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Posted By Joe Hamilton


Changes are afoot at the Open Partnership Education Network (OPEN). The new leadership includes St. Pete native Benjamin Smet as Director of OPEN. A decorated military veteran with an immense passion for education, Smet's work will involve catalyzing partnerships and collaborations between the University of South Florida - St. Petersburg and the community. Through his work with USF's Bishop Center for Leadership and the Military Veteran Transition Task Force, Smet has displayed skill for taking transformative ideas and implementing the nuts and bolts leadership necessary to make them a reality. OPEN is an important initiative and we are eager to support and enjoy Ben's good work.

Years in St. Pete


Organizations involved in

Right now, I’m finishing up doctorate degree from the University of South Florida, Tampa in Educational Leadership and Innovations. I’m the Director of the Open Partnership Education Network, otherwise known as OPEN, at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. Co-chair of US Congressman Gus Bilirakis’ Military Veteran’s Transition Task Force.

What gets you out of bed every day?

What gets me out of bed every day is when I get to interact with youth, and see the energy and enthusiasm in their eyes, and their confidence in the future, it helps remind me that we still have hope. We can still do some great things in my hometown where I was born and raised.

Why St. Pete?

I was a father of two boys, and I grew up here, and I couldn’t see fit keeping my kids away from my mom and dad (from their grandparents). I came back for the grandparents, and I’m sticking around for the excitement and enthusiasm St. Pete has now.

What is one habit that you keep?

Make my bed everyday in the morning. As we have challenges, bumps in the road in life, just making my bed in the morning, it reminds me that every day I try to start the day right.

Who are some people that influence you?

Who really influences me and inspires me now are the youth. The students I work with at the college, and before that in K-12, they are my biggest influencers at the moment and they inspire me daily.

What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?

Yoga nidra. It’s like mental fitness on steroids. A 30-minute session is like four hours of REM sleep. As soon as I practice this, I feel it. On a daily basis, I’ll take 15 minutes and do a yoga nidra session, and allow my brain to rest.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?

How much work it is. I’m a military veteran, 8 years, 3 deployments. The most challenging full year of my life was my first year teaching. I wasn’t naïve to think it was going to be simple or easy. I had no idea how much it sucks. The energy you need to keep doing it. But by the same token, it’s reciprocal, it gives me the energy too. But I really just underestimated what it took to be a good educator. It really truly is an art and a science, and you have to put a lot of thought and energy behind it. And when you go do it – when you’re pouring your heart and soul into it – you need a good eye rest session afterwards. It caught me off guard.

What’s next?

OPEN is standing poised to really galvanize this community and take it to the next level. There are some exciting, beautiful things happening in St. Pete. The art scene, the people…I am so happy to be back in St. Pete. I think OPEN can help galvanize conversations around Civility, around Rad Schools, around the themes that we promote. And an open, transparent space then by definition becomes ethical. And if we can leverage the resources we’ve established with OPEN to help generate those conversations then actionable items afterwards – and I think OPEN is standing very poised to do that – we are going to take St. Pete to the absolute next level.

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