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Sue Smithson: Inspired by the Courage of Our Students


Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, at 9:00 AM

Sue is the Office Manager for VAL’s Addison County Learning Center. Sue proctors GED and student assessment tests, conducts student orientation and onboarding, serves on an agency-wide data specialist group, performs data entry, meets with students (new and old), and makes sure the needs of teachers are met—usually in regards to ordering needed materials. VAL’s Addison County office recently moved and Sue assumed many tasks associated with the transition to a new space in the Marble Works in Middlebury. 

After high school, Sue attended a 2-year technical school in order to become a veterinary technician. Following graduation, she moved to Vermont and worked in the field for 10 years. Afterwards, she began her own business running a kennel, which she ran for 9 years. However, after working with someone with intellectual disabilities, Sue decided to change career paths and began working for a mental health agency. She worked in Human Resources and recruiting for 10 years before being recruited by the Howard Center. There, she also worked in Human Resources and recruiting, but with a focus on those with intellectual disabilities. After spending 8 years at the Howard Center, Sue took on her current position at VAL and has been here for about 6 ½ years. 

When discussing an aspect of her work that she particularly enjoys, Sue stated that she loves the students. She admires the courage it takes to not only come to VAL, but to keep coming back to VAL. She particularly enjoys seeing students who struggled at first see success in some way, even if it is not in the conventional sense.

In terms of her work-life balance, Sue emphasized that she tries to not take work home with her. She stated that she knows she has “crossed the line” if she finds herself thinking about work at home. Sue did mention that her job does give a lot of flexibility, which allows her to balance aspects of her personal life, such as providing daycare for her grandchild, when needed. She also talked about making sure to take care of herself and her needs, such as eating well and exercising everyday. Outside of work, Sue enjoys walks, hikes, biking, travel (prior to the pandemic) and spending quality time with friends and family.

When asked why VAL’s work matters, Sue stated that, “There’s lots of reasons.” She continued to explain that students do not always “fit” in conventional schooling and this prevented them from succeeding in that kind of environment. VAL is a place for these kinds of students to go—it provides a place of acceptance for anyone, no matter their story, and Sue emphasized how important this is. She also mentioned that online classes have aided the organization, allowing students from all over to access and benefit from VAL’s services.

This profile was written by Rebecca Shames, VAL Development & Marketing Intern.

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