Who's Who Top Educators

Sylvia R. Cadena Smith, EdD

Title: Executive Director
Company: Giant Steps Illinois Inc.
Location: Aurora, Illinois, United States

Sylvia R. Cadena Smith, EdD, executive director at Giant Steps Illinois Inc., has been recognized by Marquis Who’s Who Top Educators for dedication, achievements, and leadership in education and nonprofits.

With over four decades of experience to her credit, Dr. Smith has carved out a distinguished career in the field of education, specializing in instructional design, curriculum development, e-learning, technological integration, and assessment and evaluation. Since 2016, she has served as the executive director at Giant Steps Inc., a day school committed to providing individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families with superior educational and therapeutic services focused on improving the quality of daily life from early childhood through adulthood. In this role, she is responsible for setting the standards and shaping the curriculum for students, staff, and faculty. She ensures that all academic and practical aspects are covered, guiding the program’s direction and overseeing its implementation.

Additionally, Dr. Smith has served as owner of CadenaSmith Enterprises since 2006. Her passion for the company was born from seeing her daughter struggle with reading, leading her to research, design, develop, and patent See-N-Read® Reading Tools to help readers with tracking, visual processing, fluency, and comprehension. The tool allows readers to concentrate and track text using a small window to move across the words on a page. Additionally, she created MemoryMark™, which allows readers to highlight and write in the text using the tool, and eSee-N-Read™, which allows customers to use the See-N-Read® on electronic devices. Prior to these roles, she served as chief learning officer at McGill Digital Solutions Inc.,  from 1998 to 2007.

Additionally, Dr. Smith has written and taught graduate reading and literacy courses and educational administration courses for Benedictine University, instructional design for Northern Illinois University’s instructional technology graduate program, guest-lectured at Northwestern University, and published several articles in the areas of assessment and evaluation. She also developed efficient processes and procedures for e-learning programs for companies such as Sears, GM, Chrysler, and Prudential Insurance.

Before embarking on her professional path, Dr. Smith set a solid educational foundation. She pursued an education at The University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in special education and teaching in 1972. She continued her academic efforts at Northern Illinois University, obtaining a Master of Science in curriculum and supervision in 1992. She concluded her studies with a Doctor of Education instructional design and adult learning from Northern Illinois University in 1996.

Beyond her responsibilities within the field, Dr. Smith has participated in various civic and professional activities. She has contributed to special education as a member and vice president for programming for the board of directors of Giant Steps since 1999. She has also worked as a panelist for Dare to Dream, which encourages higher education for minority young women, and for Northern Illinois University’s community learning series. She found success with her civic engagement as a member of the alumni board for the College of Education at Northern Illinois University. She is affiliated with various organizations, including the Illinois Association of Private Special Education Centers, the Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 

A career highlight for Dr. Smith was creating an online program while working at McGill Digital Solutions and authoring an ESL certification program. She also takes pride in her contribution to bringing Giant Steps up to and beyond industry standards, making it one of the leading autism organizations in the Chicago area.

Dr. Smith attributes her success to her willingness to accept challenges and experiment with new opportunities. She firmly believes in taking on anything that comes her way. Looking ahead, she has set her sights on constructing a new facility for the Canopy Adult Program to expand its services to more adults in need. Her top priority is strengthening the vocational training program so students are well-equipped with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce upon graduation.

Dr. Smith advises aspiring professionals to believe in themselves and work hard, doing the best they can. She emphasizes that there is always a path to success, even if it looks different from what you initially envisioned. By sticking to your goals and being persistent, you can find solutions and achieve your dreams. 

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