Denise Smart says she wants to change the conversation after 21 agonizing years of seeking justice for her daughter.
While Smart said she hasn’t given up the search for the truth about what happened to her daughter, former Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart, she said “we just needed to turn a corner so when we talked about Kristin, we had a positive focus.”
To that end, Denise Smart announced the formation of a new scholarship Thursday, the anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance, for college-bound women from San Luis Obispo and San Joaquin counties. The proposed scholarship would provide funding for two kinds of students: Women pursuing a degree in law enforcement or forensic science or women interested in studying architecture abroad.
The scholarship will be available only to women.
“The reason it’s specifically for a woman is because, in law enforcement, there has never been a woman working on Kristin’s case,” she said. “I think it’s really important to have a female perspective.”
Smart has been missing since Memorial Day weekend in 1996. She was last seen walking back to her dorm after an off-campus party.
Smart described her frustration in spending years of dealing with unsympathetic male criminal investigators.
“There’s never been one (woman), and we’ve been through three sheriffs, I can’t tell you how many detectives, how many watch commanders, how many people in the FBI, and there’s never been one,” she said.
As for architecture, Smart said it was a passion and a dream of her daughter’s.
“Kristin was a girl who always had a plan. She was always talking about them,” she said.
She described how a photo of Kristin Smart brings back vivid memories of a day spent at the beach.
“In that one, she was telling her dad how she was going to become an architect,” Denise Smart said. “She didn’t get to fulfill her dream, so the best thing we can do is try to keep that dream alive.”
But to keep that dream alive, Denise Smart says she needs help.
She’s set up a website, www.kristinsmart.org, where people, businesses and other organizations can donate to the nonprofit, tax-exempt scholarship fund. Smart said she’s committed to handing out at least $2,000 in scholarship funding, but with financial support she could give more money to more women.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if Cal Poly would contribute to it?” she said.
Matt Lazier, spokesman for Cal Poly, said, the university “is open to discussing the details with the Smart family.”
Since making the announcement Thursday, Smart said she’s seen “a huge outpouring (of support) on Facebook.”
She said she’ll make an announcement about how much has been raised, and who will receive the award, after Jan. 1, 2018.
As for how she’s greeted the 21st anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance, Smart said she greeted the day as she always does: “With trepidation.”
She said May 25 always brings a flurry of inquiries from media and supporters, asking “What’s going on? Do we have an answer?”
“It still brings up negative memories,” she said. “It was so much easier yesterday (Thursday), because we weren’t talking about the bad part. We were talking about something good.”