A promise to her older sister prompted a return to college after 20 years in the workforce, but now Antwanette Smith is giving back to the community through an internship with Junior Achievement (JA) of Arkansas.
Smith, a wife and mother of two from Little Rock, had a productive 20-year career as a retail sales consultant with AT&T. Reflecting on a conversation she previously had with her older sister promising to obtain a college degree, she set out on a new path in August 2018.
“In May 2018, my sister unexpectedly passed away,” Smith said. “I’m the baby of three girls, and my sister made me promise I would go back to school. I was the only one of us three who didn’t have a college education.”
Smith took her sister’s death hard and took a leave of absence from work to reflect on life. Smith first attended college at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, but left after her father became ill to help support the household. She decided it was time to invest in herself by completing her college education.
“I asked my husband if he could handle the household bills so I could go back to school,” Smith said. “I really wanted to keep my promise to my sister. Now was the time to go back after 23 years.”
Now a senior business major at UA Little Rock, Smith says that college is a far cry from when she last attended decades ago.
“When I went to school in the 1980s, everything was paper,” she said. “Now, everything is digital and classes are online. Being familiar with technology from my previous employer helped me keep up. I am a mom of two so I have to manage my time wisely, especially with a special needs son. My professors are amazing. They have been excellent resources in keeping me motivated in pursuing the end result, which is my degree.”
One of her professors, Dr. Joe Felan, associate professor of management, encouraged Smith to apply for an internship with Junior Achievement of Arkansas, a nonprofit organization that provides work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy programs to young people in Arkansas. Felan, who serves as chair of the board of JA of Arkansas, said he thought Smith would be a perfect fit for the internship.
“I am very excited to have Antwanette working with Junior Achievement of Arkansas,” Felan said. “She is a delightful student to be around and is always engaged in the classroom. JA of Arkansas offers kindergarten through 12th grade students the ability to have hands-on experience in what it takes to start and maintain a business. Last year, we offered 591 classes to a total of 13,447 students in Arkansas. Antwanette can use her academic experiences to help the organization as well as young people around the state.”
After working with the organization since November 2019, Smith serves as a program coordinator. She oversees the Junior Achievement Student Company Program, which teaches students how to become entrepreneurs.
“The program takes students from start to finish in starting a business, writing a business plan, and providing a solution that addresses a consumer or community need,” Smith said. “The program ends with a pitch competition, where the students pitch their solution to a panel of three judges in a ‘Shark Tank’-like situation.”
In addition to helping students build entrepreneurial skills, Smith connects professionals who talk about their entrepreneurial and career journeys with students in schools and after-school programs.
“The thing I like most about this internship is that I’m actually able to experience the immediate results of the programs we implement and put in place,” Smith said. “I’ve worked some jobs where you don’t get to see your work in action. I’m very proud of the impact we make on kids’ lives.”
Smith plans to graduate from UA Little Rock in December with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in business management. She’s also earning a graduate certificate in business analytics and would like to work in this field after graduation.