Ombuds service for employees returns in-house

Laura Smythe ("Sm-eye-th") has been named Iowa State's next university ombuds and will start in the post April 18. Smythe currently serves as university ombuds at the University of Idaho, Moscow. Since 2003, she has operated her own firm, consulting in organizational culture and conflict resolution and serving as a contract ombuds, and since 2013 also has provided training in mediation and communication skills for staff in the state of Wisconsin's Department of Health Services.

Laura Smythe head shot


"Laura has deep and extensive experience in the fields of mediation and conflict resolution. Her understanding of higher education and academic culture will allow her to hit the ground running at Iowa State," said Dawn Bratsch-Prince, associate provost for faculty who oversees the ombuds office.

"Those who met Laura during her campus interview commented on her thoughtfulness and ability to put others at ease, qualities that will serve her well in her ombuds role," she added.

Previously, Smythe worked in the University of Wisconsin system, including teaching undergraduate communication courses at the Green Bay campus and directing pro-bono programming for law students at the Madison campus. She served as executive director of the Mediation Center of Greater Green Bay and taught graduate and undergraduate online courses on topics from business law to organizational leadership, from the U.S. Constitution to conflict resolution, at the University of Phoenix and the former University of the Rockies. She also has worked as a private-practice attorney.

"I am excited to become a part of the Iowa State University family," Smythe said. "I was intrigued by the opportunity to work at an R1, land-grant university whose students speak so highly of their relationships with professors and their learning opportunities. I look forward to becoming part of such an innovative and dynamic campus and to contributing to a university culture of curiosity, respect and inclusivity. And I look forward to returning to the Midwest -- where I grew up and where my heart has always been."

Bringing the service in-house

Since August 2020, when the previous university ombuds retired, the university has contracted with Boston-based MWI, where two ombuds assisted Iowa State employees as they worked remotely, particularly during the pre-vaccine months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The response to the virtual service was immediate and positive, Bratsch-Prince said, and university leaders are very pleased with MWI's service. The plan always was to return to an in-house, in-person ombuds, she noted.

MWI's service will overlap for a short time after April 18 to ensure a smooth transition of cases. Initially, Smythe will work remotely from Idaho for several months and arrive on campus by July 1.

Smythe earned a doctorate in law (1997) and master's degrees in Latin American and Iberian studies (1992) and political science (1991) from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and a bachelor's degree in Spanish (1990) from the College of Wooster, Ohio.

Iowa State's ombuds services are independent, neutral and confidential for faculty, P&S and merit staff, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate and professional students. They are an informal resource for employees, but are not meant to replace an employee's ability and responsibility to speak with their manager to informally resolve issues.