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Hanley Sustainability Institute

From F-16 mechanic to sustainability at UD, local grad finds her way home

By Mark Gokavi

Darion Smith grew up pretending to be the Crocodile Hunter, hiking in Glen Helen Nature Preserve and credits (Clayton) Northmont High School with helping “encourage my love for nature and wildlife with cool field trips.”

“I have always lived in suburban areas, and the outdoors was my refuge, especially from family issues and stress,” she said. “I loved going on hikes, splashing in the streams, listening to the birds.

“As I grew older, however, I became aware of the real issues facing society. Nature went from something I loved to play in, to something I needed to protect and felt concerned for.”

It’s no surprise Smith ended up as a sustainability major at the University of Dayton. But the journey she took to get there included several other schools, working full time and a stint as an F-16 mechanic in the Air Force.

Smith attended Sinclair Community College while working full-time before leaving school. 

“After a while of lacking motivation and direction, I decided to join the military so I could get the GI Bill,” Smith said. “I became an F-16 aircraft mechanic and was first stationed in Aviano, Italy.”

She completed two part-time semesters at the online American Military University, and later was stationed at Holloman AFB in New Mexico while finishing her service and getting an associate’s degree in aviation maintenance technology with the Community College of the Air Force.

Smith enrolled at New Mexico State University to major in civil engineering. When the pandemic hit in March, she and her husband decided to relocate closer to her home in Ohio. She said financial aid and scholarships made it possible for her to enroll at the University of Dayton with or without the GI Bill.

“I chose UD's sustainability major because I was hard pressed to find another like it,” Smith said. “What's more, I have never before seen things like (the) Urban Sustainability (track), which exactly describes the kind of work I am passionate about doing.”

Though just in her first sustainability class at UD, Smith said it has affirmed her choice.

“I have already learned so much and have enjoyed the thought-provoking discussion, and I feel like I have access to amazing educational resources and highly educated professionals with UD's Sustainability Program,” she said. “It is also amazing to be in a class with like-minded students. I am always excited for my sustainability class!”

Smith said she’d like to join an urban planning team as a sustainability advisor or one day become a sustainability director or join a non-profit to work with sustainable small-business owners. Or maybe work at a national park.

“Nature kept me healthy as a kid,” she said. “There are so many children in urban environments that have never experienced the outdoors in the same way I was privileged to. I want to make that accessible to everyone, wherever they are.

“The question is what inspires me, and intrigues me, like the ultimate challenge: blending sustainability, and nature, with urban living. Is the urban lifestyle sustainable? Can it be done? These are the answers I am going to hopefully help find in my career.”

Smith said she’s been passionate about nature, the planet and the environment her whole life and that she wants to be part of the change for a cleaner, safer, more sustainable world. She also said sustainability education should be for everyone.

“I think sustainability concepts should be infused into every single major or degree offered at this point, as it should be considered integral to any and all disciplines,” Smith said. “If you live on this planet, sustainability relates to you and everything around you.

“So, even if you don't feel passionate or interested enough to major in sustainability, I think you should at least consider a minor in it. More and more companies are looking to hire experts in sustainability to guide their business practices as the green industry grows and develops here in America.”

For more sustainability news and information, visit HSI’s news blog, the Hanley Sustainability Institute website and the Sustainability Program website.

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