Joliet J.C. Workforce Education Director Smith practices what she preaches about higher learning
Michele Smith has been happily managing the workforce development department at Joliet Junior College (JJC) for over a year.
“It is very rewarding to have a job that is truly helping people build a better future for themselves,” Smith told Will County Gazette. “My education opened so many doors for me and it is fulfilling to know I play a role in helping people get their education to improve their lives and career options.”
Smith was hired as director of workforce education at JJC in February 2018. Among the services offered by the department is the Connect to Your Future program, which offers youth help in earning their GED, job training and finding employment.
“I wanted to be involved with the Connect to Your Future program because it is helping youth in the community further their education,” Smith said. “The program is important because for many students, without the program, they wouldn’t be able to afford a postsecondary credential or obtain their GED. There are a lot of community members who are unaware of this resource and it can truly make the difference in them continuing their education or choosing not to.”
Smith hopes to increase the overall awareness about educational opportunities throughout Will County.
“Despite the unemployment rate being at a historical low, there are still a number of jobs unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers,” Smith said. “Increasing the educational attainment of the community can assist individuals with finding a new career as well as assist employers with finding individuals with the skills and education required to fill open positions.”
A Montgomery resident, Smith was born and raised in Aurora. She has 10 years of higher education experience and has worked at community colleges and proprietary institutions, serving both traditional and online students. She holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from Lewis University, and will be graduating with a Doctorate of Education from Aurora University this month.
“Completing my doctorate is an accomplishment I am truly proud of,” she said. “I was motivated to pursue the degree due to my career in higher education. I never thought I would take my education this far and I take great pride in the fact that I was able juggle school, work and family while working toward completing this degree.”
Smith has previously served as a volunteer literacy tutor, a United Way board member and a homeless shelter volunteer. She regularly donates to a local food pantry in her community.
“Working on my doctorate took up an immense amount of my time over the past couple of years so I haven’t volunteered as much as I’d like to recently,” Smith said. “But I am looking at taking on new volunteer opportunities and joining a nonprofit board again.”
In her spare time, Smith likes reading, traveling, trying new restaurants and occasionally binge-watching a new Netflix show.