Running Start Alumna to Take Seat as Renton Chamber of Commerce Board Chair.
Once a shy, introverted teenager pursuing her associate degree as a Highline College Running Start student in 2005, Danielle (Dani) Smith is now a force to be reckoned with.
The 34-year-old small business owner has not only earned her bachelor’s degree, Master of Business Administration and launched three successful businesses, but she will become chair of the Renton Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in January 2024.
“After a year of serving as a Renton Chamber of Commerce member, I decided that I wanted to take up a position of servant leadership with the Chamber Board of Directors,” the Burien resident said. “Acting as a board member has allowed me to advocate for the small businesses I have had the privilege of getting to know during my entrepreneurship journey.”
Her goals in this position will be to expand the Chamber’s network, increase member business resources and improve its credibility as an organization that values diversity, equity and inclusion.
On top of her board duties and goals, Smith owns and operates Cafe de la Loba & Dirty Dawgz, a food truck, and Wild Seed Consulting, which provides productivity coaching and project management consulting services.
“My partner and I opened our food truck business to share our love for specialty coffee and gourmet hot dogs with others,” Smith said. “My consulting business started later. Once I completed my MBA, I wanted to use my project management degree to help others improve their processes and productivity.”
In the next few years, Smith plans to increase brand awareness for her businesses and develop her strengths as a business owner. Following that, she aspires to open a brick-and-mortar for her food service business.
But getting to where she is now hasn’t been without learning important lessons along the way.
Knowing she wanted to get a head start on her college education, 18 years ago, Smith enrolled in Running Start, a dual-enrollment program that allows high school students to take both high school and college credits.
“I chose to attend Highline because it was the most diverse,” she said, “and there were leadership opportunities that I knew would help me later on in life.”
Currently, Highline College serves a student population with 77% of students identifying as students of color. Through the Center for Cultural and Inclusive Excellence students can gain valuable leadership and mentorship skills.
As Smith settled into college, she began to experience more of what it had to offer. She joined the LGBT Club, the Black Student Union and started working on campus.
“I was incredibly shy and reserved when I first started college, and Highline cultivated a safe space for me to grow and become more social,” Smith said. “I made friends at Highline that I nurture to this day, and it really was the place where all of my passions originated.”
Smith received guidance from instructors Dr. Bob Baugher and Woody Moses. Baugher, a now-retired psychology faculty member, helped her create a passion for understanding psychology and the human mind. Moses, a life, ocean and general sciences faculty member, helped her understand her love of nature, science and the desire to live in sync with the world around her.
“At the time I attended, I think the Highline campus felt like home more than it felt like school,” Smith recalled. “I was privileged to attend such a diverse campus and to meet so many people from different countries, backgrounds, etc., that I never would have met if I had gone to a different school.”
Smith would go on to speak at her 2008 Commencement as the college’s multicultural speaker, one of her favorite memories (which is also recorded on a VHS somewhere at home).
And while college can be a significant change in many new students’ lives, Smith believes two pieces of advice will help students like her go far.
“One, take advantage of the school resources available to you because many of them could help you in the future, financially, or are simply good connections to have,” Smith said. “And, two, obstacles enter our lives so that we can turn them into triumphs. If you are going through a tough time, find some benefit to your current situation so that you can turn it into fuel for your success. Mentally, you can tell yourself that it is working for you, not against you. Success is a mental game.”
Smith undoubtedly used her own advice to earn her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Washington and her MBA in Project Management from Northwest University in Kirkland after her time at Highline.
But it all started with finding her place as a Thunderbird.
“I am beyond thankful for my time and experiences at Highline,” Smith said. “Highline planted a seed that has since been watered everywhere I’ve gone since.”