TALLAHASSEE — Some students choose to attend a university based on academic programs, distance from home or tuition. For Zanaba Smith, it is all about tradition.

Smith is following in the footsteps of her five sisters by attending Florida A&M University (FAMU) this fall.

“FAMU, to me, is a home away from home,” said Smith, a 2011 graduate of Bayside High School in Palm Bay. “My sisters all expressed to me the joy and experiences that they have had at FAMU and how much I will love the atmosphere there.”

While Smith has chosen to continue her family’s legacy on “The Hill,” as some fondly call the campus, the 17-year-old will soon be writing a story of her own.

As a junior in high school, she signed up for Collegiate High, a dual enrollment program with the local community college. After that, she admits, life became a juggling act — balancing college courses, high school homework and household chores.

But the dedication paid off in May when Smith earned an associate’s degree while maintaining a 3.7 grade point average in high school. A week later, she donned a cap and gown again when she graduated from high school with a 4.2 GPA.

“A quality education is very important to me,” said Smith, who was awarded a George W. Gore Scholarship from FAMU. “My mother has always expressed the importance of a good education so that I wouldn’t end up working two jobs to provide for my family like she had to. I want to be a very successful woman and the only way I know how to be that is to get the best education that I can.”

Smith was rewarded a $3,000 scholarship per year with an additional $2,000 annually because of her major.

Her sister, Naashon Ducille, said she told her baby sister that FAMU was the only school of choice, even though Smith applied and was accepted to Florida State University and Jacksonville University.

“I wanted her to experience the love and family that I did,” said Ducille, who earned her bachelor’s degree in health science from FAMU in 2007. “I know FAMU will help her grow to be who she is destined to be. She is strong, intelligent and very special. Now, when we go back to FAMU for Homecoming, it will truly be a family affair.”

A native of Hollywood, Smith plans to study industrial engineering in the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. She was first attracted to FAMU while visiting her older sister, Sarah Ducille, during the summer of 2001 when Smith was just 8 years old.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be so many things and I was always changing my mind,” she said of her career path. “First I wanted to be teacher but I realized I didn’t have much patience. Then I wanted to be a doctor because of all the cool medical shows but I soon realized I didn’t like blood. As of two years ago, I decided I wanted to be an engineer, like my big sister, because I enjoy math and science.”

Smith said she believes people associated with FAMU bring a true sense of pride and community to the campus.

“I feel as though it is deeply embedded in the roots and I want to learn and become a part of that,” she said. “It already feels like home.”

This feature was provided by FLorida A&M University.

Photo: Zanaba Smith