By Kristina Michel
Many people would jump at the opportunity to spend the rest of their days by the white sand beaches and azure waters of the Virgin Islands. However, L’Oreal O’Reilly-Smith chose to leave that behind to give her son a chance at a better life.
O’Reilly-Smith, program coordinator at University of Houston Parking and Transportation Services, moved to Houston from St. Croix five years ago while pregnant with her now 4-year-old son. Her ex-husband got a transfer after the oil refinery he worked at closed down.
“It was a choice between Houston, Virginia and New Jersey,” said O’Reilly-Smith. “I picked Houston because I did not want to deal with snow and cold winters. I love living here because there’s better opportunities than there were for me back in St. Croix. This is home now, and I’m never going back.”
O’Reilly-Smith was recently promoted to program coordinator. Before then, she worked for three years as a customer service representative. As program coordinator, O’Reilly-Smith oversees the appeals process for parking violations, processes parking permits, handles audits and payroll deduction, and performs other duties as needed. She enjoys the work because it keeps her busy and challenges her. One of her most challenging duties is handling appeals.
“I’m the type of person who, if a customer comes to me with an issue, I want to make them feel better. That’s what I’m great at,” said O’Reilly-Smith. “When students, faculty and staff contact me and are upset that they received a violation, I try to explain why they received the violation and then try to assist them the best way I can. You have to tell yourself, ‘They’re not upset with you. They’re upset with the situation.’ Usually, after I explain the situation, they’re very understanding.”
O’Reilly-Smith said some of the most challenging customers she’s dealt with are not students, but rather their parents.
“When I was working as a customer service representative, I got a call from a parent who was upset her daughter had received a citation,” said O’Reilly-Smith. “I didn’t raise my voice. I just talked to her and explained all the different options her daughter could have used to keep from getting the citation. I was on the phone with her for 25 minutes, but by the end of it, she understood and even thanked me for being so patient and providing such wonderful customer service.”
Success stories like that are why O’Reilly-Smith enjoys working in Parking. She also enjoys her co-workers.
“I love it here because we’re family,” said O’Reilly-Smith. “We’re family, and we try to treat all our customers like family too. If you ever have an issue, you can call our office. We’ll do our best to solve the issue.”
In addition to working at UH, O’Reilly-Smith is studying at San Jacinto College to complete her bachelor’s degree in business administration. When she’s not working, she spends time with her son whenever she can.
“I hope that I can complete my bachelor’s degree and move up the career ladder in Parking,” said O’Reilly-Smith. “Most of all, I want to be the best mom I can.”