Renee King and her daughter, Jadae, immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in 2016. After settling in Chicago, Renee enrolled in a local community college where she hoped to gain an education that would help her better her life for herself and her seven-month-old daughter. Renee worked various jobs, including at a bank, a call center, and as a full-time nanny, which ultimately put her educational aspirations on hold. All the while, she remained focused on her ultimate career goal, and a few years later, reenrolled in community college thanks to financial support from two key scholarship programs.

Now, the 31-year-old Jamaican immigrant can pursue her dream in dentistry. 

Renee was selected as a recipient of PepsiCo Foundation’s Success Matters in Life and Education (S.M.I.L.E) scholarship, which helps students transition from community college to four-year colleges and universities. She also received the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which similarly helps community college students obtain their bachelor’s degrees at four-year colleges or universities.

The support of both awards gave Renee the opportunity to transfer to the University of Illinois at Chicago to obtain her bachelor’s degree in molecular, cellular and organismal biology – tuition-free.

“It is absolutely a dream come true,” Renee said about receiving the awards. “I am now confident my aspirations will become reality and fulfilling my purpose is possible.”

Renee’s journey was not always easy. She has said her determination stems from wanting to be an example of resilience, courage and strength for her now five-year-old daughter, showing her that “women move mountains every day.”

Renee’s story serves as an inspiration to others who face similar obstacles in their pursuit of higher education. Those challenges are what ultimately led to the creation of PepsiCo’s S.M.I.L.E. scholarship to help Renee and so many more students achieve their dreams. 

In March 2021, PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation launched the S.M.I.L.E. scholarship program, which works with participating colleges and universities to help students of color transition from community colleges to four-year colleges.  Recipients receive funding for books and tuition as well as financial support for living expenses. 

PepsiCo’s S.M.I.L.E scholarship is part of a larger initiative to help low-income Black and Hispanic students reach their academic goals. The $40 million investment aims to help low-income students gain the skills and experience for future job markets. Along with the S.M.I.L.E scholarship, PepsiCo created the Uplift scholarship, which helps students obtain two-year associate degrees or trade certificates. These scholarships will support 4,000 students in cities across America over five years. 

PepsiCo’s support allows students like Renee King to follow their dreams and show others that anything is possible.