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 institution. Moreover, there were only two women who were on a tenure track when she came to UNO in 1989. Today “it is a completely different environment” attests Smith-Howell. Now the campus reflects the impact women have had throughout the University’s history.
Dr. Smith-Howell encourages young women entering college to explore their options and to take their time considering all of the career opportunities with which they may be presented. At times, young students are so set on one career path that they often miss opportunities lurking around the corner. She encourages students to remain flexible when it comes to choosing their academic path. “Take some time for exploration,” she instructs. “I want young women to have confidence. I want them to be assured in what they’re doing, but I also want them to be open to learning—and not just what’s in the books—but about themselves and the opportunities that are out there.” Because she dreamed big at the tender age of eight and had the love and encouragement of her mother, Dr. Deborah Smith-Howell embraced the opportunities presented that led her to become the phenomenal woman she is today.
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