Published: Fri Apr 29, 2005John W. Smith's contributions to Tennessee Tech University began well before he knew he'd be pursuing a career in TTU's University Advancement division — and well before graduation, for that matter. Hired as a graduate assistant to help sort out the division's information technology system, he stayed on for the love of applying what he learned in the classroom, along with his own innate talent, to the challenge of making the division one of the nation's most technologically advanced.
Now, 10 years later, he is still keeping the information technology underpinnings of TTU's University Advancement division operating smoothly. Smith, TTU’s associate director of Advancement Services, has single-handedly revolutionized the most basic IT functions, helping the division run faster, smarter, better — and he has saved the university hundreds of thousands of dollars while he was at it by designing and developing dozens of database management systems.
For those reasons and more, Smith has been named this year's recipient of TTU's Outstanding Professional Award. He was honored earlier this week during an awards ceremony on campus.
"No task is too big or too small for John to tackle, and the results are always better than you could imagine," said Paul Isbell, TTU’s vice president for University Advancement. "His enthusiasm and desire to make TTU better for our students, alumni, donors and co-workers is contagious. John is definitely a self-starter and has a positive/can-do attitude. He is hard-working, intelligent, creative and honest. His ingenuity, technical abilities, and leadership skills have significantly facilitated fund-raising for Tennessee Tech."
Successful fund-raising depends on sophisticated database systems for research, record-keeping and communication. Smith, who has become known among his peers regionally and nationally for his expertise in information technology, has designed and implemented a number of database management systems used to collect and track information about our donors, scholarships and alumni.
Thanks to Smith, the university’s Advancement and Development staff, as well as others across campus, have ready access to information about donors, donor prospects, scholarship recipients and alumni. His work has made possible a phonathon system, alumni reservations, electronic funds transfer, pledge stewardship, alumni and friends mailing lists, and much more.
"When there is a need to do a task more effectively and efficiently, John leads the way to a solution," said Isbell. "The solution may be a simple database, a relational database, better procedures, sophisticated systems or better business practices. He is always willing to help any TTU constituent — student, faculty, staff, alumnus, or donor — and is willing to meet any challenge. His ability to maintain an outstanding attitude in view of the many demands for quick resolutions to difficult problems is amazing. He is truly committed to Tennessee Tech, and it shows."
Currently, Smith is in the final stages of his biggest project of all, moving all TTU’s alumni and donor records over to a new software system, Raiser's Edge. For optimum capability and successful conversion, the program has to be customized to the needs of more than 20 existing systems. When the new system goes live next month, it will be the culmination of more than a year's worth of work — including a lot of late nights and weekends — and it will give TTU’s fund-raising operation the tools it needs to increase the university's donor base.
"John has an exceptional attitude — and I say exceptional because the demands on him are always greater than he can routinely accomplish," said Tom Hamilton, associate vice president for University Development. "Consequently, he spends a lot of time outside normal work hours to make sure our needs are met.
"It would seem easy for John to become frustrated and let that affect his attitude, but he always maintains a pleasant and caring demeanor. He definitely contributes to the solidarity and excellent relations within our organization. He loves his work and loves solving problems, and although stretched thin, he accomplishes what he commits to do — sometimes at the expense of his personal interests. I know of no one who displays more unselfish commitment to this institution."
That level of dedication has earned Smith a reputation among development organizations nationwide, and he has been called upon to share his expertise with, among others, the Tennessee Board of Regents and our sister institutions, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, and the Tennessee Advancement Resources Council.
"John doesn't just react to our needs, he frequently introduces ideas and programs that help us do a better job," said Hamilton. "Without John, we would still be in the dark ages of fund-raising as regards information systems."
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from TTU in 1994 and an M.B.A. in 1998. A native of Waverly, Tenn., he is married to April Demps Smith of Advancement Services at TTU, and they have two children, David and Lindi. The Smith family lives in Sparta. His parents, Larry and Joy Smith, and grandparents, Delilah and Evonne Spencer, live in Waverly. Smith is a 1990 graduate of Waverly Central High School.
Established in 1993, the TTU awards program was created to recognize outstanding professional staff, accompanying existing awards programs for faculty and clerical and support staff. Last year's winner was Rob Schabert, director of TTU's Sports Information Office.