Campus News

College of Education’s 100th anniversary saluted by UK alum, national education leader

Felicia Cumings Smith
Felicia Cumings Smith

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 2, 2024) — Felicia Cumings Smith’s career in education has spanned many roles — all with a focus on advancing Kentucky by making a difference for students. 

She earned her doctorate at the University of Kentucky College of Education — which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this academic year. Now, Cumings Smith is president and CEO of the National Center for Families Learning. The non-profit works to eradicate poverty through education and solutions for families. 

Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith’s passion for impacting society through education is an inspiration to the next generation of scholars in the college,” said UK College of Education Acting Dean Danelle Stevens-Watkins, Ph.D. “I am glad our 100th anniversary has given us the opportunity to celebrate the ways this college and our talented alumni have played an important role in our lives and communities.” 

Cumings Smith recently shared her thoughts on the future of the college, setting the stage for the next century of making a difference. 

“My experiences at the College of Education changed my life,” she said. 

Her roles at the college included leading literacy education across the state, teaching classes to the next generation of educators and pursuing her doctoral degree. She earned an Ed.D. in Instruction and Administration (Literacy) in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, as well as superintendent certification in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies. 

In addition to her roles at the College of Education, Cumings Smith’s career has included time as an elementary teacher in Louisville and, later, as an assistant superintendent for Jefferson County Public Schools. She was also a Kentucky Department of Education associate commissioner and senior program officer of K-12 education with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Having this unique and multifaceted perspective — from the frontlines of teaching to the strategic heights of policy and district administration — underscores the interconnectedness of these roles. It reinforces the notion that the quality of education, and by extension, the success of various professions, hinges on the vibrancy and effectiveness of our classrooms and teacher leaders who may serve at all levels,” she said. 

When Cumings Smith came to UK in 2005, the College of Education was in the 82nd year of its 100-year history. During the past 100 years, the college has built upon its beginnings in teacher preparation to now offer more than 90 degrees and programs. As has been common in colleges of education across the U.S. during the past several decades, existing degree programs, faculty expertise, facilities and technology have been built upon through the years to meet the evolving needs of society in health, education, sport and wellness.  

As we look ahead to the next 100 years, the future of education is in our hands, and through collaboration, innovation, and a shared commitment to excellence, we have the power to continue to shape it positively,” she said. 

Cumings Smith points to the optimism and determination that fueled the progress of prior generations as inspiration for the future. She believes the same optimism and determination will be used among torchbearers for education, challenging norms and championing the cause of learning.  

It is our responsibility to help policy makers understand the positive and negative impact of their decisions,” she said. “We must help them realize a well-designed policy agenda is informed by innovations from the classroom level that can empower educators, enhance learner outcomes and contribute to the overall advancement of an education system that can truly be co-designed with children and families.” 

Cumings Smith said the pace, speed and tools of technology have changed the education profession, and will continue to do so. 

We must respond by maintaining a focus on the fact that learning is social, and it requires relationships, deepening our sense of belonging and connectedness,” she said. 

She also called for greater representation. 

“Our classrooms have become more diverse in thought and complexion. Our voices and lived experiences matter. And our community is our classroom, today,” she said. 

Cumings Smith said her former faculty mentors and colleagues in the College of Education greatly impacted her and countless others. 

Your dedication to improving teaching and learning is commendable,” she said. “Let us march forward with purpose, inspired by the words and work of those who have come before us, and fueled by the belief that our work today shapes and gives hope for a better tomorrow.” 

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.