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Women to Watch at UA Little Rock: Kristi Smith

Kristi Smith
UA Little Rock Alumni and Development staff member Kristi Smith. Photo by Ben Krain.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, UA Little Rock is profiling women in leadership positions who are making a difference at UA Little Rock and in the community. The next Woman to Watch at UA Little Rock of 2021 is Kristi Smith, senior director of alumni and development. 

Tell us about yourself?

I’m the youngest of four. I grew up in Marche, Arkansas. I went to UA Little Rock as a Donaghey Scholar and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a Master of Public Administration. I am married to Greg, and we have two miniature schnauzers, Dottie and DiDi. 

This is actually my second time to work at UA Little Rock. In my first position, I served as Assistant Dean of the Graduate School. I traveled to other schools in the state to recruit for our graduate programs. I also oversaw the TEAMS (Teaching Enhancements Affecting Minority Students) program, which provided extracurricular activities to both undergraduates and graduates. I am still in touch with several of the students who participated in the program to this day.

What was your experience like as an undergraduate student at UA Little Rock?

I had a great experience. I was a part of the Donaghey Scholars Honors Program, and I often tell the story of the international study abroad component. I went to Strasbourg, France, the summer between my freshman and sophomore year. That was my first time on a plane. I studied French and French history. It was a six-week trip, and I learned a lot about myself and my place in the world. I have UA Little Rock to thank for that. 

I also pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha in 1993 when I was a junior. I made the most of my experience. I was a traditional college student, and UA Little Rock was my first choice for several reasons. I had several opportunities to come on campus when I was a junior and senior in high school. I was part of the Academy Orchestra, and we practiced in the Fine Arts Building. I was already familiar with the campus since my sister was a student here. 

With being a Donaghey Scholar, I knew that I would have help with my tuition. If not, I would have had to incur student loans. I have friends that I made in the Donaghey Scholars Program, in the sorority, and elsewhere across campus that I still have today.

What does your job entail as senior director of alumni and development at UA Little Rock?

I am responsible for UA Little Rock alumni, annual giving, and planned giving. I have the opportunity to reach people at all ages, whether alumni or friends, and I get to connect with them at whatever stage they are in life.

I am also the director of the UA Little Rock Alumni Association. I get to interact with alumni, and one of my goals is to come up with programming that will interest all our alumni. We have alumni who are 22 and just graduated, and we have alumni who are 92 and older. There is always a challenge to figure out how to connect with our alumni at all ages.

What other charitable and professional organizations are you involved in?

Greg and Kristi Smith. Photo by Ben Krain.
Greg and Kristi Smith. Photo by Ben Krain.

I’m a part of CASE (Council for Support and Advancement of Education). I’m also a member of Beta Pi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, a social organization that does a variety of community service activities including the American Heart Association and Alzheimer’s Association. I’m also a board member of the Little Rock Diamond Foundation, the charitable arm of the Little Rock Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. 

What’s next in your professional career?

Professionally, I want to accurately and passionately share the UA Little Rock story with others. I think it’s a hidden gem, and we have so many amazing students, faculty, staff, and alumni. In our city, there are so many opportunities for people to learn. I want to tell our story in an effort to raise money and raise awareness of the needs of our students.

What woman has inspired you the most and why?

I would say my mother, even though she is no longer with us. It was years ago that she worked at the Baldwin Piano factory and later as a housekeeper for several families. When I was in 9th grade, she decided to go back to school. She did very well on the ACT and came to UA Little Rock for classes. To me, it was amazing that she undertook that journey. I know it was very intimidating for her, but she excelled. I believe that she wanted to prove to herself that she could go to college while being a mother and continuing to work. 

In her later years as she became ill, she was still graceful in her sickness and was a wonderful example for others to follow. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of women in higher education?

Kristi Smith presents a t-shirt to Chancellor Christina Drale during the 2019 BBQ at Baileys event. Photo by Ben Krain.
Kristi Smith, left, presents a T-shirt to Chancellor Christina Drale, right, during the 2019 BBQ at Baileys. Photo by Ben Krain.

My advice is to find a mentor who understands what it means to uplift. At the same time, you should reciprocate. Always share with people what your goals are. Otherwise, they won’t know what you are working toward. Unless people know what you’re striving for, they can’t help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; if there is someone in a position where you think you want to be, reach out to them and ask to shadow them. Also, never underestimate the value of a handwritten thank you note.

How have you adapted to life during COVID-19?

I am back in the office, but I enjoyed working from home during the first months of the pandemic. I have grown to appreciate nature a lot more. I spent my time going for walks in my neighborhood, and I am happy for spring because I am looking forward to that “me” time when it’s just me and an audiobook. I personally know a few people who died from the coronavirus, andI have more of an appreciation for being thankful for what I have and continue to have during this time. 

What is a little-known fact about yourself that people who know you would be surprised to learn?

I can deadlift 285 pounds.