Former interim dean of students to focus on student advocacy, engagement to shape initiatives

Amanda Smith, who served as UTD’s interim dean of students for a year, recently assumed the role of dean of students permanently. The Mercury sat down with Smith to discuss her plans and what inspired them.

How are you adjusting to your role and has anything changed since your term as interim dean of students?

Well, the fortunate part about being an interim for a year is there is not a lot of adjusting that has to be done. It was really just like I came in the next day and the job has continued. I poured my heart and soul into being the interim dean of students. I just continued on with what I was doing before.

Smith received her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology at the University of North Texas and pursued a career as a personal trainer. Later, she applied for the job of Health Education Coordinator at UTD where she remained at the Health Education and Wellness Center for eight years.

How does your background in health and wellness influence your job as dean of students?

Health is the one common thread we all have. Really wanting students to be the very best person they can be, I think, is a really important mentality to have in this job. Wanting to see you succeed and go out and be good, producing citizens in society, I think, if you have a good base, then you’re a lot better able to function at whatever it is you’re doing. So I think it served me well in that capacity. The care about students’ well-being is number one and that goes hand-in-hand with what the dean of students is responsible for doing.

Do you have any initiatives you’d like to pursue that were inspired by your background?

There is a lot. For starters, sexual assault prevention is something we did a lot of before the Title IX office was created. Pursuing bystander intervention and student advocacy for initiatives like this that are important, I’d like to see those propelled. For example, the “It’s On Us” program. It’s the national sexual assault prevention program that was started by the White House. That’s something that continues to grow and get bigger every year, but it’s completely student driven. The peer health educators and Student Government work closely together to produce a really robust program for students to attend, get on board with the cause and go out and make change with their peers. I would say that’s a big one. Just promoting student health in general, to me, is very important.

Do you have any specific visions for UTD that you’d like to see pan out and are any of those visions on their way to being realized?

I want to see all of our students engaged on campus. We have so many opportunities for students to be engaged outside of academics on campus. We have over 300 student organizations. Our fraternity and sorority life programs are huge. Our Office of Student Volunteerism has so many opportunities for students to get into volunteering. Diversity and inclusion is also something that is very important to me. One of the reasons I will never leave UT Dallas is because we are so diverse. I really enjoy that part of my job. To be around such unique and different individuals that embrace that and are continuing to embrace that. I’m also about innovation and change, as well as keeping up with what’s happening globally and changes that are happening in my field. I like to help others create change and develop programs that are new, different, innovative, and meet your needs.

You’ve recently started to develop a plan to establish the new Social Justice and Inclusion Institution. What is that and who is a part of it?

We are on the ground floor of looking at this. If there is a cause that students are on board with and wanting to see change happen, influence policy, shape dialogue, I want those students to have a place to come where they can sit down with professional staff and talk about ways that they can positively focus their energy and go out and make those changes. I foresee the Multicultural Center being very involved, the Women’s Center being very involved, the Office of Student Accessibility. We have students who are on the autism spectrum here. I certainly want to give those students a voice and help them be advocates for themselves and their cause.

What motivated you to establish the new Social Justice and Inclusion Institution?

You, as students, are the future leaders of this country and you will have very loud voices if you want to have them. Getting our bright, educated, motivated students (and) giving them the right tools to go out and shape dialogue and influence policy. I want my future to be in your hands because I know you all are very capable. So contributing by giving you all the tools to be able to go out and do that is the whole motivation behind it.

What changes do you hope to see with the Social Justice and Inclusion Institution?

Changing with the times is another thing that has drawn me to want to stay here the rest of my career. How innovative we are and how we are rooted in our traditions, but we are open to change. I look forward to the amazing things this institution does as a whole. The value of your degree just continues to increase and that is pretty special too.