Meet Student Affairs Lead Demetrice Smith
“I believe great leaders are great listeners.”
Student Affairs Lead Demetrice Smith joined Noodle with nearly 15 years’ experience in higher education. She is passionate about student success and helping students to achieve their personal and academic goals. Prior to joining Noodle, she worked as a Student Success Director at Old Dominion University Online. She has also worked at University of North Carolina Greensboro in records and registration, student success, and academic advising. Demetrice earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) and a Master of Science in Adult Education from North Carolina A&T State University. She is also a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. Demetrice currently resides in Greensboro, North Carolina, and is a Registered Yoga Teacher.
What does it mean for you to identify as LGBTQ+?
First, I am a black woman. Identifying as a same-gender-loving woman means freedom for me. I spent most of my life and career being both private and protective of my personal life (translation - hiding in the closet). It’s only been in recent years that I’ve chosen to live out and free. And it feels amazing. It is also terrifying in a country that often doesn’t protect black women and in a state that doesn’t protect LGBTQ+ rights.
Why did you choose to work in education? How have your educational experiences shaped your career?
I was one of those little kids who taught my stuffed animals, so from an early age I always wanted to be a teacher. My first teaching internship at a high school, however, showed me that that experience wasn’t really what I wanted. Since I was always involved in student clubs, it finally dawned on me that I could focus on higher education. I attended the third largest public university in North Carolina, but there I felt like a fish out of water – it was such a big school and so far away from home. I struggled academically but really excelled socially, and so that’s what helped me get through college. I left ECU (East Carolina University) with 90 credits and pregnant with my son. In the end, I transferred to UNCG and completed my degree as a transfer, adult student.
For my graduate studies, I went to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the largest HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the country. That was a game changer. For the first time in my life, all my professors and counselors looked like me. It was a dynamic experience that helped shape me as a leader, and gave me greater confidence. There I majored in adult education with a focus on higher education. An added benefit was that I got a job in the registrar’s office at UNCG when I first started. Being a working mom, trying to balance school with work, made me quickly become familiar with all the ways in which many students face personal challenges outside the classroom.
What traits does a great leader exhibit?
I believe great leaders are great listeners. They know to activate active listening skills, and know how to deliver constructive criticism in return. It really makes all the difference.
Are there any LGBTQ+ leaders you admire or look up to? Why?
I often say that my first group of leaders is my students. I admire their courage in being able to live who they are at a young age. Especially the new generation of students. They are not quiet. I would also say that I look up to my current partner, who is trans and who has been involved in higher education as a band director and music professor for twenty years. He works at an HBCU and is definitely a leader within our community.
What is it about your background or career experiences that successfully positioned you for your role at Noodle?
Most of my career has been spent in traditional education at a public university. At first, I worked in records and registration, then as an academic advisor with direct student contact, so I was right in the heart of it. I also worked in the early days of online education, when students were still going to in-person classes while their degree program transitioned to completely online education. I experienced a lot of growing pains in that area, so I am able to understand the growing pains of those programs as they work to establish themselves. I think my background in traditional education as well as my experience in online education has really given me a helpful perspective.
Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places or experiences. Please provide a specific example.
I am grateful that I had the experience both of attending a largely white institution, and then working at an institution that was incredibly diverse. Coming from a small rural town, I was introduced to a lot of very different people. And I never left – I still live in Greensboro. Greensboro is a beautiful place – right in the middle of North Carolina, halfway between the beach and the mountains.
What are some of the most effective tools in your leadership arsenal?
Two of my most effective tools are being an active listener and having the ability to build rapport.
Please tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to learn.
People might be most surprised to learn that I am super religious. I grew up very religious with my grandmother and mother, who would go to church 2 to 4 times every week. I can quote scripture. At the same time, I’m also a yoga teacher. I’ve often said, “I need both Jesus and yoga.” It’s how I choose to live my life and how I choose to treat people. The principles of both show up in my everyday life.