Rising Stars Spotlight: Brianna Smith

Brianna Smith is a second-year graduate student in the College Student Personnel Master's Program while currently serving as the Graduate Assistant for Leadership and Service and as the Graduate Intern for Athletics Human Resources at the University of Louisville. Prior to her arrival at the University of Louisville, Brianna obtained her B.S. in Sport and Exercise Psychology with minors in Leadership Studies and Counseling from West Virginia University in May 2019, where she was selected as a Milan Puskar Leadership Scholar and was the First Student to be Selected as a NUF (NASPA Undergraduate Fellow) in school history. 

During her time at the University of Louisville, Brianna has served as a two-time representative as a NASPA GAP (Graduate Associate Program) and has served as an active NUFP (NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program) alumni by taking on a role as mentor. With a dual passion for student affairs and collegiate athletics, Brianna is heavily involved in various professional associations such as NASPA, Women Leaders in College Sports, and N4A (National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals) while also serving as the President for the Louisville chapter of the Graduate Association for Professionals in Student Affairs. Most recently, Brianna received nomination for the TC Williams High School Hall of Fame for being the First Female to Score as a Place Kicker for the TC Williams Boys' Varsity Football Team in Fall 2014. Upon graduation in May 2021, Brianna hopes to continue her love for building collaborative relationships between student affairs and collegiate athletics while promoting intentional diversity and inclusion work in both spaces. 

Why did you join Women Leaders, and how has the organization helped you in your career?

Coincidentally, I joined Women Leaders from one of the core beliefs; “Lift as You Rise”. My mentors at Louisville, Kristia Worthy and Alyssa Murphy, and a close family friend, Ayanna Tweedy, mentioned the organization to me while I was completing my first two semesters of graduate school. Once I researched the organization and everything that there was to offer, I was automatically intrigued based off of all the female power and large sense of support. They have helped me in so many ways, but the most impactful experiences have been the mentorship program, the annual conference, and overall virtual support throughout COVID-19. Seeing hundreds of amazing women interact virtually at the symposium and conference in 2020 truly showed me how important it is to uplift those around you and to continue to prove that women belong in sports. 

When choosing a graduate program, what was your most significant deciding factor in attending the University of Louisville?

When choosing my graduate program in Student Affairs, I knew that I wanted to have a tight knit, family-like support system around me where I could grow as a professional. The counseling based, theory-to-practice approach with a small cohort feel was exactly what I needed moving almost 700 miles away from home. The most significant factor in my decision, as I had two other amazing programs to choose from as well, was the opportunity to make an impact in a small program. Even further, I had the support to work in collegiate athletics and student affairs at the same time which was not offered at the other schools. 

What do you enjoy most about serving as a Graduate Intern for the Athletic Human Resources Department? 

Serving as the Graduate Intern for Athletics HR has been such an eye opening and fruitful experience for me. When choosing my second internship, I wanted to stay within the athletics realm but to also try something new. I had already spent time in the Equipment Management, Athletics Academics, Student-Athlete Enhancement/Development, and Leadership & Service areas; but I was missing the administrative piece. What I have enjoyed most thus far, has been being able to serve as the student liaison on the athletic department’s various anti-racism committees and creating educational content for the athletic department to indulge in. Seeing my work being utilized to create change has been a rewarding experience alongside having my input being valued on a department-wide level.  

What is a personal or professional new year’s resolution that you want to work towards in 2021?

For personal goals, I have chosen to focus on loving myself more, journaling, and being more in the moment. In 2020, I realized there is no point in being mad at yourself and putting more hurt, anger, and frustration into the world that is already hurting enough. My professional goals are geared towards continuing my involvement in the various professional associations that I am currently in and landing my first full-time job!  

What have you discovered during your graduate school program that’s surprised you? How will you apply it professionally?

I wouldn’t say that anything surprised me, but I am thankful for being given the opportunity to further explore my identity as a biracial woman and how that relates to my work in student affairs and collegiate athletics. Our program is very counseling and intrapersonal-work based, so a lot of the classes would ask us, “Who are you and what does that mean for your work with students?”. For me, this looked like analyzing student affairs theories on biracial students, subcultures, and finding my voice in social injustice as a Black person. Now that I am starting to have a better understanding of myself, I think it applies professionally by being more confident in my identity and helping those who look like me achieve that as well. 

What is one Women Leaders membership benefit that you want to take advantage of this year?

I am not quite sure how I can top such an amazing first year that I have had with Women Leaders! But I would say I want to take advantage of the Member Circle Calls more and connecting with more rising stars. Although it has been great to connect vertically with people in higher positions or positions I would like to be in one day, I would like to continue to build relationships laterally.  

What is your favorite:

Food: Favorite food hands down is BBQ, but specifically ribs and brisket! 
Show to binge watch: I have successfully binge watched YOU, Parks and Rec, Friday Night Lights, and am working through Criminal Minds! 
Quarantine activity: My favorite quarantine activity has been organizing and decorating my new home in Florida while hanging out in the hammocks with my dogs. 

What’s one thing you learned about yourself this past year?

One thing I learned about myself is that I tend to embody a butterfly at times. Butterflies cannot see their wings so at times they cannot see their true beauty or the impact that they have. 

What is one piece of advice you would give to fellow Rising Stars who are interested in pursuing graduate school in the future?

Although I could give a million and one pieces of advice, the most important one would be to take advantage of all the people you will come in contact with! Whether you are doing student affairs, athletics, or something in-between make sure that people know YOU and not you just being able to know of a bunch of people. It is easy to say that you know someone, but when it comes to future internships, jobs, and promotions you want someone to positively talk about you in rooms that you are not in yet. Do the hard and uncomfortable work, create your own opportunities, ask questions, and be authentically you! 

Rising Stars is a members-only program designed to assist emerging professionals in developing, connecting, and advancing in their careers. If you're a student, intern, graduate assistant, or young professional with less than three years of full-time experience, this is the program for you!

Joining is easy: First, follow the Rising Stars community. Click here, then select "Follow Community" on the right-hand side. (You must be logged into your Women Leaders account).

Once you've joined, you're automatically opted in to receive the Rising Stars monthly newsletter, you'll be invited to Rising Stars Circle calls, you can join our closed Facebook group, and you'll hear from past Rising Stars Award recipients about how they kicked glass and exceeded all expectations!

If you have questions or problems logging in, contact Ashlynn Fields .