Alumni Feature || Innovative, Sustainable, and Equitable Solutions to Poverty

We have many amazing alumni doing great work after graduating from our institutions. This post features Jack Smyth a 2019 Winona State graduate. We are excited to feature alumni such as Jack, as these are the individuals who made positive impact on our organization and higher education when they were students, and we are thrilled to see what kind of impact they are making post-graduation!


Jack Smyth is a Winona State graduate who is currently working in the City of St. Paul's Office of Financial Empowerment as part of the VISTA program. Learn more about Jack and his work below!

What degree did you obtain at WSU?

I graduated from WSU in the spring of 2019 with degrees in Political Science and Public Administration.

What is the VISTA program? 

VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America and it’s an AmeriCorps program defined by a full year of service to a nonprofit. The nonprofit that I am serving with is Cities of Service which was founded on the goal of helping local governments engage their residents in being part of the solution to their community’s problems.


How did you decide to be part of the VISTA program?  

Public service has been something that has interested me for a long time. While I’ve never had a specific job title in mind or organization that I wanted to work for, I knew that using my skills and time to serve people was important to me. This VISTA program was a natural fit for me because I love how on-the-ground local government is and how it has the unique ability to have an immediate positive impact on the lives of people.

What does the City of St. Paul's Office of Financial Empowerment do/work on?

St. Paul’s Office of Financial Empowerment was started six months ago by Mayor Melvin Carter to explore and implement solutions to poverty that are innovative, sustainable, and equitable. One of their big pushes for this year was starting the CollegeBound St. Paul program where every child born in the city, beginning on January 1st, 2020 will get a college savings account with $50 in it. Studies have shown that even a couple dollars in a savings account increases a child’s likelihood of attending higher education by almost three times. Hopefully they all become future Warriors! ;)

What do you do for the office?

My role is to help design and implement the Minor Home Repair Corps program. Almost half a million dollars leaves St. Paul’s poorest neighborhoods every year due to fines and fees from the city. This can be for things as small as not shoveling snow from your sidewalk in time, letting your grass get too tall, or having an undetected leak. While it’s important that these nuisances are resolved, we’ve seen that the fines and fees disproportionately affect our poor communities and communities of color. The Minor Home Repair Corps takes a different approach and will work with homeowners to resolve the nuisance while empowering and connecting them to resources to avoid the nuisance from coming up again. Another exciting feature of the Minor Home Repair Corps is that it will utilize one of the city’s overlooked resources: the 50+ year old population that has deep connections to their community and a drive to volunteer and improve their neighborhood.

Did your advocacy work in college help you decided what steps you took post-college? 

The moment that I knew for sure that public service was my calling was when serving on WSU’s student government and realizing how rewarding helping my fellow peers was. This encouraged me to find a job where I could grow and help my fellow Minnesotans. I also got the opportunity to participate in Students United’s first advocacy day which showed me that voting on election day is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being an engaged citizen. Democracies require continuous advocacy and talking to neighbors about what world you want to live in and I’m incredibly lucky that I get to be a part of that every day. 

I would encourage students to look into AmeriCorps and public service in general as opportunities, especially right after you graduate! It’s rewarding and a great way to build your experience and skills.


If you are, or know of, a Students United alum who is doing amazing work and should be featured on our website, please reach out to Director of Development Christina DeVries at