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UK Political Science Student Finds Many Ways to Pursue a Passion for International Affairs

By Richard LeComte 

Photo of a student
Myka Smith-Jackson

LEXINGTON, Ky, -- Myka Smith-Jackson found a passion for political science and international affairs by participating in a model U.S. government and United Nations while in Lexington schools. Now she’s following that passion as well as exploring a broad range of interests in the University of Kentucky’s College of Arts and Sciences.  

“I participated in programs called KYA and KUNA, which are the Kentucky Youth Assembly and the Kentucky United Nations Assembly,” said Smith-Jackson, a political science major and psychology minor at UK. “Both of those programs were essential to me figuring out what I wanted to study. KYC is mainly focused on United States government, and KUNA is for the United Nations. In the model U.N., I've represented a lot of countries: Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea and Thailand.” 

Smith-Jackson is a first-generation college student whose innate hunger for knowledge was fulfilled at Fayette County Schools’ STEAM Academy. She said the multicultural nature of the Lexington student body piqued her curiosity about the world.  

"Growing up, I had a very tight, diverse friend group,” she said. Some of them had just migrated here and some were born here. They told stories that they'd learned from grandparents, great-grandparents and aunties and uncles who used to live in their respective countries. Getting to learn about them and their respective countries was interesting, especially when we compared their backgrounds to American ways. It drew me toward becoming a political scientist.” 

At UK, Smith-Jackson has entered the Peace Studies and Global Studies certificate programs and has found inspiration in Jesse Johnson, the Peace Studies program’s director.  

“I absolutely love him as a professor.” she said. “His energy that he brings into the classroom is amazing.” 

The focus of her research, which she hopes will develop into her capstone project, will tie her varied interests together in a way that could lead to fresh insights into international diplomacy.  

"I'm putting together a project that will look at the intersections among political science, international relations and psychology,” she said. “I’m looking at Third World countries specifically and how their cultures impact their way that they go about international diplomacy.” 

She chose UK for its strong political science program. 

"When I was on my college journey -- trying to figure out what school I wanted to go to – it came down to the University of Louisville and the University. Kentucky,” she said. “The programming at UK for political science held a much stronger attraction for me, and the community that has brought me into UK also strongly influenced me. I've met so many amazing people here since I started two years ago.” 

On campus, she has worked as an intern in the Martin Luther King Jr. Center; serves as president of Leading Ladies, an organization for Black women; and as vice president of UK’s Model U.N.; and as junior chair of the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences group. And she’s on the slate of current College of Arts and Sciences Ambassadors.  

She also wants to travel internationally: So far, she has gone to the Bahamas and studied abroad in London on a program that allowed first-generation students to look at different cultures and career development. Eventually, she wants to pursue graduate study in international relations. And in her immediate future, she wants to continue expanding her knowledge by delving into the politics and culture of Rwanda.  

“I'm really interested in Rwanda's government, particularly its development,” she said. "They’ve come a long way since their genocide, especially with having a lot of women leaders. Also I'm going to be taking sign language over this summer, and I've been taking Spanish on the side. I'm also learning a little bit of Kinyarwanda, which is Rwandan's language from my friend.”