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Retired U.S. Army Colonel, MBA grad establishes scholarship for transfer and readmitted students 

On his last day as an Army Senior Executive, Rickey Smith and his wife Margaret participated in a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.Retired U.S. Army Colonel Rickey Smith, `87 MBA, dedicated his career – including three years as an assistant professor of military science and enrollment officer with Tennessee Tech – to serving his country. Now, he wants to give back and has established a scholarship to help students who have a gap in enrollment finish their degree.

“I had a gap in my education because of Army assignments, almost to where I couldn’t use some of my original credits,” Smith said. “I want to allow someone else to get a leg up and go back to school.”

Smith retired as a U.S. Army Colonel in 2006 and as an Army Senior Executive in 2019. He says his MBA from Tech served him well during his time in the Army, from engagements with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, members of Congress and their staffs, the Joint Staff and academic organizations, think tanks, the press and national intelligence to multinational strategic arms negotiations. Having commanded an Army battalion and brigade as a regular Army field artillery officer, he says his degree helped him understand how to motivate others and achieve success.

In addition to an MBA from Tech, Smith also earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Middle Tennessee State University and a master’s in national security strategy from National Defense University. His civilian awards include the Meritorious Service Presidential Rank and the Secretary of the Army Exceptional Civilian Service Award. His most significant military award is the Distinguished Service Medal.

Smith says the Army allowed him to do an ROTC instructor assignment, and he chose Tech because it was close to his home in Murfreesboro. Smith served in Tech’s military science department from 1984 to 1987 and says Tech quickly became a second home.

“There’s a saying, ‘Home is where the Army sends you,’” Smith said. “I jumped straight in with both feet as a faculty member and a student. Dr. Joy Henshall and Dr. Bob Bell – who were both College of Business professors at the time – accepted me as a provisional MBA student when I began my work in military science. My family and I became immersed in the culture of the campus. I became chair of the faculty committee and even ended up being a fraternity advisor, though I’d never been in a fraternity before. It was a tremendous experience.”

Smith says Tech’s MBA program required students to do case studies, and Smith actually did a project on the marketing plan for Tech.

“It was interesting because it allowed me to learn even more about the university,” Smith said. “Prescriptive data analytics were just becoming the norm. I had to forecast whether Tech needed to recruit from every county, just the surrounding counties or out of state, and I had to consider whether we should market ourselves as an engineering school or an engineering, business and nursing school.”  

Smith says he has been fortunate to return to campus as a guest speaker in some College of Business classes.  

“The MBA students were shocked when an Army officer in full uniform walked in,” Smith said. “I represent an example of a nontraditional business career. I asked them if they are ever going to do negotiations. They weren’t sure. I said, ‘Are you ever going to apply for a job? Do you want to get paid? That’s a negotiation.’”

Smith says there are four pieces of advice he would give students today.

“One, integrity and effort are key,” he said. “You control those, and that’s something they can’t take away from you. Two, do not self-constrain. Do not tell yourself, ‘But wait, I’ve never done that before.’ Third, enthusiasm is contagious. You can always do the ‘woe is me’ thing, but if you’re pumped up and go for it, I find others around you respond accordingly. And finally, your response to adversity is more important than the actions that created the adversity. If the cannon round goes in the wrong place, they usually won’t relieve you of command on the spot. But if you try to cover it up, you will be relieved because you sacrificed your integrity. You can’t change history, but you can decide how you respond to it.”

The Rickey E. Smith Return for Degree Scholarship is awarded to College of Business transfer or readmitted students who earned their last college credit at least three years prior. Preference will be given to students currently serving in the military or honorably discharged veterans and their spouses.

Mary McCaskey, director of Financial Aid and Veterans Affairs at Tech, says the Rickey E. Smith Scholarship will serve a group of students who often don’t qualify for other scholarships.

“Few people truly understand what it means to drop everything to serve your country – without question or objection,” McCaskey said. “The best way to repay that act of service is to pave the way for future success by supporting these individuals and their families once they’re home. Providing scholarship opportunities such as this may be exactly what student veterans need to help them cross the finish line and finish their degree after fulfilling their military obligations.”

Smith says he established the scholarship at Tech because of the exceptional educational and employment experiences the university provided.

“You want to invest your money into things that are going well,” he said. “There is an excellence in academics at Tech. It was an excellent campus culture when I was there in the `80s. You could sense it then, and you can see it now. I want to reinforce that success.” 

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