For the past seven years, Carol Smoots, a 1975 summa cum laude graduate of CWU, successful attorney in energy law, and former chair of the CWU Foundation, has given Central students the leadership experience of a lifetime. Every year she hosts several students in her Washington, DC, home for 10 days of networking, sightseeing, and introductions to congressional representatives, CWU alumni, and others in positions of leadership.
The students, usually juniors and seniors, also act as ambassadors for CWU. According to Smoots, they have greatly impressed the DC crowd. “The students just bowled them over,” said Smoots. “They are so polite, interesting, and interested.”
“I really enjoy them—their energy amazes me,” said Smoots. “It is exciting to see the future, and have it be so bright.”
The program admits students from all different backgrounds and majors. According to Smoots, “some are well-traveled, some have never been in an airplane before. Some are obvious leaders, some are quiet—and then we watch them blossom!”
Smoots also says that she “loves that real mix of every major, from art to accounting to business, to education.”
Many Washington, DC Wildcats participate in providing experiences for the interns. Jenny Walton (2001), a renowned artist, takes the students on tours of the “undiscovered” DC art scene. Even students who aren’t particularly interested in art find this a fascinating, intimate look at artists and their work and a chance to view a part of the nation’s capitol that is off the beaten path for most tourists.
Smoots also arranges structured meetings with alumni who are business and government leaders, such as Rich Vogel at the Small Business Administration. She has also arranged meetings with leaders in NASA, the Department of Energy, and with Sherry Gustafson (1997), who is director of finance and administration at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a trade association. Since Smoots and her husband are both attorneys, students get a good inside view of law firms, but she says she tries to balance that out with trips to accounting firms and other professional agencies.
These experiences are intended to open the students’ minds to possibilities and opportunities.
“CWU sets up meetings with members of our Congressional delegation,” said Smoots. “The kids get to meet with at least one senator and with representatives from Washington State. They get a first-class tour of the senate and the house.”
Although the interns have a lot of planned activities, they also have free time to tour and explore on their own.
“Last year, two of our interns woke up early to be on the steps of the Supreme Court when the landmark healthcare decision was handed down,” related Smoots. “They were right there when history was being made. That kind of experience stays with you for life!”
The interns also have a good time going to baseball games, concerts, and other events with the Smoots family. Two excursions that have proved popular in the last few years is a trip to see Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate, and a longer sojourn to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.
“The time we spend together is special for them, and special for us,” said Smoots. “We want them to have a good time and have fun.” Smoots gives special credit to her husband, Jay Hines and daughter Lizzie, who provide “amazing support—cooking, driving, planning excursions—I could not host these students without them.”
Smoots and the interns stay in touch long after the internship is over. Students often go to her for career advice. “I’m sort of a Central mom to them,” she said. She also said that students became close to her whole family, especially her college-age daughter, who often relays messages to Smoots about what’s going on in their lives.
University Advancement and Career Services offers a full scholarship for the leadership experience internship for up to four CWU students. This program, funded solely through alumni donations, includes airfare, lodging, and a small stipend. Exemplary students are nominated for the internship by peers, faculty, and staff.
Previous students have described this trip as “life changing,” and often return with a broad new understanding of potential achievement in both life and career goals.
Allyson Mundy, who participated in the Leadership Experience in 2012, describes her experience as “fabulous.”
“Everyday was jam-packed full of learning and new adventures,” she said. “Our ventures included shadowing several CWU alums who now work in the DC area. One included shadowing someone who works for the government in Small Business Administration. Another great shadow was an accountant who works for a management-consulting firm. We also got to see the Library of Congress, Lockheed Martin, as well as a tour of NASA.
“While we were there we also got to tour the White House, Jefferson's house, as well as George Washington's house. We had a day of art, which was led by a CWU alum who took us through Washington, DC, and the surrounding area and showed us her favorite galleries.
“On the 4th of July, a fellow classmate and I experienced Independence Day downtown at the Washington Monument—something I will never forget!”
Mundy received a bachelor’s of science in business administration, with a specialization in management and organization in spring 2013. Long active in student government, her most recent elected position was of vice president of academic affairs on the Associated Students of CWU Board of Directors. She received the Provost/Senior Presidential Student Award in 2012.
Fellow 2012 intern Averyl Shindruk said that the 10-day trip “really opened my eyes to how much more the world has to offer beyond my original perception of post-CWU life.” A pre-med student with a dual-degree in Biology and Spanish, she wasn’t sure how the many government and business activities would relate to her interests in medicine. She found herself fascinated by the interconnections between business, government, and healthcare. Moreover, she felt that her experiences with people in different fields broadened her horizons and helped her become a more well-rounded and knowledgeable citizen.
Perhaps the highlight of her trip was standing on the steps of the United States Supreme Court building when the landmark healthcare decision was handed down.
“We [intern Andrew Williams] were standing right in the middle of the gigantic crowd of protestors for and against the plan. The energy was incredible, and it was both chilling and exciting to see our democracy at work!”
In addition to events and activities, Shindruk found she gained a lot from spending time with the other interns and with Carol and Jay, who are “inspiring people.”
“They made us feel like we were their kids,” she said. “I loved being around them. Carol does a wonderful job of connecting with CWU students of any background, and giving them an experience that they will carry with them for a lifetime. I know I can go to Carol for anything, whether it’s networking, academic advice, or just life encouragement in general.”
Shindruk graduated this spring with a bachelor’s of science in biology and a bachelor’s of art in Spanish. She is currently preparing for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) and deciding which medical schools to apply to.
“I feel so enriched,” said Smoots about her interns. “I hope CWU considers expanding the program. I’d love to see more students get this experience.”
Photo: (l. to r.) Andrew Williams, Carol Smoots, Averyl Shindruk, and Allyson Mundy on a visit to Monticello (photo courtesy Allyson Mundy)