Rollins Hamilton Holt School Welcomes New Dean

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The local education community is welcoming a new member this summer as Dr. Lauren Smith joins Rollins College as the new dean of the Hamilton Holt School.

Formerly the director of adult learning at the School of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, Dr. Smith grew up in Tarboro, NC and attended the University of Iowa, where she earned her Ph.D. in English and an MFA in Creative Writing.

Growing up, she hoped for a career that allowed her “the freedom to do and say what I thought was right,” but admits that the circumstances of her early years did not allow for much exposure to the community at large.

Dr. Lauren Smith

“In the town where I grew up, everything was very segregated by race and by class— even churches,” Smith said. She credits a high school job waiting tables for allowing her to appreciate diverse points of view. “What I learned from my co-workers shaped my curiosity about the lives and perspectives of others, which has helped me think through the needs of a diverse student body and also about the diversity of skills and learning they bring with them wherever they go.”

Her formal education has enriched and guided her, but she finds strength and inspiration from the people in her life. “I have a student who’s supporting both his mother and his son while going to school full time,” she said. “My daughter has so much wisdom that I forget how young she is. And my father climbs his ladder or drives his tractor or hauls lumber for hours every day at eighty-five. These people inspire me on a daily basis.”

Here, Dr. Smith discusses the next chapter in her career and offers advice for those hoping to continue their education.

Why did you want to become an educator? I always loved learning about literature and writing poetry. I was awarded a teaching fellowship when I was in the University of Iowa’s poetry MFA program. I loved working with college students right away and knew I wanted to stay in higher education.

What made you choose Rollins as opposed to a larger university? I appreciated Rollins’ focus on the liberal arts and its commitment to providing high quality education to a more diverse array of its community members. As part of the interview process, I learned about recent decision-making, all of it smart and thoughtful. I was impressed by the team I would be working with, and by the goals and commitments of the whole campus. And it didn’t hurt that the campus is so beautiful and that there are art museums and theaters at every turn.

What are your plans – immediate and long term – for the Hamilton Holt School? In the short term, I need to get to know the campus and Hamilton Holt’s academic programs. I am impressed with what I see so far; however, I’m expecting an early focus will be on demonstrating and communicating Hamilton Holt’s strengths and building on those. We will also be considering how to best meet the needs of students and maximizing student retention and success. Eventually, we will work on creating new programs to meet the needs of future students.

What is your advice for adults who may be unsure about continuing their education? Assume that you can do it. Work with higher educational professionals to figure out what pathways make sense for you, what support you need, and where to find it. When you can, talk to someone. Online searches are helpful, but you may not always know what to look for or what questions to ask. If you talk to the staff at Rollins or at another public or non-profit institution, they can help you find your path regardless of whether you choose to enroll.

Have you noticed an overall growth in adult enrollments in recent years? It depends on the part of the country and the region of the state. It also depends on how you define an “adult learner.” Without question, growing proportions of undergraduate students have adult characteristics. They’re more likely to work many hours, more likely to have family obligations, and more likely to commute – all characteristics of adult learners in higher education.

What is your advice for anyone considering a career in education? I would say to cultivate mentors and work friends; people from whom you can get advice and with whom you can collaborate. It’s very challenging work and there are barriers to the work/life balance we all need. But when we’re working with others, getting advice, and sharing tools, the work becomes better and more sustainable.

What motivates you? I have always been aware of the shortness of our lives. I want to feel that while I’m here, I’m doing whatever I can with my gifts and strengths to help a person, an institution, or a community. I’m inclined to think that institutional- or community-level work is where I can be of the most service at this stage of my career. It’s easier for me to see how a decision that might seem distant from the lived experience of students could be impactful, and institutional changes have staying power. Creating change that outlasts me is my motivation.

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