Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > It Was a Matter of Time: Detroit Reconnect Student Thriving in Return to College

It Was a Matter of Time: Detroit Reconnect Student Thriving in Return to College

December 20, 2022 Anjelica Dudek-Miller Headshot

Anjelica Dudek-Miller | Communications Manager, Detroit Regional Chamber

Shantoya Smith of Detroit is unapologetic about her weaknesses and strengths. Her largest self-admitted weakness had been time management, which was the culprit of her slipping Wayne State University grades and her overall disinterest in completing her degree.

“I’ve been on my own for forever, and I was really bad at time management,” said Smith, 39. “Being bad at something like that affects you more than anything else. Even if you have the money to attend college, you will fail a lot if you can’t balance it all. And that’s what happened to me.”

However, she quickly learned some strengths, such as thriving in a flexible schedule and applying life experiences, including her work as an adult entertainer.

While most might not mention something some might consider taboo, Smith leans into it, recognizing what the industry has given to her, like being able to provide for herself and unlocking her interest in business and marketing.

“I don’t see it as a bad thing. It allowed me a lot of opportunities, like being able to live and pay for things,” she said.

Detroit Regional Chamber Support Key to Reigniting Educational Journey

Just before the pandemic, Michelle Cyrus, director of adult college completion for the Detroit Regional Chamber, connected with Smith, who “never thought about going back to college.” It took a year for Cyrus to convince Smith to return to school through the Chamber’s Detroit Reconnect program.

Smith said she reignited her higher education journey because of Cyrus’s commitment and assistance with the “little things.” For Smith, it was arranging a first-year grant to eliminate her existing debt from Wayne State and being a “monumental” support system to help with time management.

Smith is just one of the dozens of prospects Cyrus has personally helped receive this “critically important” personalized support and advising services. “Not only does it increase knowledge, but higher education also increases individual and multi-generational wealth,” said Cyrus, who also began her higher education journey later in life. “Higher education allows the talent pool to grow in Michigan, thus, the driving force to keep the state’s economy running well.”

“The work that the Chamber does at the front lines, creating pathways for students to succeed and creating talent for employers, gives us advocates the credibility we need to deliver the message to policymakers that these investments pay off,” said Brad Williams, the Chamber’s vice president of government relations.

Thanks to advocates like the Chamber, Michigan Reconnect, a bipartisan-supported, statewide version of Detroit Reconnect, launched in February 2021 to expand support to adults across the state who are returning to or starting higher education for the first time.

Full Steam Ahead to a Bachelor’s Degree

Today, Smith is nearly finished with a digital marketing certificate on top of her existing associate degrees in business and marketing from Macomb Community College.

“Nervous and excited,” she is full steam ahead to the University of Michigan-Flint to complete a Bachelor of Arts. In five years, Smith envisions making her own hours as a digital marketing entrepreneur and Detroit real estate investor.

Smith credits Detroit Reconnect for being where she is now and where she plans to be.

Shantoya Smith

“There are some people who don’t necessarily see the value in education because of how far it may be from their reach. But that’s the great thing about (Detroit) Reconnect. It makes it a little less difficult for some people to get back up and try again. It’s bridging that gap for lower- and middleclass people.”


-Shantoya Smith, Student, Detroit Regional Chamber’s Detroit Reconnect Program