Award Recognizes Smarr's Work and Leadership
By Tim Meehan
Rochelle Smarr’s father served in the Army for 26 years. Her mother has worked for the Department of Defense for 33 years. Her sister is an Air Force veteran, and her brother-in-law has been serving in the Navy for the past 14 years. She has several aunts and uncles who have served or are currently serving.
To call it a military family would be an understatement.
However, to assume Smarr’s parents pressured her to follow in the footsteps of those military members before her would be incorrect.
Instead, her family instilled in her the importance of a life centered around one concept: service.
And Cal State San Marcos and the surrounding community are reaping the benefits.
Smarr, the university’s director of Service Learning and Civic Engagement, was recently honored with the 2022 Richard E. Cone Award for Emerging Leaders in Community Engagement. The award recognizes emerging leaders in the field of community engagement whose work has had a positive impact on campus and in the community.
“To have my immediate supervisor (Dawn Formo) and colleague (Carol Cujec) here recognize the hard work and my contributions to the field, it's just like, ‘Oh, I'm valued here,’ ” Smarr said. “I'm respected in this field. I'm on the right track. It was amazing to be recognized that I have something great to contribute to the field of community engagement and to apply learning and engaging students in a different way outside the classroom. I have an impact here, and the meaningful work is for the long-term race.”
Smarr feels she has always been called to serve. She loves volunteering, being active in the community and helping people see their own value.
She has been involved in community engagement for 16 years. A graduate of the CSU system (San Jose State ’08), she earned a master's degree in educational leadership politics and advocacy from NYU. She is currently in the joint doctorate program in educational leadership between CSUSM and UC San Diego with an expected graduation date of spring 2024.
Smarr’s role at CSUSM includes oversight and administration of all service learning partnerships and civic engagement programs. Smarr also implements the CSUSM Civic Action Plan while also developing new programs so students can discover their agency and influence.
Before joining CSUSM, Smarr had community organizing experience on the other side of the country in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. She held community engagement leadership roles at the City College of New York, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania.
“I'm a matchmaker to an extent,” Smarr said. “I create relationships with community partners and then find them students that are interested in the volunteer experience that they're offering. I truly try to match students with partners who are doing meaningful work because students will do more than just tutor. That's what service learning is for me. What do you truly value? What matters? And how do you really want to spend your time?”
In addition to being a helper at heart, Smarr is a fighter. She doesn’t back down from challenges, and her next test is to turn CSUSM’s culture of care into a culture of service.
She hopes it will begin with hosting town halls focused on what it means to be engaged on campus. She wants a movement around service to be institutionalized from the top down.
Smarr would like to see first-year students involved in community engagement experiences tailored differently for each department on campus.
“I want there to be a unified effort for getting students to learn beyond the classroom and apply their learning," she said. "And, of course, you have to do an internship but in community service they have less hours to commit to and it seems a little more practical for them. It's a way to pique their interest to be involved in community affairs. I would love for there to be an institutionalization of service learning courses and community engagement participation all together.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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