COE Student Spotlight: Michelé Smith

Michelé Smith
Michelé Smith

Hometown: Maywood, Ill.
Program: Ph.D. Educational Psychology
Status: Defending dissertation

What inspired you to pursue this degree/career? I’m an African-American female. About 10 years ago, I was at another community college, and I met a young lady who I was very impressed with, and in the course of talking to her, someone said, “Dr. Carter.” I realized that she had her Ph.D. She was a black woman with a Ph.D., and for the first time, I realized that was a possibility for me. My undergraduate degree is in psychology, my master’s is in early childhood education and, for me, educational psychology is a natural culmination of my two previous degrees, understanding how we learn and how we learn differently.

Why did you choose the NIU College of Education? I looked at three schools when I was pursuing my doctorate. I knew for a fact that I would have to be a part-time student. I needed to keep working, and I have a really good job here at Harper College. I was a department dean at the time. Jennifer Schmidt was very kind and very informative. Compared to the other people I was talking to, she was the most accommodating and the most thorough. The information she provided made me realize that NIU was a place I could thrive.

What has surprised or impressed you the most? I have found the faculty to be very committed, very engaging, very responsive and very supportive. I’ve enjoyed every one of the instructors. From Hidetada Shimizu, I’ve learned to love research. From Lee Shumow, I’ve grown in my writing skills. Dr. Daryl Dugas has challenged me in ways I never knew was possible, and has caused me stretch and to grow. If you’re doing what they’re teaching, you can get light years ahead.

Michelé Smith
Michelé Smith

What are your career goals, and why? I really want to pursue a community college presidency. I’m particularly concerned about the equity issue of our students of color not doing as well as our white students. I’ve come to understand that community college presidents are the people who can set the tone and vision for those institutions and make sure that the right resources are available to students, departments and programs. That interests me to be in a place where my leadership skills, and what I know about students and learners, will really help the next generation. That dynamic is attractive to me.

What are you learning here that you know will help you to shape your career? I am learning what authentic research looks like. That’s huge. In higher education, we can read articles and say, “The research says this. The research says that.” I’m learning to be that critical thinker and not just taking something I read in the Chronicle of Higher education at face value. I can look at research, assess who did the research, why it was done and what their motivation was. I’m looking at different sources and creating that conversation about what the data says.

Why would you recommend the NIU College of Education? It’s really about the faculty. I have a customer service background, and my experience with NIU and the College of Education is that the level of service I have received as a student here, paying my tuition dollars, is excellent. I have found that the folks I’ve dealt with, from a college office, to a staff person, to a department chair, to the IRB office, have been very responsive. The University Writing Center has been a godsend for me on this journey.

What advice do you have for future students? I tell students that the best thing they can do is get to know their faculty members, get engaged and be present. If faculty know that you care about your education and your future, they care in return. Be engaged in your own learning process.

Michelé Smith and one of her godchildren.
Michelé Smith and one of her godchildren.

What else do you do for fun/hobbies in your spare time? I do a lot of reading – non-doctoral reading. I go to church. I have a very close circle of friends, many from grade school and high school. I get recharged that way. I also get a monthly massage!

Fun fact/hidden talent/cool secret: I know calligraphy. Before computers got to be real fancy, I for many, many years would address wedding invitations for my friends, and that was my gift to them. Then computers came along, and people printed stuff. My services haven’t been used as much lately.

Do you know an amazing student who should step into the COE spotlight? Email ceduEdNews@niu.edu with names and Z-ID contact information of your nominees.

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