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Florence graduate at St. Norbert studying pandemic ‘flexibility’

SHOWN AT THE 2018 St. Norbert College dance marathon for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin are Kim Smith, center, and her parents, Howard and Pam Smith of Florence, Wis. (Submitted photo)

DE PERE, Wis. — As the COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges everywhere, Kim Smith’s academic research and vital childhood medical care has helped her adapt, adjust and carry on with a sure heart.

Smith, a 2004 graduate of Florence High School, is an assistant professor of communication and media studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis. 

Her research focuses on the increasing demand for flexible arrangements in the workplace.

“The pandemic has presented so many challenges that you can’t necessarily predict,” she said. “Flexibility is what I study. What do flexible work arrangements look like and how do we capitalize? What businesses and people are better suited to flexible schedules?

“For me, I’m learning what my own research is supposed to be telling me.” 

St. Norbert allowed students to return in August for the fall semester but allowed in-person classes only through Nov. 24, using virtual instruction to the end of the semester.

Spring semester classes began in-person Feb. 1 and will end May 7, with no traditional spring break.

With a constant eye on scheduling alternatives, there are currently five active coronavirus cases among St. Norbert’s students, faculty and staff. During the fall semester, the college reported 245 confirmed cases, all recovered, according to its COVID-19 dashboard.

This is not the first time Smith has dealt with difficult circumstances. At 18 months old, she had several doctor appointments that led to open-heart surgery. It’s been 33 years since the surgery, which has enabled her to live a normal life.

“It’s actually really fascinating,” she said. “I wouldn’t know I had surgery if I didn’t have a scar. I was able to play sports my whole life and was basically able to do the things I wanted to do.”

Not everyone who goes through open-heart surgery like Smith is as fortunate.

That’s why she and her family were honored in 2018 as a “Miracle Family” and were invited take part in the student-run dance marathon.

Miracle Network Dance Marathon raises funds and awareness for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. The students and families dance the night away, for 13.1 hours, so other children can experience a success story like Smith’s.

“It can be really devastating when you learn that there’s a condition that’s a big deal,” Smith said. “Dance marathon was cool because we got to celebrate where I am now and also help other families. This is what the Children’s Miracle Network, the hospitals and the doctors, can help your child to accomplish.”

Smith was recently named to the Dance Marathon Advisory Board at St. Norbert, and she says she’s excited to offer her support in this capacity. 

Teaching runs deep in Smith’s family. Her mother, Pam (Wertanen) Smith, is a teacher at Florence High School and her grandfather, Dick Wertanen, also taught at FHS.

Smith believes growing up in Florence gave her life a strong foundation. She married in September 2019, and says she enjoys working at St. Norbert College where she’s been on staff for five years.

“People know who I am. I have good relationships. I like my colleagues, I like the people that are at St. Norbert, I like the students. I’m thrilled to be here. It’s been a great place to be.”

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