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How to Lift

January 31, 2023 Sonja Faul
Woo Smith, MBA student

Setting the bar

It doesn’t take long during a conversation with Professional MBA student and 2022 Cohort President, Woo Smith, to be impressed by her. Maybe it’s her presidency at YPAL, the local young professionals networking community, or her dedication to the company Terracon where she’s been employed for ten years, or maybe it’s when she casually mentions being a competitive powerlifter that garners one’s full attention.

“I want to be CEO of my company,” says Woo. She is a marvel on a mission.

Woo is a senior associate at Terracon, an engineering firm that hired her straight out of undergrad at Emory University in Atlanta. She earned her degree in political science with a focus on environmental science. Through her employment, she transferred to Chicago, then Louisville. “I moved to Louisville with the intention to make roots,” says Woo, “I want to be as involved as possible.” And involved she is. As the current president of YPAL, she dedicates herself to planning and attending events connecting young professionals across Louisville. Woo’s involvement with YPAL brought her a fateful encounter with the College’s Assistant Dean and Executive Director of MBA programs, Vernon Foster.

“You want to be an executive? You need your MBA,” Woo recounts Vernon’s words. An insightful chat followed as he and Woo discussed her dreams about the future, ultimately leading to Woo’s application to UofL’s Professional MBA program.

Woo finds the program “humbling,” saying that it has “widened the aperture” of what she thought she knew about business. This insight into the business world will give her an edge over her engineer counterparts, fitting her track record in her ability to move up in her company.


With a part-time graduate program now on her plate, Woo’s schedule has taken on a new intensity. Her endurance is remarkable–working 60+ hours at Terracon, 15+ hours with YPAL, and 7 hours in class time each week, not to mention the time she sets aside for her husband Gary, two dogs (Woo admits Gary takes the lead role of caretaker), and powerlifting.

“(Exercise) is the one thing I don’t compromise,” Woo says. “I have my own goals, it keeps my sanity, and it’s a family activity.” Woo lifts with Gary and his brother, strictly adhering to her commitment to health and fitness, and her goals stretch beyond aesthetic. She works out to be strong and is adamant that every woman should feel empowered to do the same.

Woo has found herself in a multitude of male-dominated fields. Engineering, powerlifting, and even leadership roles are spaces inhabited chiefly by men. This paradox is not lost on Woo. “There are so few women CEOs and even less POC,” says Woo. “I want to have women in powerful positions.”

As a woman and person of color (POC), she wants to ensure professionals have a voice in their community and leadership. Born in Seoul, South Korea, and moving to the states when she was a child, she admits to seeing her fair share of experiences and discrimination. She strives for excellence in hopes of having the opportunity to amplify the voices of those who may be underrepresented.

Community spotter

When asked for advice to give to people considering an MBA, Woo’s response is, “If you’re interested in something, make the commitment. You’ll be able to carve out the hours to make it happen.” But she’ll admit this statement applies to everything in life.

Her number one recommendation is to ensure you have a sound support system. Woo has her husband and community to thank for their support. She also encourages others to get involved with their community as much as possible. Her dedication to her passions brings Woo closer to realizing her goal of becoming a woman POC CEO at her company, generating visibility and paving the way for people like her.

“Change is happening, but very slowly,” says Woo.

Whether it’s at work, school, the city, or the gym, Woo has a few different journeys in her life plan plotted, but trust she’s working hard to help lift us all.