Anne Hierholzer & Silas Knox
Ask Betsey Smith, the RCU’s associate director, what she wishes her fellow Mississippians knew about career and technical education (CTE), and she doesn’t hesitate to answer:
“CTE is for every child,” she explained. “Because CTE connects to real life, there is truly something for everyone.”
As the RCU’s associate director, Smith serves as a cheerleader for CTE in Mississippi, overseeing a wide variety of CTE projects and working closely with the Mississippi Department of Education to strengthen CTE education in Mississippi.
However, her path to this role was not a straightforward one, and her story is marked by a theme of constant growth and development.
“I started college as a nursing major, but my heart just wasn’t in it,” explained Smith. “I really didn’t like hospitals, and what I was really interested in was nutrition and wellness. I decided to focus on those interests instead so I could eventually teach others about them.”
She continued her education with a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. After two student teaching experiences, Smith decided that working with children as an educator was her calling. Smith went on to teach CTE classes in Louisiana for over nine years before coming to the RCU in 2007.
When Smith first joined the RCU, she started as an instructional design specialist for the family and consumer science pathway. One of her primary jobs in this role was writing curricula for culinary arts and teacher academy. When Smith started working on Mississippi’s teacher academy curriculum in 2008, she was starting from scratch: There were just four teacher academy programs in Mississippi, and the state lacked a cohesive curriculum for the subject. Smith looks back on that project as one of her proudest professional accomplishments.
“Teacher academy is now flourishing in Mississippi,” said Smith. “There are currently 53 programs across the state, and they’re giving students a taste of what life is like as a professional educator.”
In her current role as the RCU’s associate director, which she began in 2014, Smith is tasked with keeping an eye on the big picture and is in charge of all secondary curricula and CTE-related projects and activities. She also relishes her task of nurturing talent and developing leadership among the RCU’s staff.
“I love the people I work with at the RCU,” said Smith. “It is so rewarding for me to look back at the RCU’s impact and growth over the years I’ve been here.”
As associate director for the RCU, Smith also networks with stakeholders across the state and advocates for CTE. The role of unofficial CTE ambassador comes naturally to her, and she is a big believer in CTE programs.
“In the years since I started at the RCU, I’ve seen Mississippi push hard to increase rigor for every student,” noted Smith. “Mississippi is really ahead of a lot of other states when it comes to CTE. Our approach is to not put students in boxes and instead to give them plenty of flexibility. When I travel and meet CTE stakeholders from other states, they’re really impressed by what we’re doing here in Mississippi.”
Moving forward, Smith is determined to maintain progress towards the goals of Mississippi’s CTE programs: “Every day we’re focused on making sure that, no matter which school they’re in, Mississippi’s students have abundant opportunities to succeed.”