Meet Rick Smith, superintendent of the Warren County Career Center in Lebanon, Ohio. Smith’s interview appears as part of a spotlight series on ACTE’s educational institution members (EIM).
Warren County Career Center prepares youths and adults to make informed career choices. Warren County Career Center provides quality career and technical (CTE) education for adults and high school students in two campus locations and through 35 satellite programs at six feeder high schools. High school students may jump-start their postsecondary education to enter the workforce sooner. Adult students choose from full- and part-time programs that offer customized training.
The school educates students for success in health care, manufacturing, cosmetology and many other. Warren County Career Center fuels the local business industry by providing a pipeline of and talented and knowledgeable workers.
Rick Smith, Warren County Career Center, EIM
Tell me a little about your job on campus. What’s your job title and what do you do?
I have been the superintendent of Warren County Career Center since June 1, 2017. I am blessed to lead our district, where I work with a wonderful board of education, staff, community, and some of the best students in Warren County, Ohio.
Can you tell me a little about your upbringing?
I grew up with a speech impediment. And, so, if someone told me back in elementary school that I would grow up to be a teacher and eventually a superintendent, I would not have believed them. I think that obstacle led me to a career in education. To tell students that they can overcome whatever they think might hold them back. We all have challenges to overcome to find success. Your challenges might be economic, might be physical, and so on, but you have to overcome it.
What was your education experience like? What did you study?
I think it was typical. I went to high school in a small Midwestern town here in Ohio — Upper Sandusky. A great place to grow up. Teachers there are the reason I work in education now. I had some great role models there!
I followed a traditional college preparatory route until I graduated high school in 1980. But today’s students have so many more and better options than I had. CTE students in Warren County may enter college better prepared than I was. They can take the skill training we provide and go right into a rewarding, well-paying career. Whatever career path they choose, CTE students possess valuable life skills.
I attended college at Minnesota State University. A great place to learn about the education field! I then completed my master’s work through Concordia University, St. Paul. After moving back to Ohio to be near my family, I took administrative classes through the University of Findlay. I earned my superintendent licensure through Ashland University.
What barriers did you face in pursuit of postsecondary education? How did you overcome those obstacles?
My dad was a 30-plus year blue collar worker and my mom mostly worked from home. They pushed me, my twin brother Randy, and my other three brothers toward furthering our education. My brothers entered the workforce after high school and then obtained additional education to further their careers. I think my brothers and I are great examples of how education can work — no matter what direction you go.
How do you like working on campus?
I love the day-to-day interaction with students. The pandemic has shown me that the relationships we build with our students are so important. We recently resumed limited face-to-face instruction on our campus. Students and staff alike were so happy to have the opportunity to interact again (with masks on, physical distancing, etc). I love to visit our career tech labs, to see students and staff doing those hands-on things they love so much.
Is there anything else about your life that you’d like to share?
The coronavirus affected education in a major way. At the career center, we try to look at it as an opportunity to do things differently, and even better.
Do you have any advice that you would offer to students who intend to pursue postsecondary education in CTE?
CTE is a win-win for all students. Our students are not just culinary arts or auto technology students, who know only how to make a great meal or fix a broken car. They leave our career center as well-rounded, educated students who are ready for the world. I am confident they will find success and happiness, and they will make the most of the opportunities coming their way.