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A Bulldog Through and Through: Kelly Smith Earns Undergrad, Masters, and Doctorate—All From TLU!

Back when Kelly Smith arrived on TLU’s campus as a freshman pursuing a degree in education, she probably couldn’t have imagined that she would one day hold a very special distinction as the first person to earn her undergrad, masters, and doctorate from TLU. “I will finish the EdD program in August of 2026, exactly 30 years after I began my undergraduate journey with TLU!” Smith says. “I am proud of my education and my place in TLU’s diverse and inclusive community. I’ve had people tell me that I am a Bulldog through and through, and it turns out that they’re right!”

Following her first graduation in 2000, Smith began her journey as an educator. She’s earned a number of certifications, including EC-6 Generalist, 1-8 Reading, 1-8 Self-Contained, and EC-12 Special Education. “I’ve worked in Seguin ISD, Comal ISD, and with a Charter District,” she says. During her first nine years in the field, Smith focused on teaching first and second grade. In her tenth year, she taught fourth graders, and expanded from there. “I also have five years’ experience in virtual education. For those five years, I worked full time as a Virtual Teacher, integrating instructional technology and Learning Management Systems as the primary mode for learning. As a Virtual Teacher, I taught third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.”

Even in the years she wasn’t in the classroom full time, Smith never strayed far from her love of teaching. “I worked as a substitute teacher, tutor, educational assistant, and parent liaison. Outside of public education, I’ve owned a tutoring business since 2006, supporting students from a wide range of ages and abilities. In addition, I began teaching Zumba classes in 2009, I’ve owned a fitness studio, and facilitated community fitness classes—partnering with schools, churches, and municipal organizations.”

Beyond her B.A. in Multidisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Reading, Smith went on to earn her Master of Arts in Education with an emphasis on Curriculum and Instruction from TLU. She moved right on from there to pursue her doctorate. “I learned about the EdD program while I was still in TLU’s master’s program. I had such a positive experience in the master’s program that I knew I wanted to continue the momentum and stretch myself even more,” Smith explains. “To be honest, I’d never considered working toward my doctorate until TLU’s program was announced. I knew that if I was going to meet the challenges of continuing my education, it would be with TLU.”

And that’s what Smith is up to these days—working hard to pursue her doctorate, managing to fit her studies in alongside her other interests, which include being an Airbnb Host, tutoring, volunteering, and working out. It helps that the Ed.D. program is fully remote so that she can make it all work.

So what advice does a through-and-through Bulldog have for prospective students who are interested in the field of education and are shopping around for a college? “All three of my degrees are with the Education program at TLU, and I give credit to TLU for preparing me for a challenging and rewarding career as an educator. I believe that TLU’s smaller class sizes and caring faculty were the foundation that helped me become an incredible teacher and leader. The faculty never let me settle for less than my fullest potential. I am forever grateful for the encouragement and grace they extended when I needed it, but I am also so very thankful to them for helping me to stretch beyond my comfort zone.”

Smith also has encouraging words for those who are considering going back to school after years away. “The TLU community will welcome a non-traditional student with open arms. Most of the non-traditional students that I know have full-time jobs and family, and TLU’s programs can work with a non-traditional student’s schedule. There might be an adjustment period, but it can be done. While it’s not always easy to balance the responsibilities of a non-traditional student, it is worth it!”

When asked about her favorite TLU memories, Smith says, “Hands down, my favorite memory of TLU is attending Chapel. It is such a special time to connect with all members of the TLU community—faculty, staff, and students altogether—slowing down to pray, worship, sing, give thanks, and connect. It is, by far, my favorite place on campus. And, my all-time favorite University tradition is when the campus pastor offers the closing blessing, and the church says, ‘Amen. And weeee will!!’”

Smith is carrying that memory with her as she moves forward in life, confidently pursuing her dreams. After her initial graduation, she discovered her love for nonprofit work, especially within the special needs community as well as with refugees and immigrants. “I dream of writing Service Learning curriculum which will help serve special populations, and also provide students with opportunities to practice compassionate citizenship. Another goal is to work as the Learning and Development Director for a nonprofit that serves special populations,” she says.

No doubt, Smith will blaze her own trail as she continues down that path—and she credits the university that is so dear to her. “I firmly believe that one of my callings is to build community by way of developing individuals, and I’m certain that my experience in the master’s and doctorate programs will help me, as a leader, in answering this call.”