John Smith started working at UofL in 1987 – the day before the fall semester kicked off.
The past 31 years have given the assistant director of Intramural and Recreational Sports quite a perspective, allowing him to witness the evolution from commuter school to vibrant campus community, the opening of the Student Recreation Center in 2013 and, most recently, the appointment of the first female president with the hiring of Dr. Neeli Bendapudi.
Through all of those years and all of those changes one thing has remained constant – the students have always been at the center of what drives Smith.
“It’s unusual to be in one position for so long. My duties have changed, but I’ve always been involved with the students and that has been very motivational and refreshing,” Smith said. “The students are why we’re here and I’m lucky to be involved with them at a very fundamental level.”
Smith estimates that he interacts with hundreds of students every day. In fact, when the SRC first opened, data showed that 17,700 different student IDs were swiped to enter.
“That is a vast majority of the student body. We’re not just working with the Greeks or this group of students or that group of students. Every type of student comes to the rec center and it gives us a really good pulse on who they are and what they want,” he said.
Having such a firm pulse on UofL’s student body is the biggest reason Smith threw his hat into the ring to be the next Staff Senate chair after having served as a senator for seven years. Smith was elected to the one-year term in June, succeeding Will Armstrong.
His biggest goal as chair is to restore trust and integrity at UofL. He believes the pieces are in place and the timing is right.
“We have the right people now – not only with Bendapudi, but with our senior leadership team that is on the same page and wants this same thing. I was on the presidential search committee and that is why I was so impressed with Dr. Bendapudi. Every question we asked her circled back to integrity. Integrity has to be the key to restoring trust on campus,” Smith said. “I am closer to the end of my career than the start of my career, but things are lined up right now to really make some positive changes, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Smith also wants to facilitate more involvement from senators, encouraging committee participation among other efforts.
“The more people are involved, the more invested they become and the more successful the group is,” he said. “I believe in servant leadership. The best thing a leader can do is empower other people and get them involved with decision-making.”
Specific initiatives under his watch will be identified at the Staff Senate retreat in September.
Getting to know Staff Senate Chair John Smith
UofL News: Where are you from?
Smith: I grew up in the south end. I went to Stuart High School when it was still a high school. It’s a middle school now. I went to EKU for college.
UofL News: How did you end up at UofL?
Smith: When Ellis Mendelsohn retired, this job opened up. At the time, I was working for the Lexington City Government, but my goal was always to be on a college campus. A college campus is where I became interested in sports administration and recreational sports in the first place. I knew that being on a campus is how I could best put that to practice.
UofL News: What is your favorite thing about UofL?
Smith: We’ve been through a real hard time, but the passion that people still have for this place is contagious. Despite all that we went through, people still did their jobs the best they could because they had pride in what they do and they didn’t want those distractions to take away from the students’ success.
UofL News: What is your favorite thing about the city of Louisville?
Smith: I’ve always liked the diversity of the city. We have a lot of white-collar stuff here, but the general attitude of this city is when the chips are down, we take care of each other. UofL fits into that really well.
UofL News: What are your hobbies?
Smith: I officiate with the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. I am currently an NCAA Volleyball official. I am active at my church (Southeast Christian Church), which might be where the servant leadership part comes in. I go to Sweden every summer to help do a youth golf camp through our church. We took our 17th trip a couple of weeks ago. I’ve also volunteered for FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) since it came to campus and that is very important to me.
UofL News: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Smith: My grandfather, who was a really strong person, always used to tell me: ‘If you leave something better than you find it, you’ll always be invited to come back.’ It’s simple, but I think simple things are the most powerful.