Two Southeastern students among third class of R.F. Lewis Scholars


Thursday, July 6, 2023 
by: Tonya Lowentritt 

Jarius Smith Kennith Woods II
Jarius Smith Kennith Woods II

     HAMMOND – The University of Louisiana System has developed a program to enhance the educational experiences of exemplary Black male students. Two students from each of the system’s nine-member institutions, including Southeastern Louisiana University, are participating in the third cohort of the Reginald F. Lewis Scholars program, a three-year initiative that focuses on academics, social advancement and community service.
     The 18 program participants are rising sophomores who were chosen based on academic merit and leadership skills. Jarius Smith and Kennith Rashaun Woods II will represent Southeastern this year. Smith, the son of Denetra and Timothy Smith, is an accounting major from Prairieville, while Woods, the son of Pamela Thomas, is a communications major, also from Prairieville.
     “The Scholars are poised to become the next leaders of our great state and beyond. Their success knows no bounds,” UL System President and CEO Jim Henderson said. “We are so proud of our scholars and so appreciate those who are sowing into their success—campus facilitators, corporate partners, state lawmakers, nonprofit organizations, and individual donors.”
     Both Smith and Woods are excited about their time as scholars.
     “I’m looking forward to growing as a young man and being able to impart the information and learnings I get from the program to my future kids,” Smith said.
     “I’m looking forward to engaging in Black culture and bettering myself as a student, journalist, and young Black man,” Woods said.
     Southeastern Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Gabe Willis and French and Spanish Instructor, Undergraduate Program Coordinator, and Foreign Language Resource Center Director Jerry Parker serve as the facilitators of the program.
     “In looking at the data on who the University of Louisiana System was recruiting and retaining as a whole, the initiative was born and is now funded by private donations and supporters who see a need to focus on a specific demographic with the goal of ultimately expanding to help all unique populations in the ways appropriate to them,” Willis said.
     The third group of Reginald F. Lewis Scholars were pinned during a ceremony, held at the Black Male Summit that sought to identify solutions for systematic barriers and new opportunities for Black male faculty, staff and students in the UL System.
     Tyrann Mathieu was a guest speaker at the summit, and he talked about his struggles and how he overcame adversity to become successful.
     R.F. Lewis Scholars receive a full tuition scholarship. In addition, cohorts will engage in three key areas:
     • the community experience, which includes a partnership with the Universities of Louisiana Management and Leadership Institute and a service learning project;
     • the social experience, which includes an annual retreat, and academic and professional mentorship from business, community and university leaders; and
     • the academic experience, which includes research projects and a study abroad opportunity during junior year.
     For more information, to donate to the program, or to meet the Southeastern R.F. Lewis Scholars, contact Willis at or Parker at

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