On his first day in office, Davis & Elkins College President G.T. "Buck" Smith sent a message of hope and emphasized a "can-do" approach to strengthening the community's bond with the college and ensuring future success.
A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 200 business leaders, D&E alumni, trustees, students, faculty and community members welcomed Smith and his wife, Joni, to the campus Tuesday at Robbins Chapel.
In his remarks, Smith quoted an ancient Chinese proverb to help outline his philosophy to the audience.
(CU and The Inter-Mountain/Suzanne Stewart)
NEW?PRESIDENT?ADDRESSES?THE?COMMUNITY — Davis &?Elkins College’s new president, G.T. “Buck”?Smith, addresses a standing-room-only crowd in Robbins Chapel Tuesday. Smith invited the community, which included residents, business leaders, college alumni and students, to discuss key opportunities, challenges and possibilities for the college. Below, Smith’s wife, Joni, thanks the crowd for welcoming them into the community. View additional photos at www.theintermountain.com.
"A leader is best when people barely know he, or know she, exists," Smith said, quoting Lao Tzu. "Not so good when they obey him or her, worse still when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when the task is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, 'We did it ourselves.' That's what we need. We have got to do it ourselves. Together, we can."
Smith invited the community to the campus to discuss key opportunities, challenges and possibilities for the college. He asked for input on how to address those challenges and what community members will be willing to do to help achieve those opportunities.
As president, Smith said his job is to outline the parameters of work to be done at the school including addressing immediate issues and recognizing the need for changes to meet the market demand for private institutions.
"We have got to have a paradigm change in the way we operate," Smith said. "We've got to move. We've got to be energized. I'll never forget where I was when I came to this little phrase in the early 1960s, when things were too slow. 'It's better to act, albeit imperfectly, than to wait forever for the perfect move.' We have got to move. That means we have got to have a can-do attitude. We have got to see the possibilities now and I don't know what all those possibilities are, so don't look to me for them ... let's just everybody pull ourselves into the mix and together we can do something great."
Smith presented an overview of his plan consisting of "the six R's": reducing expenses, recruiting students, returning current students, raising gifts, renewing programs and reaching out to the community.
Smith said the college will reduce $10,000 in expenses by not printing a new student catalogue this year. Other cost-saving methods will be monitoring electricity usage and driving his own vehicle, rather than having the college supply him with one.
For recruitment, Smith said it is vital to attract students from area high schools. A new program known as Highland Scholars would be offered to students in Randolph and surrounding counties. He said no local students who qualify academically for admission should be turned away because they cannot afford the sticker price. One of Smith's ideas is to help local students afford the tuition costs through grants and work programs.
To help with recruiting, Smith brought longtime friend Kevin Wilson to D&E with him. Wilson, also known as "The Bulldozer," is a student recruitment specialist. His title at D&E is vice president for enrollment management and chief operating officer.
Under Wilson's direction, Smith projected student enrollment to increase steadily. He said the college is expecting 180 new students in the fall and 285 students, a 58-percent increase, in 2009. Each year, he expects enrollment to steadily increase until reaching 400 new incoming students by the fall of 2013.
To keep students returning and to prevent them from transferring to other schools, he said it is important to make them feel connected. He asked faculty, staff and trustees to each take a personal interest in five students and make contact with them weekly.
In addressing raising gifts, Smith said he is committed to balancing the budget and would like to see the college raise $1.5 million within the next year. He also said if everybody who is affiliated with the college would mention D&E to someone new every day, it would spread the message about how well the college is respected by the community.
Smith also said the college has recently secured a donation of $25,000 worth of fitness equipment, two golf carts he called "the Senator Express" and a $1,000 check to purchase extra seats for the carts.
Other ideas are to invite local merchants to campus to meet incoming freshmen and returning students.
"We're going to think globally, but we're going to try to act locally," Smith said. "Not only in terms of the environment ... but in terms of where we buy and where we purchase. We want to purchase locally. We want to help the economy as best we can in this immediate and surrounding area."
Smith said it is also important to renew programs to expand athletics and liberal arts studies. He said he would like to see the campus have top-notch technology including wireless broadband Internet access.
The final piece of Smith's plan is for the school to reach out for new opportunities that could include distance learning and global exchange programs. He said this would promote the school on a worldwide scale.
Smith quoted the poem "El Dorado" by Robert Louis Stevenson. He said humans are always seeking more.
"To be truly happy, to be truly successful, to be really fulfilled, is a question of how we began and not of how we end, of what we want and not of what we have. Our aspirations are our joy."
He said the aspirations of D&E are to prepare and inspire enterprising leaders for success.
"I'm suggesting our mission is to prepare and inspire enterprising leaders for success in a compassionate, sustainable, global community. ... Let's face it, to go through life just getting and receiving and not really putting ourselves into it isn't really moving things forward very much, including ourselves ... we all have a chance to set examples for others for success."
Smith said he was recently asked why he was coming out of retirement to take the job as president of D&E college. He said his answer is simple: "Because this is a place worth doing it for. ... Isn't that what life is all about, everyone of us, it doesn't matter what we are doing, we like to be doing something that is worthwhile, and if we are privileged to do something worthwhile, then we also have to be in a situation where we can make a difference."
Joni Smith also addressed the crowd. In the short time the couple has been in Elkins, she said everyone has made them feel welcome.
"I would like to thank you each for coming here today. It means a great deal to us," Joni Smith said. "The warmth of your reception to us has been wonderful. ... I see you with my heart. I see goodness. I see eagerness. And my hope is that together we will bring honor, hard work and joy to this hallowed place in this very special community and I thank you with all of me for the privilege to come alongside of you in service to D&E."