PSD Spotlight: Lori Smedley

February 25, 2020

March 2020 Spotlight

Lori Smedley

PSD’s March spotlight is Lori Smedley, Associate Dean for Development. Lori has been with UChicago for six years and enjoys volunteer work and supporting sciences at a university that is impacting the world.

A PSD community member had this to say:

“Lori joined the Dean's office recently and in a short period of time has managed to become rather indispensable. She is very effective at raising funds for the PSD and is a natural at building authentic relationships. Her consistently upbeat and positive personality makes working with her a true pleasure.”

We interviewed Lori about her interests and experiences below.

Where are you from?

I was born in Virginia, and grew up in Alabama and Virginia. I consider Charlottesville, Virginia, home—my folks (mom and step-dad) are still there.

How long have you been at the university?

I've been at the university six years—my first year was in the Computation Institute, then a long stint running foundation and corporate relations university-wide, and since May 2019, here in the PSD.

What do you enjoy about being a part of the PSD community?

I believe that the sciences really drive the university's impact in the world, and have the most promise to solve complex problems. I like having a tangential role in that, even if the time horizon can be long (and I do crave instant gratification).

More personally, I have found it to be a surprisingly warm and wonderful place to work.  Also, working with scientists and science-adjacent people, there is a lot more clarity than in other parts of the university.  Not much mind-reading required!

Tell us a bit about you. 

I feel very busy. My husband and I have three daughters, ages 12, 10, and 7.  They're in a CPS school, which is important to us. I'm also married to an Episcopal minister, which means that our weekends are a little nuts as well.

We are North Siders for now, but we love Hyde Park and could see ourselves relocating at some point.  

As for hobbies, I needlepoint—big, overly ambitious designs that I buy from a fancy embroidery company in England. They take me 2-3 years each, and perhaps more now that we are in the Twitter/Reddit age.

It turns out I'm a middle-aged preacher's wife who needlepoints. I mean, I really didn't expect that!!

Who inspires you?

My dad inspires me. He died when I was 21, but I carry around his foundational belief in the dignity of every human being and our personal responsibility to live out that belief in our actions.

Also I really, really like Liz Phair. I just read her memoir, and I think her music and her perspective are unique and powerful.

What is the most interesting thing that you are working on right now?

I'm helping a couple of organizations fill out some open board positions. One is a land conservation non-profit, another is a long-standing scholarship organization. This is interesting volunteer work—trying to make boards more effective.

What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?

In my mind, both are important in terms of getting more perspectives at the decision-making tables, which can only benefit our enterprises, institutions, and government. The Diversity Bonus by Scott Page (a political scientist at University of Michigan) is a book that helped me see this through the lens and the research of a social scientist, and I highly recommend it.

But to get there, we can't leave out equity. We've got self-perpetuating power structures in place in almost every aspect of our society, and in order to change up that picture, we have to give a boost to people who started in a different place from the existing power brokers, whether in terms of economics, or academic opportunities, or family supports. I believe that equity doesn't get in the way of eminence—equity sustains eminence.

Come visit me, I could talk all day about this stuff.

Who would you most like to swap places with for a day and why?

Shakira.  Because Shakira.

What have you seen lately that made you smile?

A two-for-one sign at Do-Rite doughnuts last night on my way home. 

Who had the most influence on you growing up?

Well, outside of my dad, whom I mentioned earlier, I'd have to say Princess Leia.

What three words best describe you?

Optimistic, creative, irreverent.

If they made a movie about your life, what genre would it be and who would play you?

It would be in the Strong Female Leads category that Netflix keeps targeting me with and it would star Sandra Bullock.

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