Gephardt News

The Gephardt Institute Welcomes New Staff Members

The Gephardt Institute is pleased to welcome Shruti Desai and Colleen Smyth to the team of dedicated staff members. These three professionals demonstrate a depth of commitment to their communities and to the work of civic engagement.

Shruti Desai, Ed. D., Associate Director and Chief of Staff, leads the day-to-day operations of the Gephardt Institute and ensures strong collaborations with partners internal and external to the university. Shruti holds a B.A. in Psychology from Mercer University, a M.Ed. in College Student Affairs Administration from the University of Georgia and an Ed.D. from Maryville University. Her research examines resilience in women of color in Senior Student Affairs Officer roles. Prior to joining the Gephardt Institute, Shruti held professional roles at McKendree University and within Residence Life at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Kansas, and Texas Tech University. She has worked to lead systemic change for marginalized students and staff.

Colleen Smyth, Student Engagement Coordinator, oversees outreach and engagement initiatives with students at all university levels. She also leads orientation programming focused on community engagement, coordinates key aspects of the Gephardt Student Internship Program, and oversees Small Change Grants through the institute’s Civic Engagement Fund. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Colleen moved to St. Louis to pursue an undergraduate degree in Political Science at Saint Louis University and went on to obtain Master’s degrees in both Social Work and Pastoral Studies at Saint Louis University. She also pursued community engagement work as a professional at both the high school and university levels.

Read about each of our new staff members in their own words:

Shruti Desai

How would you define an attitude or culture of civic engagement?
It’s a culture of humility. How do I, as an individual, focus on a group of people outside myself to make the world and city I live in a place that promotes justice and equity both for individuals and systems. I have to know my neighbors to know how I can partner with them to impact our block. I hope that small changes create a domino effect.

What drew you to the Gephardt Institute?
I knew about the Civic Scholars Program from a previous time at WashU and was truly inspired by these students. When I combined those students with the amazing professional staff, I knew the Gephardt Institute was a powerful place that can create an impact in St. Louis and the region. The people combined with a commitment to service and equity really blends well with my personal values.

What does it mean to you in your work to be a part of WashU community and the St. Louis community, more broadly?
It means I represent something greater than myself. I have a commitment to be a university and St. Louis citizen who is advocating for those in the margins by my words and actions. How I vote, how I serve, and my fiscal resources all impact my citizenship both at a university and community level.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love cooking and playing with my dogs. I think I have a really cool partner so we enjoy spending time together as a couple being outdoors, listening to music, and eating all the amazing food St. Louis has to offer.

Who inspires you?
My mom immigrated to this country after having an arranged marriage to my dad with limited English skills. She’s worked hard to climb the corporate ladder and be an awesome mom and wife at the same time.

Favorite joke?
Two pickles fell out of a jar onto the floor. What did one say to another? Dill with it….

Colleen Smyth

How would you define an attitude or culture of civic engagement?
Civic engagement is all about showing up. It manifests in different ways for people, especially depending on the various social identities people hold and their proximity and access to resources. Along with other things, a desire to be civically engaged is often influenced by one’s belief in the potential for change, in the belief that one’s actions and decisions have meaning, and the relationships that people have to others in their communities.

What drew you to the Gephardt Institute?
I was drawn to the Gephardt Institute because of the institute’s approach to civic engagement work. Through the conversations I had and the reading I did about the work of the institute, a commitment to St. Louis, equity, and the development of engaged citizens was central. I felt like this was a place where my individual values aligned with its values and mission, which is important to me.

What does it mean to you in your work to be a part of WashU community and the St. Louis community, more broadly?
People cannot be civically engaged absent of community. To me, being a part of the Wash U community and the broader St. Louis community informs the work that I am doing. I know, as a member of these communities, I have a responsibility to strive to understand the varied histories and stories of the people who are here.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time I enjoy spending time with my partner and two young kids. I also enjoy exploring St. Louis, hiking, running, and sharing good meals with good people. Over the past year I’ve been learning about storytelling work and just finished my first collaboration and gallery show through Humans of St. Louis.

What’s the last book you read?
I am an avid reader and am currently reading Borerlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria E. Anzaldúa.

Learn more about the Gephardt Institute Staff Team.