In 2004, Dr. Deborah Smith-Howell’s sojourn in academia transformed again when she was appointed to a new assignment at UNO. Dr. Smith-Howell’s position on the campus is twofold: she is Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of Graduate Studies. According to the Office of Academic and Student Affairs, Dr. Smith-Howell is responsible for the Center for Faculty Development, Service Learning Academy/American Humanics program, and Civic Participation Project, as well as UNO curriculum and program planning and evaluation. The UNO Honors Program, Thompson Learning Community, Air Force ROTC, and Center for Collaboration Science also report to her. She chairs the University Educational Policy Advisory Committee, Academic Planning Council, and General Education Task Force—a UNO AQIP action project. She is a member of the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) Steering Committee, as well as the University Strategic Planning Steering Committee for which she has served as facilitator and co-facilitator. As Dean, she administers the 3,000 graduate students and the 45 + graduate programs, as well as the Graduate Studies Office and Graduate Student Services. She also supervises faculty governance and collaborates with the Graduate Deans at the other University of Nebraska campuses. Representing UNO’s graduate students, Smith-Howell is directly responsible for managing their programming and community.
Reveling in the variety that is a meaningful aspect of her position, Smith-Howell states, “I can be pretty much assured that I don’t get bored with anything, or that I have too much downtime.” Moreover, Smith-Howell elaborates, “the best part is to help facilitating numerous happenings…for students, for academic programs, for faculty.” She maintains that it has been an enormous privilege to design and oversee the Thompson Learning Community (TLC). According to its mission statement, the TLC “provides a resource-rich learning environment that facilitates students’ integration into the UNO community, development throughout college and academic success. Through intentional initiatives, the Thompson Learning Community promotes engagement and assists students in developing academic and personal knowledge, skills, and attitudes that serve as the foundation for life-long learning, personal development, and social responsibility” (“Mission” 1). Smith-Howell believes she has truly enhanced the academic success of students who may not have had the occasion to attend college. She maintains that the primary mission of public universities is to help open doors to opportunities college students may not have realized existed. She states that one of her primary tasks is “to help students see how good they are.” Once they see this, they are then able to grasp the possibilities that await them.
As testament of her dedication to improving academic life for others, Dr. Smith-Howell was the recipient of the annual award for the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women in 2004. She was further recognized by the U.S. Air Force for her support and work with the ROTC. One of her proudest achievements, however, came upon receiving the Chancellor’s Medal in December of 2009. This prestigious award recognizes a faculty member who gives extraordinary service to UNO. The winner is noted for performing with distinction in these three fields: scholarship, university service, and research or creative arts. Because the nomination comes from a colleague, the award is of particular significance to those to whom it is bestowed.
When Smith-Howell first left Austin for Omaha, she could not have known that she would still be here 21 years later. Now that she is settled in her career with UNO, she enjoys reflecting on the changes that have transpired throughout the years. The main transformation on UNO’s campus is in the overall attitude change. Smith-Howell acknowledges, “I think we (UNO) have a better idea of who we are, why we are, and what we want to be in the future–I think it’s a very positive attitude.” She senses that the faculty has a better sense of pride in the kind of university they want UNO to reflect. Part of this change includes the evolvement of women’s roles on the UNO campus. When Smith-Howell became Department Chair, there were only three other women who held this position in the entire