Leading by listening
Jim Smith has spent his first year as head of your alumni association connecting with Buckeyes across the country. What you have to say is helping to shape the organization that serves you.
The past year has flown for Jim Smith, in large part because of the interesting connections he’s making with other Buckeyes. Since assuming the role of president and CEO of The Ohio State University Alumni Association last spring, Smith has crisscrossed the country to get acquainted with other alumni, one on one and collectively.
“It’s like I never left,” says Smith ’91 MA. “I just came right back and fell into a great routine. It’s easy to come back and be among fellow Buckeyes, and it’s been fun being out on the road and visiting with them and hearing different stories.”
As his first year on the job came to a close, Smith sat down with Ohio State Alumni magazine to talk about the “listening tour” that he has made a regular part of his job.
What have you enjoyed most about the past year?
One of my favorite parts of the job is going to a city, having dinner with young alumni, learning what’s going on in their careers and their lives, and hearing how they have such an incredible passion for this university. I always leave inspired.
Have any of your beliefs about Buckeye Nation been strengthened?
President Drake’s 2020 Vision for the university resonated with me from my very first conversation about coming back. His focus on accessible, affordable, excellent education is something every Buckeye I connect with believes in.
What sets our alumni apart from those of other schools?
There’s an incredible compassion that lives within each Buckeye, and that goes back to that “pay forward” mentality you learn as a student on campus. It stays with you throughout life. I think that leads to a very compassionate alumni base, and I see that consistently wherever I go — the willingness to help each other when asked to respond, to volunteer. This family is 540,000 strong and continuing to grow. So when someone puts the call out, there are plenty of people there to help. There’s something very reassuring about that, being a Buckeye and knowing that help will come when you ask for it.
How does that compassion affect how others view Ohio State?
It absolutely makes Ohio State’s reputation stronger. When people see others doing good for the right reasons — especially when it’s our alumni proudly wearing their colors and not just helping other alumni, but also helping in their communities and making their communities stronger — that sends a pretty strong message about the university and what they learned while they were here.
Does it help attract prospective students?
I think it gives us a real advantage over other institutions. And I think young people today can see that. You can see just by the number of applicants who continue to apply to come to Ohio State; it increases every year. This was another record year. People want to be a part of the Buckeye family, and part of that is because we have such strong alumni spread throughout the world.
What do you hear from alumni about the association’s work?
It’s been great traveling around campus and around the country. What I’ve heard is that the alumni association is important. It’s important to the alumni who are out there, and it’s important to the broader university. That really makes me feel good about the great work that my predecessors have done — whether that’s through our club and society support, career management programming, customer service, annual giving or our travel program. Alumni all say the same thing: “Wow, you have great people.”
What role do alumni say they want the association to play?
Our alumni want to stay connected, and every Buckeye I talked to likes to be involved in a volunteer opportunity. Whether young or retired, they find there’s something galvanizing about getting together and doing something for the communities that they live in as Buckeyes. So, one of the great things we have planned for next year is a big volunteer opportunity. You’ll be hearing more about that soon.
What do alumni gain from staying in touch with the university?
One of the big things is keeping that sense of belonging to the Buckeye family. The great part about having 540,000-plus alumni is you’ll have a way to stay connected with like-minded people pretty much wherever you live. And that gives you a deeper connection back to
the university, to the memories you have here.
What do you want alumni to know about the association?
One thing you can count on from the association is that we will never stop listening, and we won’t stop evolving. We’ll continue to change as the needs of our alumni change, and I think the only way we’ll know how to do that is to continue to listen to what our alumni tell us and what their needs are going forward. I can guarantee you, if there’s a need, we’ll address it. So keep sharing the information. We read everything that comes in, and we like the feedback.
When you come back to campus, we’d love to see you come by Longaberger Alumni House to say hello, sign the guest registry and let us know you are here. Nina is at the front desk to greet you warmly, like you’re coming home.
This is the place you come and you feel great to be a part of. If you were to come visit from out of town, out of state, out of the country, you should feel like this is your other home.