earliest memories of Y Scholars at Garfield High School are warm and communal. “After a long day of school, there were snacks provided, I’d see my friends, we’d chat about the day, then we’d get started on our homework. It was a calm and peaceful environment to get work done.”   

As she neared senior year, Brianna kept returning to her dream of attending UW. She started working with a Y Scholars volunteer writing mentor and shared her post-high school goals. Brianna’s mentor encouraged her to write about her online efforts to tackle social justice and equity issues. Brianna worked on her UW application for two months, and in the spring of her senior year she was accepted into the Washington State Academic RedShirt (STAR) program for the UW School of Engineering.    

Girl standing next to large W statue

The STAR program supports first-generation college students and low-income students as they start along their academic pathways. Brianna is focused on Human-Centered Design & Engineering, an academic track that unites students and faculty to solve global challenges through humane uses of technology. It’s not an easy major, Brianna shared, but she’s thrilled to put her dreams into action.  

Looking back as a UW junior, Brianna has much gratitude for the Y Scholars program, staff, and volunteers. “Y Scholars is the reason why I’m at UW and in my Engineering degree. They provide a great support system, and they continue to do that for more students.”  

Asked about her dream for Y Scholars, Brianna said, “I hope Y Scholars is still there in five or ten years and beyond to help more students achieve the dreams they have for themselves.”   

Brianna also has advice for current Y Scholars. “Believe in yourself. Know you are capable of fulfilling your dreams and keep doing what you’re doing.”