Smith’s ‘six Rs’ shaped future for college

When G.T. “Buck” Smith became president of Davis & Elkins College on July 1, 2008, he announced a six-step philosophy he and the board of trustees have used as a guide during his tenure.

The “six Rs” were crafted to lead the college in a positive direction. Those guiding principles were: to reduce expenses, recruit students, retain students, raise funds, renew programs and reach for new opportunities.

“That’s essentially been our strategic plan,” Smith said in an interview Friday evening at The Inter-Mountain.

As an example of the plan’s success, he pointed to significant improvements in student recruitment.

“Recruiting increased by 50.5 percent in only one year,” he said, noting the hike was driven primarily by the Highlands Scholar Program.

That scholarship is available to students – in the seven counties surrounding the college – who have a 2.5 or better GPA. Smith said there were 16 new D&E students from those counties in 2008. The next year, there were 87, and today, that number is 287.

“It (the scholarship) made it possible for students to go to college,” Smith said. “If you are serious about getting an education, you can get it at D&E.”

The program has become a keystone of the college’s mission, he said.

Another accomplishment achieved during Smith’s tenure has been fundraising. He said the college has raised close to $25 million in gifts in the past five years.

“The key here has been the generosity of members of the board of trustees, and people in the community, … alumni, family and friends,” he said.

D&E also became debt-free with Smith at the helm. After owing more than $10 million to the bank in 2008, those debts were paid off by Nov. 7, 2012, Smith said.

“We are among a handful of colleges in the country that have no outside debt,” he said, noting he didn’t want to take credit for the college’s overwhelming success in the past five years, which included more than $10 million in campus improvements.

He said all members of the board “are the people who really transformed the college. I just got to be in a role to help their vision become a reality.”

Smith specifically highlighted the work of Board Chairman Paul Stirrup, who “reported for duty” at D&E the same day Smith became president.

Working with Stirrup, June Myles and all members of the board of trustees was a true pleasure, Smith said, adding he also enjoyed working with the generous supporters of the college, including donor James McDonnell.

“Serving D&E has been the highlight of my life … because of the people,” he said. “D&E is such a positive, can-do place. You don’t find that universally and throughout, (other colleges) don’t have that kind of ethos. It’s very special.”

Another high note from his time as president was seeing the board of trustees recommend that the new softball field be named in honor of his wife, Joni. He called it “the most touching moment of my life.”

He said she has acted as a mother to all D&E students over the past five years, and “you could count on one hand the number of sports events she has missed” in the past few years.

Affirming the positive direction of D&E, Smith said this time is a “renaissance in the spirit of hope and the possibility of the future, not only for the college, but also for everyone associated with the college, reaching the wider community.”