An equal opportunity for education

Diversity, inclusion and a higher education are all key concepts that the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Urban Education (UNI-CUE) values most. Robert Smith, executive director of educational opportunity programs and special community service, understands firsthand the importance of these values. In addition to his role with UNI-CUE, he has also been inducted into the Iowa Girls Coaches Association (IGCA) Basketball Officials Hall of Fame for his years of service as a referee.

Robert Smith

“The reason I would like students to know [the] UNI-CUE is because I feel we represent what I think everyone strives for in America to do well.”

The UNI-CUE was first established in 1967 in Waterloo. Their mission is to provide a positive environment for lifetime learning in which individuals may pursue and continue their educational goals and prepare for careers. Their diverse and dedicated staff strive to meet the needs of an educationally underserved population daily and address cultural diversity by providing counseling and college recruitment to disadvantaged and first-generation youth and adults.

Robert began working at the UNI-CUE as an educational advisor and thought he would leave after a few years, but soon grew attached to the center and has now been there for 29 years. He also works on the president’s cabinet and has served on more than 20 search committees.

“My primary role at [the] UNI-CUE is to oversee all of our programs and to make sure we work on admission,” said Robert. “That is ensuring we work with middle to high school and adults to encourage and sell the value of education.”

The UNI-CUE offers a wide variety of programs: a tutoring center, a leadership academy, ACT prep sessions, Educational Talent Search (ETS), Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) and Classic Upward Bound (CUB).

One program he highlighted was Continuing Education courses. “Those courses were initially designed to get people involved with taking classes in the Waterloo area and then would lead to taking classes on UNI’s campus or a community college,” said Robert.

In addition to their various programs, UNI-CUE participates in many activities on campus and works with other departments here. They also have summer programs that are located on campus.

UNI-CUE strives to give everyone an equal opportunity for an education.

“I think one of the challenges within higher education, is for students to grasp the understanding of diversity. Diversity is simply trying to better understand what’s different,who’s different and why.” said Robert. “[The] UNI-CUE is very unique because we have a very diverse staff who work with a diverse population, which makes me and the other staff better. “The reason I would like students to know [the] UNI-CUE is because I feel we represent what I think everyone strives for in America to do well.”

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