In the 1970s, it took sunny weather to entice Christine Smith to leave her hometown of Chicago. In 1997, UNLV offered him both sunshine and the rare opportunity to make a lasting mark on a community. She was among those who helped launch the state’s first and only law school, a school with deep roots in community service in southern Nevada.
As a member of the UNLV Community Engagement Council, she gained an appreciation for the work being done in other colleges and with partner organizations to improve her adopted hometown. Such collaboration, she says, is the best way for the university to address the many opportunities to serve the community without overwhelming limited resources.
What is your title and role?
Associate Dean of Public Service, Compliance and Administration at the William S. Boyd Law School. It’s a very long title – let me briefly describe each component. As Associate Dean in the Public Service, I develop and oversee the school’s pro bono programs, including community service outside of the school’s clinical programs; the compliance part involves working on accreditation reports and data reports, for organizations such as US News and World Report; and, finally, the administrative part consists of fixing facility problems 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 pro bono programs in partnership with organizations such as Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and Nevada Legal Services. All Boyd students, as a condition of graduation, teach free legal education classes (under the supervision of a lawyer) in our community. Since the program began, Boyd’s students have helped more than 75,000 Nevadans. I believe that this program and other law school service programs have helped to build the reputation of the law school for excellence and service, which is a positive reflection of the university.
What impact has it had on the students?
Hopefully, the importance of service to others that I try to instill in Boyd’s students impacts their career choices and their tendency to do volunteer work throughout their legal careers.
What about your community partners?
The programs I have developed with our community partners allow our partners to expand their services and have provided access to justice to one in three Nevadans living in poverty and the three in four Nevadans living in poverty who do not. cannot afford a lawyer to navigate their legal problem.
What does “community” mean to you?
For me, community is my connection to the people and places that matter to me: family, friends, colleagues and the people we serve.
What makes a great community?
A “big” community is a community in which everyone is valued and respected, community members value “service above self”, and they take responsibility and work together to get things done.
What do you personally find rewarding about working in the community?
My work in the community has fostered many wonderful, lasting professional relationships. I have learned so much from the people I have worked with in the community, and I treasure everything they have taught me over the years. As I tell my students, helping others does more for me and my personal happiness and well-being than the person receiving the help. During the chaotic days of these trying times, there is nothing better than knowing that you have helped someone.
During your work in the community, was there a specific moment that inspired you?
In 2018, a student came to me with the idea of running a Mandate Cancellation Program for 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 schools, staff and alumni, and many more. In the end, we have helped over 3,000 people quash their mandates and get their lives back on track.
A woman who told me and my assistant that she was disabled begged us to make an appointment. We accommodated her, but on the day of the event, she did not show up 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 his hearing, I was in the courtroom. I saw a woman come in with her rolling suitcase, and a few minutes later she was called forward to approach the judge’s bench. It’s the woman who missed her date.
I learned from her testimony that she had been ticketed years ago, had medical problems and could not pay the fine. Due to her health problems, she could not work and was homeless. She wanted to remove the warrant from her file, so she didn’t have to worry about being arrested while she was on the street. After the hearing was over and she left the courtroom, I followed her down the hall and introduced myself to her. She collapsed crying and told me how grateful she was, and we hugged in the hallway. These moments, you do not forget them!
What can UNLV do to improve our community in general? What about our surrounding neighborhood?
We need to get off campus and go to 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 great if everyone could find out what the experts at UNLV are doing beyond the main campus and if we could build the best possible collaborative projects to improve the lives of Nevadans?
If you could wave a magic wand and solve a community problem, what would it be and why?
Roaming. Homeless people face a host of other problems: unemployment, drug addiction, health problems and mental illness. Providing housing to the homeless benefits those who receive housing, as well as the community, and reduces the demands on our health system.
How have UNLV’s community engagement efforts developed over the past five years?
My observation is that community engagement efforts have grown a lot, especially through the work of the Community Engagement Council, which is made up of representatives from schools, colleges and major administrative units. We meet monthly to share information with each other and with community partners. This council has played a key role in expanding engagement efforts, promoting new partnerships and nurturing existing partnerships.