In the 1970s, it took sunny weather to entice Christine Smith to leave her hometown of Chicago. In 1997, UNLV offered her both sunshine and the uncommon opportunity to make a lasting mark on a community. She was among those who help launch the state’s first and only law school — one that is deeply ingrained in serving the Southern Nevada community.
As a member of UNLV’s Community Engagement Council, she’s gained an appreciation for the work done in other colleges and with partner organizations to make her adopted hometown better. Such collaboration, she says, is the best way to for the university tackle the many opportunities to serve the community without overextending limited resources.
What’s your title and role?
Associate dean for public service, compliance, and administration at the William S. Boyd School of Law. It’s a very long title — let me describe briefly each component. As associate dean for public service, I develop and oversee the school’s pro bono programs, including community service outside of the school’s clinical programs; the compliance piece involves working on accreditation reporting and data reports, for such organizations as U.S. News and World Report; and, finally, the administration piece involves addressing facilities issues and working on capital projects.
How has the work you do in the community impacted the university?
I develop and administer many of the law school’s pro bono programs in partnership with organizations, such as Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and Nevada Legal Services. All Boyd students, as a graduation requirement, teach free legal education classes (under the supervision of an attorney) in our community. Since the start of the program, Boyd students have helped over 75,000 Nevadans. I believe this program and other service programs at the Law School have helped to build the law school’s reputation of excellence and service, which reflects favorably on the university.
How has it impacted students?
Hopefully, the importance of service to others that I try to instill in Boyd’s students impacts their career choices and their inclination to do pro bono work throughout their legal careers.
And your community partners?
The programs I have developed with our community partners enable our partners to expand their services and have provided access to justice to the one in three Nevadans living at poverty level and the three out of four Nevadans living in poverty who cannot afford an attorney to navigate their legal issues.
What does “community” mean to you?
To me, community is my connection to people and places important to me: family, friends, co-workers, and the people we serve.
What makes a great community?
A “great” community is one in which everyone is valued and respected, the members of the community value “service above self,” and they take responsibility and work together to get things done.
What do you find personally rewarding about working in the community?
My work in the community has fostered many long-lasting and wonderful professional relationships. I have learned so much from the people I have worked with in the community, and I treasure all they have taught me over the years. As I tell my students, helping others does more for me and my personal happiness and wellbeing than the person receiving the help. During the chaotic days in these challenging times, there is nothing better than knowing you helped someone.
During your work in the community, was there a specific moment that inspired you?
In 2018 a student came to me with an idea to organize a warrant-quashing program for the Boyd Law School’s annual Community Law Day. This project brought together more than 40 community partners, including members of the judiciary, law enforcement, law school faculty, staff, and alumni, and many others. Ultimately, we helped over 3,000 people quash their warrants and get their lives back on track.
One woman who told me and my assistant she was disabled begged us for an appointment. We accommodated her, but on the day of the event, she did not show for her appointment. We contacted her and set a time for her to attend a special hearing with Judge (Joe) Bonaventure. On the day of her hearing, I was in the courtroom. I saw a woman walk in with her suitcase on wheels, and a few minutes later, she was called forward to approach the judge’s bench. This was the woman who missed her appointment.
I learned during her testimony that she had gotten a ticket years before, had medical issues, and could not pay the fine. Due to her health issues, she was not able to work and was homeless. She wanted to get the warrant off her record, so she would not have to worry about getting arrested when she was on the street. When the hearing was over, and she left the courtroom, I followed her to the hallway and introduced myself to her. She broke down crying and told me how grateful she was, and we had a hug-fest in the hallway. Those moments, you do not forget!
What can UNLV do to improve our community in general? And our surrounding neighborhood?
We need to get out of the campus area and go into our neighboring communities. There are so many experts on our campus, who have the expertise to develop projects that can help improve conditions in our neighboring communities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could know what UNLV experts are doing beyond the main campus and if we could build the best collaborative projects possible to improve the lives of Nevadans?
If you could wave a magic wand and fix one community issue, what would it be and why?
Homelessness. Homeless people face a host of other problems: unemployment, addiction, health issues, and mental illness. Providing housing for the homeless benefits those who receive housing, as well as the community and reduces demands on our health care system.
How has UNLV’s community engagement efforts grown over the last five years?
My observation is that community engagement efforts have grown a great deal, particularly through the work of the Community Engagement Council, which is comprised of representatives of schools, colleges, and major administrative units. We meet monthly to share information with one another and with community partners. This council has played a key role in expanding engagement efforts, fostering new partnerships, and nurturing existing partnerships.
Read the full interview with Christine Smith.