Community Engagement

A Connection to Community

Alumnus’ work in leadership training creates beneficial relationships

A woman smiling at her desk.

Photo by Robert Hall.

School of Business Administration

icon of a calendarMay 17, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Kathy Angel

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Karen Smith, SBA ’92, believes in the good that can come from connecting people.

As executive director of Leadership Macomb (LM), Macomb County’s premier leadership training organization, Smith witnesses the fruitful connections that happen within and around the organization’s community-based leadership programs.

Leadership Macomb’s core program connects professionals from public, private and nonprofit sectors for monthly sessions with prominent speakers, behind-the-scenes tours and issue-related simulation exercises. The program strives to deepen leadership skills while broadening knowledge of Macomb County and the surrounding communities.

“In our programs, you see things from many perspectives — government, health care, education, environment — and you see how they interrelate,” says Smith. “We’ve made an impact in the community because we’ve been able to connect people with ideas and with other people and give birth to so many collaborations.”

One such alliance occurred when Anton Arts Center Executive Director Phil Gilchrist toured the Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center as an LM participant. The tour sparked a collaboration that resulted in a beautiful, inmate-created mural in the justice center’s cafeteria.

Smith’s own journey demonstrates how connections can lead to new and meaningful work. As a graduate of LM’s core program, she was asked to interview for the organization’s executive directorship. In the 12 years since, she helped build the core program and oversee the creation of a similar program for high school juniors.

The junior program was made possible, in part, by a generous donation from core program graduates. Collaboration with LM graduate Julie Dichtel, executive director of Oakland University’s Macomb County Outreach program, was also instrumental in getting the program off the ground. Dichtel continues to volunteer on the program council.

Smith speaks with passion about the junior program, which offers, for little to no cost, many of the same experiences as the adult program but also includes lessons in etiquette and financial literacy and has a community service requirement. Opportunities to job shadow with core program graduates and sessions focused on college choice help students find the path that’s right for them.

Smith’s positive experiences at OU make her an advocate. “Oakland University did such an amazing job of preparing me for the working world. We want our Macomb County kids to realize the gem that it is.”

Many of LM’s graduates keep in touch with Smith, sharing their successes and volunteering their services. A junior program graduate, now the owner of a digital marketing company, volunteered to speak to future classes, hoping others might benefit from his story.

“I honestly believe that everybody intrinsically wants to do good and wants to help others,” says Smith. “And the more we can act on those behaviors, the better off we are.”

This optimistic view of human nature and its potential fuels Smith’s desire to connect people and immerse them in the community where they might be inspired to make a difference.

Learn more about OU’s community connections.

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