Lifelong Learning is the Key to Florence Smith’s Success

For Florence Smith, life is all about positivity and perseverance.
The Chelsea native, who was the first person in her family to graduate from high school, is now a transportation legal program administrator and supervisor in the Senior Assistant Attorney General’s Office within the Vermont Agency of Transportation.  Her job duties include everything from litigation support and administrative support to legal records management and supervising non-lawyer staff.
Smith graduated from Champlain College in 1984 with an associate’s degree and earned a liberal arts degree from Norwich University in 1993. She went on to receive a master of science in law from Champlain in 2017, and decided to further enhance her education a few months later by enrolling in UVM’s Leadership and Management Professional Certificate Program.
We talked to Smith about her education and career path, and why she loves her job.

Tell us about your upbringing in Chelsea.

I was the youngest of five siblings and the only girl. I was the only one to graduate high school in my family. My parents had lived through the Depression and sacrificed a lot for us. They worked so hard and were never selfish. My father had always encouraged me to get my education. At the end of tenth grade, my dad told me I was going to go to college—even though I thought I wasn’t. My mother was also integral in supporting my education and would say: “Always be good and don’t let anything stand in the way of achieving what you set your mind to.”I knew they couldn’t afford it, but somehow I ended up at Champlain to study secretarial science. To this day, I don’t know how my college was paid for.  You never know where you are going to go in life, and I never would have imagined I would receive my bachelor’s and my master’s degrees.

You obviously persevered once you decided that you were going to college.

Yes. When I finally decided that I wanted to go to college, I applied to Champlain College and Hesser College. My high school guidance counselor had told me at the time that I should apply to more schools because I wouldn’t get accepted to those two and needed to cast a wider net. But I dug my heels in and just applied to Champlain and Hesser, and I ended up getting into both. I guess you can say that I listen and I hear but I go to the beat of a different drummer. I’m very head strong and super independent. I was very shy growing up, but once I got away from living in a small town, I flourished.  Going to college really helped me have a sense of camaraderie and helped me learn how to be open with people.

What’s your career path been like?

After graduating from Champlain, I started working in a secretarial position in Chelsea and then worked at National Life in customer relations for five years. From there I worked in various administrative roles for Washington County Mental Health, Vermont College, Norwich University, the Vermont State Housing Authority, Northstar Fireworks, Gadue’s Dry Cleaning, and the Vermont Agency of Transportation. All my positions were career advancements, and I enjoyed every place I worked. Every opportunity was one I couldn’t pass up as they each brought additional ways to learn and grow professionally.

What do you like most about the legal profession?

I love to read, and I love to sink my teeth into material. I’ve always had an affinity for the legal profession.

How did the UVM Leadership and Management Program help you?

It provided me with a solid understanding of the various aspects of leadership and management and gave me so much context.  I think the whole program was beneficial for me. Anyone and everyone who has the wherewithal to learn should take that program because there is so much that can be learned. The people who taught the seminars were cutting edge. In fact, they were so good that I would turn right around right now and take the program all over again. I feel that passionate that others can rest assured this program at UVM will remain a high level resource.

What was the most important thing you learned at UVM?

The program had everything I wanted—seminars on conflict and negotiation, emotional intelligence, and being a strategic leader. It really allowed me to see all of the positive qualities about myself and why I am successful. I feel like I’m a self-made woman. Over the years, I’ve continued to persevere and I’ve allowed myself to flourish and just be who I am. I have been working full time since 1984 and always set goals to persevere. It gives me great pride to be an inspiration by showing others what can be achieved through determination and unwavering effort

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