Brooke Smith is not your average student. In just a year and half she has finished the Master of Interdisciplinary Studies program with Public Administration and General Studies Learning Blocks at Southern Utah University (SUU) – all while juggling a full-time job and multiple volunteer and research positions.
“I had thought about going back to school for years,” she said. “However, my bachelor’s program was extremely difficult, and I didn’t think I was smart enough [to pursue a master’s].”
But Smith has proven she was more than smart enough – she has a 4.0 GPA.
“I’ve been able to balance my career and my life, and I’m doing something that is exciting. “I feel like I have more to prove as I approach my 40th birthday, so I have put my foot on the gas pedal and I haven’t looked back. The MIS program has helped me dream big,” said Smith, who works for Murray City, Utah, as a purchasing agent and deputy city recorder. She has held various city positions in local government for the past 15 years.
Learning to Fly
A great aunt – who served as a city recorder in Nampa, Idaho – and Smith’s parents inspired her to consider working for local government in the first place.
“My ultimate career goal would be to become a deputy city manager for a small or medium-sized town here in Utah and then potentially, a city manager near the end of my career,” Smith said. She figured that expanding her education was key to achieving her aspirations.
Smith learned about the online MIS program at a conference on the SUU campus for city recorders.
“I had already been thinking about going back to school for the last 10 years,” she said. She graduated with a bachelor’s in art history and curatorial studies from Brigham Young University in 2004. Embarking on her graduate studies journey online has been a shift, but a worthwhile one.
“I’m still able to travel and hang out with my family and do what I love, and the online format allows me the opportunity to do schoolwork at a convenient time and place,” she said. “Before COVID-19, I was able to travel to Hawaii and do my schoolwork at the beach. The online format is completely flexible and beneficial to those with an active lifestyle.”
Smith credits the program curriculum with expanding her creativity and thought process. Her favorite courses were those that dealt with leadership.
“In local government you have to be knowledgeable in public administration, but you also have to have a skill set in leadership, and the MIS program helped me develop those skills that I will need to move up the ladder in local government,” she said.
A course in the SUU online MIS program that stood out to Smith was INDS 6512: Leadership Coaching Strategies, taught by Stuart Jones. It introduced students to the psychological aspects of leadership including culture, ethics and gender, which Smith found fascinating.
Her capstone project focuses on the qualifications of leaders in city government. While pursuing her master’s at SUU, Smith also gained experience as a volunteer with the Utah Women in Leadership Project.
“I’ve been helping [Utah State University professor] Dr. Susan Madsen on a women’s study that we just published in October. Since then, I have been quoted in a handful of newspapers and invited to participate in podcast interviews and webinar trainings,” she said.
A practical skill that Smith learned in SUU’s online program and applied right away was how to compose an elevator pitch.
“Dr. Cynthia Kimball Davis taught us how to deliver an elevator pitch in one of our courses, and I use that all time when introducing myself to new people and new organizations. It is a great networking tool that I will use the rest of my life.”
Smith has leveraged her MIS degree in a number of other ways. Her presentation on the rules and regulations of government surplus to an audience of 100 members at the Utah State Capitol gave her a chance to apply her newfound knowledge.
“I was able to use skills and techniques I learned in leadership courses to present my information and lead the discussion,” she said. “I really liked classes taught by Cynthia Kimball Davis, Angela Pool-Funai, Ravi Roy, and Stuart Jones. They are all exceptional educators. You can tell they are passionate about their subject areas and want to see their students succeed.”
All in the Family
Choosing SUU was an easy decision for Smith.
“My sister and my brother-in-law graduated from SUU a couple of years prior, and they both raved about their experience,” she said. “I had heard great things about the professors and the culture. It’s amazing — the education that you can get for the cost and for the convenience.”
Smith’s sister and SUU alumna, Calli Kelly, recently decided to follow in her footsteps and enroll in the online MIS program taking classes in the Nonprofit Management learning block.
Despite completing her capstone project, Smith hasn’t slowed down.
“I’m still volunteering at the Utah Women in Leadership Project, and we’re working on another study about women in politics and how they’re portrayed in media. So, I’m busy all the time.”
The support from Smith’s husband, Ryan, has made a huge impact and enabled her to juggle it all.
“He has stepped it up at home and helps me do laundry and dishes, and he just takes care of things,” she said. “He makes sure that I don’t stress about the small stuff, and I still make time to enjoy getting out of the house.
“Every month we go out with our jeep club and explore the great state of Utah. That’s where I disconnect,” she said of the long drives they take in their Jeep Wrangler.
Back to the Future
SUU’s online MIS program has made a difference to Smith personally and professionally, helping her refine her skills and discover her love of learning.
“I received more value in the MIS program than what I paid for. It’s been a great educational experience where I’ve especially learned a lot about myself, public administration and leadership,” she said.
To cap her MIS achievement, Smith plans to attend the April 2021 commencement ceremony at SUU. She wants to be an inspiration to her nieces and nephews and encourage them to “keep on moving and keep on learning.”
She urges others who are considering SUU’s online MIS program to not let their already busy schedules deter them. As a full-time employee and volunteer with an active lifestyle, she has been able to make it work, and she has some advice.
“Jump in. Don’t look back, and just do it. Go into your classes with the end in mind. At the very beginning, start thinking about your capstone project and how you can make an impact. Meet new people. Get to know your professors. They are a great resource. I consider all of them friends, and hopefully, we can stay in touch after classes end.”
Learn more about the SUU MIS with a General Studies Learning Block online program.