From Intern to CMO: Yolanda Smith’s INROADS Journey

As a newly appointed executive who started out as an intern at INROADS, Yolanda Smith said her new role as Chief Marketing Officer brings her “a strong sense of pride and accomplishment.”

Smith started out as an intern at INROADS in her senior year of high school and was most recently working as an executive marketing consultant for the organization before her move to CMO. 

Read through the Q&A to hear more about Smith’s experience with INROADS, the goals she wants to accomplish in her first year as CMO and more. 

DiversityInc: You started working at INROADS as an executive marketing consultant in Dec. 2021 and were recently promoted to chief marketing officer — what does this promotion mean to you?

Yolanda Smith: “This appointment brings me a strong sense of pride and accomplishment. It’s an outward-facing recognition of the contribution and value that I’ve brought to INROADS so far and a personal validation that I am still able to grow in my career. 

“In addition, I would say this appointment also means I have the awesome responsibility to be a part of continuing and shaping the legacy of INROADS and bringing the INROADS opportunity to a new generation of students and employers.” 

DI: You are also an INROADS alumna and bring 20 years of experience to your new role — can you talk about your previous experience with INROADS and how it helped prepare you for your career?

YS: “INROADS was truly my first introduction to business. My parents are educators, and for the most part, their friends and inner circle were mostly educators. I had very little knowledge of business and no role models in this area. 

“I started working with INROADS when I was a high school senior and had my first summer internship before stepping foot on a college campus as a student. INROADS and my sponsoring company’s supervisors were role models and really great teachers. They took the responsibility so seriously and they poured everything into me to build not only my skill set but also my confidence. 

“The INROADS opportunity allowed me to see for the first time and provide access to very successful people in business that looked like me. I ended up working for my enrolled sponsoring company for all four summers and even over holiday breaks. They really taught me to practice my craft, you are not done just because you have your degree, and that mindset has really guided my trajectory. 

“I continued my formal education past the undergraduate level to get my MBA, I switched from what I considered to be an exact science career into marketing, which is really anything but an exact science, and I’ve had all kinds of experiences since then. I’ve worked in traditional brand management, business-to-consumer, business-to-business, retail marketing, and I received what I jokingly refer to as my second MBA from being an entrepreneur for 15 years where you have to assume every role in the organization. All of these experiences collectively have positioned me to lead the marketing efforts and be a valuable part of the executive leadership team at INROADS.”

DI: In your first year as chief marketing officer, what are your goals for the organization?

YS: “In my first year, I want to continue to build on the work that I started as an executive marketing consultant. I’d like to build brand awareness. My goal, lofty or otherwise, is to make INROADS a household name. I will continue to focus on external-facing assets like our web presence and social media, but probably most importantly, INROADS has ambitious goals of wanting to impact 10,000 students a year and to expand our high school program, INROADS College Links, to 25 cities by the year 2025. So with that said, I will also play a broader strategic role in the organization in shaping how we reach these goals.”

DI: If you had one piece of advice you would give to interns, what would it be?

YS: “The advice I would give specifically to current or future INROADS interns is that it is a true privilege to be a part of this program. They may not see it today or right now, but I promise they will in the future. The training, mentorship and leadership development that you receive here is not taught in school, and likely not at home either. Embrace the process and understand that this is a journey. 

“In today’s age of fast turnaround where you can have groceries delivered to your home in an hour and shop online for just about anything and it’s at your doorstep faster than you could even go get it yourself, please understand that career building is not instantaneous. For most of us, this is a long game. You have to be willing to learn, study and perfect your craft.”

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