Dr. Smith-Howell asserts that it is an exciting time on the UNO campus. One project that she is submerged in is the Community Engagement Center (CEC) that is set to open in October of 2012. According to Jenna Zeorian, with the University of Nebraska Foundation, the CEC will be “a facility that will support expansion of university-community partnerships, enrich student and faculty engagement in the community, and extend campus resources to the nonprofit community” (18). A part of UNO Chancellor John Christiansen’s vision in his 2011 State of the University Address, “The 60,000-square-foot facility will serve as a national model for engaged scholarship” and “raise the proverbial bar” in terms of service-learning offerings and community engagement in Omaha (Cooper 1). As an integral member of Chancellor Christiansen’s team, Dr. Smith-Howell is actively involved in the development of the CEC. As Smith-Howell articulates, “I am a member of the steering committee for the building. I’m working on building design, guidelines for occupancy, organizational structure, etc. The project will highlight/emphasize UNO as a national leader in community engagement. There isn’t a comparable building or organizational structure—I think this will be a standard for what it means to be a metropolitan university engaged with its community.” Furthermore, “By creating the center, UNO and community partners will have a defined area to develop new research, outreach and learning initiatives and to expand and strengthen existing initiatives” (Zeorian 18). The proposed CEC will be located between the Strauss Performing Arts Center and the Criss Library.
Although Dr. Deborah Smith-Howell is fully invested in her position at UNO, she sorely misses one thing: teaching a class. She advises that one future goal of hers is to rearrange her schedule so that she can teach one class a year. One may be able to take the girl out of Meridian, Mississippi, but one can never take the teacher out of her classroom. By returning to it once a semester, Smith-Howell will undoubtedly rekindle the love of learning that grasped her all those years ago at the age of eight.