25th anniversary of Kristin Smart’s disappearance; keeping her memory alive with a scholarship

May 25, 2021

Kristin Smart, the Cal Poly freshman whose case has drawn national attention, disappeared 25 years ago on May 25, 1996. Now, her family is honoring the anniversary of her disappearance and is celebrating her memory with a 60-day push to raise money for the Kristin Smart scholarship.

Smart disappeared while walking back to her dorm from an off-campus party. She was legally declared dead in 2020. Paul Flores, who was the last person to be seen with Smart is now being charged with her murder.

Matt Smart, Kristin Smart’s brother, is working to honor her memory through the Kristin Smart Scholarship. He said a 60-day initiative is happening now until July 20 to raise as much money as possible to fund the scholarship.

The Kristin Smart Scholarship is awarded annually to anywhere from four to six college-bound women from San Luis Obispo County and San Joaquin County who have similar interests as Kristin Smart.

Those interests include international relations, architecture and law enforcement or forensic science.

Matt Smart said his sister loved traveling. She lived abroad in Venezuela and was a lifeguard in Oahu, Hawaii the summer before attending Cal Poly to study architecture.

“The scholarship direction that we have gone really is to embrace those things that Kristin was heading after herself,” Smart said.

Matt Smart said that being able to honor Kristin Smart’s memory by helping others achieve their hopes and dreams is something he is thankful for.

“The story’s never been more personal for me since becoming a parent myself,” Smart said. “The fears, the joys, the learnings that really come from being a parent give you such perspective. You can't not help but want to pay it forward, you can’t not help but want to really continue to grow.”

Being able to offer financial assistance to women with the same passions as Kristin, Matt Smart said, has been really impactful.

“Given that so many years have gone by, I myself as a parent now am ruefully aware of the cost of college,” Smart said. “It’s wonderful to be able to lower that bar of entry – that financial burden – for young women to be able to do that.”

Natalie Mangskau received the Kristin Smart scholarship in 2020 and is now a freshman at Cal Poly studying English and looking to go into a career in law enforcement.

She described the moment she found out she was a recipient: “When I got the scholarship, it was almost disbelief because I got the email in the middle of the night and, you know, just going through nothing, going through the motions and I was like ‘Oh my gosh I got it’ and I burst through my mom’s door and she was sleeping and I was like ‘Mom I got it’ and then I think she was half asleep, but I think she still congratulated me,” Mangskau said.

Mangkau is from San Joaquin County and said she is grateful to live in San Luis Obispo now and support Kristin Smart’s legacy.

“I was able to go to Dinosaur Caves [Park] where Kristin Smart’s memorial is and just seeing all the flowers there and all the support and everything. I think I’m definitely glad and thankful that I’m able to be here with the SLO community and just almost be a part of the justice and ongoing developments that I’m thankful that is happening,” Mangskau said.

As part of the renewed scholarship effort, Matt Smart said there are billboards placed locally, including two in Paso Robles and one on the Cuesta Grade under KSBY studios.

“We’d like to think of it as a new day to where when you’re driving by, you’re no longer seeing ‘Missing,’ you’re no longer seeing ‘Call this number,’ you’re simply seeing a transition to justice for Kristin,” Smart said. “Well that’s playing out, the case is ongoing. But in the meantime, we’re absolutely going to ho nor the passing of the 25th anniversary, we’re going to do it in a classy way.”

The 60-day push is just the beginning of a seven-month goal to raise $125,000 to fund the scholarship for years to come.

In the future, Matt Smart said he hopes to increase the number of scholarship recipients and potentially to increase the places that people can apply to the entire Central Valley.

But for right now, the scholarship fund is focusing on San Joaquin County, where Kristin Smart grew up and San Luis Obispo County where she went to school.

Matt Smart said that the hours of work and preparation are all worth it.

“But to me it's personal and you pour your passion into it and when you’re doing something that you’re passionate about it's not work, it's bigger than that,” Smart said. “At this point it's just beyond humbling to see the support.”

With the anniversary walk organized by Cal Poly student Tessa Witkofsky and other local efforts to honor Kristin Smart’s memory, Matt Smart said seeing the support from the community has been uplifting.

“Kristin will be more than alive in these communities with support over the next 60 days,” Smart said. “Kristin will be alive.”

Bringing Kristin Smart’s memory to life and being able to paint the picture of who Kristin was is an important part of the fundraising effort.

“So much vibrancy and I saw that whether I was swimming with my sister or sitting down at the table doing math homework with Kristin or participating at Lincoln high school on the swim team with her,” Smart said. “[She is] such an awesome, awesome sibling. Someone who is beyond words full of life.”

When Matt Smart said vibrancy, this is what he’s talking about: “To me it’s an individual who’s so charismatic they leave an indelible mark in their absence. What I mean by that is their smile, their joy, their laughter – it’s not something easily replaced,” Smart said.

One of Matt Smart’s favorite memories with his sister is when they were on a trip to Alaska.

“Swimming with the icebergs in Glacier Bay on a warm summer day, standing on ice – it’s not a memory that many have but that really sticks with me in a very resolute and positive, fun way because it's just so unique,” Smart said. “You hold on to those because that’s what you got left.”

Matt Smart said there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t think back and remember the moments spent with his sister.

To be able to share those memories and give support to other young women in her name is such an important way to honor and remember his sister, Matt said.

For more information and to donate to the Kristin Smart Scholarship, you can text KSS to 91999 or visit the website.