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Student Spotlight: Ronell Smith '21 is creating change through education

Ronell Smith

Ronell Smith is on the precipice of earning her degree, a journey that has been years in the making. Her foray into higher education started 27 years ago in community college and will conclude at the end of this fall’s semester, exactly where she always planned on completing her bachelor's degree.

“I had decided many years ago that I wanted to attend Villanova,” she told us recently. That desire began while Ronell worked her way through community college, attending classes at three different schools as her life and career caused her to move around the Philadelphia area before she earned her associate’s degree from Delaware County Community College.

Throughout her own education, Ronell has been similarly focused on the education of others, specifically the younger generation.

Her career began as a Prevention Specialist for the School District of Philadelphia, where Ronell worked to impact young people in a positive way.

“That started my desire to work with communities,” she said. “It grew me as a presenter and challenged me as a leader.”

That work continued as she became a program director for Beacon Life Centers, an initiative from the mayor’s office dedicated to helping students outside of school hours. There Ronell continued to teach life skills to a young audience, hoping to make a difference in their lives.

Inspired to continue these efforts beyond her career, Ronell launched a mentor program for young girls, called DYM (Developing Young Minds). The program taught teenage girls about caring for their health and helping them network with role models in their communities.

“I thought of myself as just an educator or someone who works with young people, but that really laid the foundation for what the Leadership program (at CPS) would build upon.”

When she began at Villanova nearly ten years ago, Ronell gravitated towards the lessons offered in her Leadership courses.

“It was a paradigm shift. From the time I took my first course, it changed how I saw leadership.” Smith recognized the difference that positive and effective leadership could have on an organization or community. “Growing up in my family, with our faith, we were always taught to serve others. What that looks like in the workforce is emotional intelligence and connecting with people.”

Ronell Smith and her husband
Ronell Smith and her husband

Ronell has implemented everything she’s learned at CPS into her work and her life. She works with the Department of Veterans Affairs as a Congressional Liaison and has created a consulting firm with two co-founders, seeking to help communities with educational resources, leadership development, and community engagement.

“Using my education to help people across the board has been so great for me.”

Ronell’s time at Villanova has greatly benefitted from the values and the atmosphere within CPS.

“I love in-person learning,” she explained. “The student body of other adult learners was so important to me.”

Being able to relate with fellow CPS students has been imperative in Ronell’s journey.

"The community at Villanova has been the thing that has allowed me to continue (my studies),” she said. “Your family at home understands what’s going on, but it takes another student who is in the trenches with you that understands your situation.”

Ronell sees her graduation as a milestone, a stepping stone in her life, and as an inspiration for her 10-year old daughter.

“I could continue what I’m doing right now without a degree, but I didn’t want to put myself on the back burner. It’s important for my daughter to see her mother finish (her degree).”

Her education, however, is far from finished. She has her sights set firmly on the future.

“When I started at Villanova, my goal was to earn my doctorate and I’m on that path,” she stated. Ronell envisions a future helping others, as a counselor or family therapist.

That part of Ronell Smith’s journey lies ahead, yet she’s grateful and proud of her work within the College of Professional Studies.

“It’s been a long journey and I have had an amazing time at Villanova, but I already feel like I miss it.”