Davis & Elkins College making waves across the country

Although G.T. “Buck” Smith left his position as president of Davis & Elkins College more than a month ago, his tremendous impact on the liberal arts institution is still making waves around the country.

His influence became even more obvious this week as D&E received kudos from a national publication as well as extensive praise on National Public Radio.

“The Chronicle of Higher Education,” a weekly news and job-information source for college and university officials, published a lengthy article on Smith and his accomplishments at D&E.

“A ‘Chronicle’ story on a small college is usually a snapshot in time,” said writer Scott Carlson. “We drop in, record the personalities and events around some daunting challenge, then write an article that strives to transfix or inspire readers – or at least convey something useful. And then, aside from an update or two in a blog item, we move on. There are some 4,000 colleges to cover, just in the United States. We almost never go back.”

But the Aug. 16 article, “A College’s Savior Steps Down – Now What?” is a follow-up to a 2009 article by Carlson about Smith and D&E College. The 2009 article was titled, “Turnaround President Makes the Most of His College’s Small Size.”

Smith became president of D&E on July 1, 2008, and immediately announced his six-step philosophy to guide his tenure, including reducing expenses, recruiting and retaining students, raising funds, renewing programs and reaching for new opportunities. Over his five-year tenure, Smith achieved those goals.

“Recruiting increased by 50.5 percent in only one year,” Smith said earlier this year, noting the hike was driven primarily by the Highlands Scholar program.

This scholarship program was available to students in the seven counties surrounding the college, who have a 2.5 or better GPA.

The 2009 “Chronicle” article said that Smith was known as a turnaround artist, a man with the talent and disposition to take a failing college and transform it into a winner.

The article quotes Smith saying, “The underlying thing for me is relationships – hardly anything important happens that doesn’t have to do with relationships. It’s getting to know people and being interested in them… Life is built on genuine relationships, where trust and integrity are without question. When that is there, there are no limits.”

D&E 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. During this debt-reduction period, the school realized many renovation projects, including more than $10 million in campus improvements. D&E has raised close to $25 million in gifts in the last five years.

Michael Mihalyo succeeded Smith as president of D&E on July 1.

Also this week, National Public Radio recognized the Augusta Heritage Center, part of the D&E campus. Writer Stephanie Coleman reported on the dozen week-long, themed music camps spread out over the summer months.

This year’s Augusta Heritage Festival came to a close over the weekend with artisans showing and selling their wares in Elkins City Park. Saturday’s highlight was a concert by Dr. Ralph Stanley, world-renowned bluegrass artist.

While Mihalyo said he is pleased with the school receiving national attention, he stressed that D&E is not seeking the publicity.

“I am happy with all of it,” Mihalyo said. “But it’s not an artificial attention. We are doing these things and making these changes and building on the college for our students, staff and the community. It’s very nice that others are feeling that we are doing a good job. We are not doing this for attention, we are just doing this and if others like it, it affirms we are doing the right things.”