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Choose KU, Choose the World

Sonya Smith

Sonya Smith, Assistant Director of Pa SBDCFollowing her graduation from Kutztown University with a Master of Business Administration, Sonya Smith M'12 was looking to leave Pennsylvania; however, a well-timed opportunity motivated Smith to stay at KU and continue her evolution as a leader in her field.

"Timing and my faith have influenced my decisions several times throughout my career," Smith said. "They have always led me to a positive move."

While Smith currently serves as the associate state director of programs and policy for the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers (PASBDC), which recently designated Kutztown as the lead office for the PA network, she is highly familiar with the KU campus and administration.

Initially interning with the KU Small Business Development Center (SBDC) working with entrepreneurs and financial projects during her undergraduate years at Albright College, Smith came to KU for graduate school. She'd been approached by Ernie Post, director of the SBDC at the time, who offered her a graduate assistantship.

"I had to choose between a full-time job and graduate school. Some students have a hard time finding that first job after graduation, but I was actually able to find a great fit in my field," Smith said. "So, since I had a full-time job waiting for me, the jump to graduate school didn't entirely make sense to me at the time."

When graduate school did make sense for Smith, she called getting her master's "One of the best choices I've ever made."

The month Smith graduated from Kutztown, a budget analyst position opened at the SBDC.  The timing was perfect. Among her many new duties as analyst and consultant, she was asked to assess the mission and goals of the SBDC, and ultimately, create process strategies that would help meet their objectives. Later, when promoted to assistant director, she worked collaboratively with her team to implement the very tactics she helped outline.

Next up, the Office of Grants and Sponsored projects. It was her fourth year at KU and Smith was ready for the next well-timed opportunity, which happened to be the assistant director position in which she would gain even more in-depth understanding of policy and procedure.

Smith was still exploring opportunities outside the commonwealth and was considering a move when the associate state director position became available. After considering her options, she realized her personal goals aligned with that of the SBDC and PASBDC, and she would continue at KU while pursuing the position. Smith ultimately accepted the position and began her tenure as associate state director last summer.

Smith's current role has many facets; in the realm of professional development, she examines existing programs and how they align strategically with PASBDC's goals, then works with staff and consultants in areas that need certifications or improvements. One of Smith's most crucial tasks within her role is to create and implement strategies to improve PASBDC visibility so that small businesses can begin to benefit from the resources the PASBDC has to offer. She also examines policies to make sure that the PASBDC is in compliance with funding partners and meeting critical goals, as well as researches developing technology to provide assistance where needed, among various other tasks.

"Overall, the main goal of the center is to continue effectively serving the community of entrepreneurs," Smith said.

The SBDC connects the student body with professional opportunities at the organization, much like Smith's involvement in her undergraduate career. Smith proudly noted that opportunities for students abound at the SBDC, in the form of 25 undergraduate internships and graduate assistantships. The center also works with KU graduates by enlisting them as speakers or mentors within their various programs and workshops, as well as by aiding graduates who are interested in entrepreneurship. There is even one recent KU graduate currently serving on the PASBDC Advisory Board.

In the future, Smith is eager to continue helping the SBDC provide and evolve high-quality, confidential services to clients and more opportunities for mentor-mentee relationships with consultants across generational gaps.

"The center will continue to work strategically with all partners and stakeholders to best meet its mission and goals, as well as continue implementing programs that best fit the landscape of small businesses within the commonwealth," Smith said.

Smith holds similar sentiment for her own future goals.

"I want to continue to align my personal goals with what's destined to be my mission - helping people achieve their dreams and connecting them to opportunities and resources. I would also like to develop a program on the federal side someday and expand my ability to help others."

KU hopes that Smith's timing continues to be perfect.

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