Volunteer Conference Report 11/16

Smith Volunteer Conference – November 4 – 6, 2016

     Report from Pamela Henrikson

Smith welcomed about 150 alumnae volunteers from across the country back on a colorful, brisk, late-fall weekend for two days packed with information about Smith today, workshops on classes, clubs and fundraising, and typical Smith networking! The program, organized by Jennifer Chrisler ’92, VP for Alumnae Relations and Executive Director of the AASC, exposed us to in-depth presentations from members of President McCartney’s senior staff.  Kathy also spoke at some length during dinner.

All presenters were very informative. CFO Mike Howard presented a clear explanation of Smith’s financial condition, vis-a-vis our peer group of colleges. With an endowment of over $1.8 billion, nearly a decade of operating surpluses and an enviably small  deferred maintenance liability, Smith is financially strong. Mike already has restructured Smith’s debt to take advantage of current low interest rates and to accommodate the library renovation.  He also showed an interesting chart reflecting higher education’s expectations of lower investment returns on endowments over the next two decades  and discussed Smith’s strategies to accommodate this possibility.

Audrey Smith, VP of Enrollment,  admittedly “bragged” about Smith’s applicant pool exceeding 5,200 this past year.  Smith normally accepts about one third and yields about a third of that group.  This year’s first-year class is one third US citizens of color and 14% international students.  20% are on Pell Grants; 8% are legacies. Smith students are a more diverse group than our classmates were, and they are impressive young women.  We saw evidence of their abilities both in a student panel, moderated by Dean of the College, Donna Lisker, and in the opportunity to attend a handful of over 40 student presentations of their summer internships, community service jobs and international study experiences.  Among those I heard were a second-Smith-generation student from India, interested in environmental studies, who had spent the summer at home in Mumbai studying that city’s challenges with trash management, and two seniors with Global Financial Institutions Concentrations who had used their Praxis experience for internships at Goldman Sachs and the US Department of the Treasury.  All three had learned a great deal and were confident and articulate.

Deb Shaver, Dean of Admission, gave a witty and empathetic description of Smith’s very personal and conscientious method of selecting a class from a pool of applicants of whom 80% are  “qualified” for admission.  Even though Smith spends more than $60 million on Financial Aid, the College is not “need blind.” Typically this means that “full-pays” are advantaged for the last 200 spots filled in any admitted class.  She concluded with a few wise tips for parents and grandparents of high school seniors!

Cate Rowen, Executive Director of Institutional Research and Educational Assessment, gave a fascinating presentation on Smith’s efforts to measure outcomes.  Smith is now surveying graduated classes after 2, 5 and 10 years about their Smith experience, their professional or educational affiliations, and how well they feel Smith prepared them for these futures.  Campus groups interested in the results include faculty committees that recommend educational policy for the College.

Speaking about the importance of acting intentionally on matters related to Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, VP Dwight Hamilton gave a compellling description of the variety of activities that consume his day, often well into the evening when he can meet with students in their houses.  He concentrates on the campus climate of acceptance not only for individualals and groups but also for ideas and points of view.

Renovations to the Neilson Library, designed by Maya Lin and Shepley Bulfinch, are in the conceptual stage according to Provost Katherine Rowe and Dean of the Libraries, Susan Fliss, but the plans have engaged the community’s enthusiasm and support.  The library will be rejuvenated  as the central space for academic pursuits on campus, and, as such will accommodate all stages of student studying —-“procrastination, rest and intensive work.”  It will be open 24 hours per day, will have a cafe and a variety of study and gathering spaces.

Finally, VP for Development Beth Raffeld announced the success of the campaign:  $438 million toward a goal of $450 million!  The Development staff seemed confident that there are sufficient “asks” in the pipeline so that the College will reach the goal by December 31st. Beth and her team would love to exceed it. Since every dollar “counts,” any gift to the Smith Fund for this fiscal year made by December 31 contributes to the campaign.  Gifts made directly from an IRA can reduce one’s “adjusted gross income” by the gift amount, a better tax savings than the charitable deduction.  Another attractive option is a gift annuity.  Annuities must be a minimum of $10K, but count as a gift to Smith and pay the donor an attractive rate of return for lifetime.  All are great ideas to achieve a stellar year-end!