Paul Smith is an independent consultant focusing on the issues of dropout prevention, youth development and childhood obesity. He leads and manages projects, evaluates programs, and generally finds ways to be useful to his clients. He says, “I try and keep three to five ongoing projects and simultaneously work on one or two short-term projects, averaging a typical full-time (often more!) schedule. So, in a typical week, I’ll spend time managing projects for Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, evaluating a Maryland state grant program for Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, and working in D.C. schools on attendance and security issues. This fall, I’m really excited to be working on a Covid-19 response project with the National League of Cities investigating why so many youths left school after schools shut down last March. We plan to bring experts, practitioners and youth together to develop a toolkit for cities and school districts to help get disconnected youth back on track towards a high school diploma.”
Since Paul works with multiple clients, he recognizes how critically important it is to stay organized, plan ahead, and keep good records. “One thing to remember is that when working independently, you assume all responsibly for being the development director, strategic planner, accountant, tech specialist, and custodian. Being willing to embrace all those roles can be challenging, but also it also puts you in a position to do amazing work. For example, I started Baltimore’s first and only middle school triathlon program, partnered with historic Dunbar High School (in Washington, D.C.) as they doubled their graduation rate, and worked with districts and cities as they grappled with how to improve their systems to keep more youth on track to graduate from school.”
When he was an undergraduate at Catholic University, Paul’s specific career goal was to coach high school football: “after all, it seemed to me that the locker room and the field were just about only places you could get people from all walks of life working together toward a common goal.” So, after graduating from college in 1993, he taught social studies classes (“all of them, from U.S. Government to World History!”) and coached football and lacrosse for seven years. When Paul first interviewed at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, MD, right down the road from Catholic, they didn’t have any social studies openings, but the principal offered him the opportunity to teach religion until a social studies job opened up. “Needless to say, although I knew very little about religion other than my required courses at Catholic University (thank goodness!), getting my foot in the door enabled me to teach at one of the best high schools in the country for five years.”
Paul notes: “For undergraduates and those just getting into the job market, I can’t emphasize how important it is to capitalize on opportunities that are close fits, even though it may not be exactly what you are looking for. After all, it’s hard to know exactly what you want to do unless you actually try different types of work. This path is risky as you’ll be somewhat vulnerable and out of your comfort zone, but from my experience, I believe it is the most rewarding way, and I guarantee you will look back with a ‘no regrets’ feeling about your professional life.”
From there, Paul transitioned to work with Johns Hopkins University in the area of high school improvement in cities from Washington, D.C. to New York City for eight years. In this role, he coached teachers, and then began working closely with school principals and district administrators, which essentially laid the foundation to operate on his own.
“Over the years, my work has taught me to meet people where they are, to be realistic, and most importantly to be together in relationship. As I learned at Catholic, all working relationships in class and on the field boil down to trust. I’m fortunate that my clients feel comfortable sharing sensitive data, human resources information, and/or financial information with me. That trust helps us to make the best decisions for their mission and the youth they serve.”
Paul reflects on the relationship between his study of history as an undergraduate and his day to day work now: “Initially, teaching U.S. and World History was a direct connection, but today my ability to critically read, think and articulate organized thoughts are all essential to success. I see a direct through line between my undergraduate classes, such as Junior Seminar, which I recall was quite challenging, to my current work that requires critical inquiry and reporting. Another example of connections to the study of history would be with program evaluation, which includes providing a coherent and well-organized critical analysis of a program that is often reviewed and critiqued by state department of education officials. And going into nearly 30 years of education work, I can attest to the importance of the ‘can-do’ attitude that the history department demands – from the rigor of the courses to the high expectations faculty have for students – that is essential to every workplace I’ve been associated with.”
Looking back to his time studying in the Department of History, Paul suggests this advice for current students: “I’d say the time really does fly by, so make sure to take advantage of all the resources Catholic University has to offer, from the career center to getting help with landing an internship to the History Department’s amazing faculty and their wealth of expertise. I’d also embrace the liberal arts requirements and take advantage of the outside offerings in philosophy or mathematics. In one of my roles as an evaluator, I’m still learning about data science all the time. So the more well-rounded you can tailor your educational experience, the better off you’ll be. One other idea I’d like to pass along would be to encourage CUA students to embrace the local community in Brookland. As an undergraduate, it’s easy think of college as a temporary residence and stay isolated in ‘your world.’ But the more you can connect with your neighbors, whether it is planting a community garden, volunteering at a local school or participating in a neighborhood clean-up, the richer your experience will be.”