Organizational Dynamics student gives keynote address at a Penn Veterans Day ceremony

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November 22, 2017

“One of the most important things I’ve learned in my Penn experience is to look at situations through a different set of lenses,” noted US Army veteran and Master of Science in Organizational Dynamics student Aronda Smith-Benson (‘19—expected). Aronda was the guest of honor and keynote speaker at Penn’s Veterans Day Flag Raising Ceremony on Friday, November 10, 2017.

Among her many accomplishments, Aronda served honorably in the US Army as a medic and was deployed for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. She is the first female and youngest appointed member of the City Council Veterans Advisory Commission of Philadelphia. Aronda also received the Leaders and Legends Award from Women Veterans Rock and was named a 2017 Veteran of Influence by the Philadelphia Business Journal.

At the start of her keynote address, Aronda shared, “It truly is an honor to be here on Veterans Day, and to be invited to speak on the topic of diversity and inclusion.” She discussed her duties on the City Council Veterans Advisory Commission and how she approaches representation in her work. “I’m a black female, I’m LGBTQ identifying, I’m a disabled veteran and I’m a combat veteran,” she continued, “I have so many areas that I fall into that I can’t, as a commissioner, commit my time and energy to one over the other.”

Aronda channeled her vision for greater diversity and inclusion in veterans’ affairs into the Women Veterans Command Center, an organization she founded in August 2017. Her guiding principle is to help women veterans find a fulfilling purpose after or during service. “We try to give people a long-term approach to their lives, and we do it through coaching and leadership development.” Following the event, Aronda noted that she regularly uses what she learns in Organizational Dynamics to support her work. “All of the professors are top experts in their fields. A lot of what we learn is easy to transfer to the workplace, and that’s what I enjoy the most,” she continued, “I’ve taken one of the coaching courses, and the mission of my organization is rooted in coaching. We also use the appreciative inquiry method at the Women Veterans Command Center, which I learned in the program.”

Organizational Dynamics student gives keynote address at a Penn Veterans Day ceremony

Finding common ground in all areas of work and life is not only a skill Aronda learned to amplify at Penn, but it is also at the core of her leadership philosophy. “I can guarantee you, as a medic, you bleed the same way I bleed. Keep that in mind.” She continued, “I learned in [Organizational Dynamics] that sometimes we come into a frame where we’re closed to only our culture and our environment. I say that because when I look out today, I see that there’s so much diversity.” She then asked the crowd, “How can we, as a community of intellectuals find a commonality to heal the divisions in our world?”

Reflecting on her service, Aronda concluded in her address that, “When that flag rolls for me today, it represents freedom for all of us. Freedom for us to protest, to sit quietly, to get together and unite,” she continued, “I have PTSD from a traumatic brain injury, and I am a student at one of the best universities in the country, the University of Pennsylvania. There is no challenge out there too big or too small for any of us.”

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