When our former director of operations, Joel Smith, passed away in 2018, his family and friends made donations to the Institute to establish a leadership award in his honor. Joel was a unique person with an authentic leadership style. He genuinely and wholeheartedly cultivated the potential of others by recognizing individual strengths and helping them be the best at their jobs, regardless of position or department. The award is chosen based on nominations submitted by Institute employees. 

The fourth Joel Smith Leadership Award was presented to Safety Coordinator Shane Engebrecht on Dec. 15, 2022. 

Who does the Front Desk call when there’s a problem?” starts one nomination. “Who is the first to volunteer when the kitchen staff needs help in the dish pit? Who is the extra hand for housekeeping during the busy season? Who is always willing to jump in and work alongside any department? The answer to all of these questions and more is Shane Engebrecht.”

Shane Engebrecht, our safety coordinator and an Institute employee for 16 years, was deeply humbled by the words of his coworkers as Institute senior staff read aloud the nominations at an all-staff meeting. 

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” he said. “It was a complete shock to me. It wasn’t even on my radar.”

The presentation meant even more to Shane because he worked with Joel during his last years. 

“I was with him the entire time,” he said. “He was always very approachable and would come to talk to you at any time. He always knew what was happening and could catch you off-guard with how funny he could be. What I learned from him most was to appreciate your people. You know, these aren’t just my coworkers. They’re my family. I love to be with them, and serving them is a privilege.”

Shane started at the Institute as a volunteer, often helping with programs in which his children participated. This was just after a nine-year career as a chemist for Arkansas Nuclear One in Russellville. He said that after his family first moved to Petit Jean Mountain, they decided to drive through the more rural areas of the mountaintop. 

“We saw that big rock sign and thought, ‘What on Earth is this?’” he said. “The gate was open, so we just went in. Lilly was at the front desk that day and showed us around. I remember thinking how cool it would be to work here.” 

He was later hired as a part-time culinary lab tech before landing his current position as safety coordinator. While his expertise in OSHA, state, and other safety regulations was key to earning this position, what’s helped him most is what he saw in Joel and what he hopes to bring out in others. 

“I want people to know that anyone can be like Joel,” Shane said. 

“We can all be of service to our fellow human beings. We can be nice to people. We can look around and see a need, taking just a brief second to help somebody else. It helps us as much as it helps them.”

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