News at Smith

‘A Family:’ How Smith Builds Community and Keeps Graduation Rates High

Mar 12, 2021

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At Maryland Smith, and at organizations across the business world, our diversity is a strength.

At Smith, that strength shows through in numbers.

“It shows because of the things that we do to nurture students and support students,” says Victor Mullins, associate dean of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Smith’s first-year retention rate among African American students stands at 100%, where it’s been for several years – among the highest rates of any college on campus. For female students, the rate is at 98%, and for Latinx, it’s at 91%.

It’s something to celebrate, and to continue to work on, says Mullins.

“We do center on diversity, equity and inclusion, but we also show how that makes the experience at Smith better for everyone, when everyone feels that sense of belonging. Our numbers aren’t just good for underrepresented students, our numbers are good for everybody,” Mullins says.

Overall, the business school’s retention rate among undergraduate first-year students is at 96%, just slightly higher than UMD’s 95% impressively high overall retention rate. Smith’s five-year graduation rate, meanwhile is at 91%, compared to 86% for the university. And its four-year graduation rate is at 83%, compared to 74% for the university at large.

Smith’s overperformance reflects an environment where students feel a sense of belonging, even before their first classes begin.

“Who invites students to their house – to their own homes – before they even get to Smith? We do that. We’ve done that for years,” says Mullins. “We do that because we want you to know that Smith is a family.

“Students, they walk away from that experience and they say, ‘I can’t wait.’”

While they are at Smith, students are welcomed to join the Smith Business Academy, designed for Black and Latino men; and the Women’s Empowerment Institute, its female counterpart. “They are excellence-building experiences,” Mullins says. “We’re saying to these students, ‘You’re already smart and strong. We want to make you smarter and stronger.’”

Smith meanwhile continues to collaborate with President Darryll Pines and his leadership team on the priority of pursuing an anti-racist and more inclusive and multicultural environment at UMD.

The university announced in March that it was nearing a record-breaking 50,000 applications for admissions, with unprecedented applications from Black and Latinx students. Pines called it “a significant step forward” for the university. “We strongly believe that academic excellence and diversity are inextricably linked,” he added.

By the time they walk across the graduation stage, Smith students have connected with their professors, their administrators. Many have connected with Mullins. His phone buzzes throughout every day, with texts from students – current and former. “I just got an interview with Goldman Sachs,” the latest one reads. “Thanks for your advice,” reads another, from a student who graduated years earlier.

The community continues long after graduation, with personal connections and a busy slate of diversity and inclusion events, including the popular anti-racist book club. “We have professors, all the way down to college freshmen talking about these books. Little moments like that keep the community alive,” he says.

Students on that sense of belonging and the ‘Smith Experience’:

Shayne Richmond

Shayne RichmondDouble major: business finance and marketing.

Expected year of graduation: B.S. in 2023, Plus-1 M.S. in 2024.

Summer plans: Returning to Deloitte to participate in the Discovery Internship in the McLean, Va., office.

What does "The Smith Experience" mean to you? How would you describe that to others?

Richmond: The Smith Experience means performing at your most well-rounded and exceptional self. It means an opportunity to break barriers, set records, and achieve greatness while remaining versatile. I'd describe Smith as the heart of campus. The sheer atmosphere of this school inspires students on campus, leaves people in awe by the students that pursue and achieve high levels of professionalism, and pumps energy and passion back into the University.

Tell us about a time when you felt a sense of belonging at Smith. What made you feel that?

Richmond: I felt like I belonged at Smith when I served on the president's committee as well as the Diversity and Inclusion Committee with SUSA. It was at that moment that I knew that I could make the impact that I wanted to make in the school and that I was an active contributor to the Smith Experience/community.

What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, how does it shape the university experience?

Richmond: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion means creating an environment, curriculum, and experience with varying perspectives, ideas, identities, cultures, and feelings. It also means to actively make decisions that ensure that those varying perspectives, ideas, identities, cultures, and feelings are maintained and expanding every day. It shapes the University experience by contributing to the overall expansion of knowledge, experiences, and people with powerful contributions to make to the world.

Marc Marshall

Marc MarshallDouble major: information systems and marketing

Expected year of graduation: 2023

Summer plans:  PwC Start Intern McLean, VA

What does "The Smith Experience" mean to you? How would you describe that to others?

Marshall: The Smith Experience means always having somebody who is looking out for you. You get to experience with both professional development and personal development. Smith helps you to be well-rounded, which means both having technical and professional skills, along with personal skills. In short, Smith helps you to become a better person, not just a better student.

Tell us about a time when you felt a sense of belonging at Smith. What made you feel that?

Marshall: Joining the Smith Business Academy was a time when I felt a sense of belonging at Smith. I joined in my freshman year along with four of my other friends and I was able to be surrounded by a group of brilliant individuals who looked just like me. I was still getting used to college but this group of mentors and overall great people helped me to get acquainted to my new chapter in life. Everyone was so genuine and it was easy to tell that the person standing to your left, and to your right, wanted you to succeed just as much as they wanted themselves to succeed. This gave me a much needed sense of comfort in a new space.

What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, how does it shape the university experience?

Marshall: Diversity and inclusion means always being exposed to different perspectives. If you only ever surround yourself with people who think like you, then you are selling yourself short. Diversity and inclusion in college exposes you to these different perspectives, allowing you to always learn new things and reach your full potential as a person.

Jessica Hairston

Jessica HairstonAlumna, business management major

Year of graduation: 2017

Current position:  Project manager for Primary Care Coalition in Silver Spring, Md.

What does "The Smith Experience" mean to you? How would you describe that to others?

Hairston: Smith has a DNA of diversity and inclusion. Before I even started my first class at Smith I was met with opportunities to be involved with Black Business Association and other student organizations that were geared to black students or women.

The Smith Experience is when you technically go to the University of Maryland, College Park, but the Smith School of Business is where you call “home”. 

Tell us about a time when you felt a sense of belonging at Smith. What made you feel that?

Hairston: Associate director Jeanette Snider put together an event celebrating Black history and culture. Students, alumni and staff ate, danced and connected the entire time. It was as if I was at a family party that night.

What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, how does it shape the university experience?

Hairston: These three things mean understanding that there are so many different types of people that all excel in different types of things. A university must level the playing field if they want their students to be their best selves.

Desiree Morrison

Desiree MorrisonDual Degree: Operations Management and Business Analytics, Accounting

Expected year of graduation: 2021

Full-time plans: Associate at Boston Consulting Group in Washington, D.C.

What does "The Smith Experience" mean to you? How would you describe that to others?

Morrison: The Smith Experience describes how Smith is an immersive environment that gets students involved in ways that build and form a community. When I think of the Smith Experience I think of how organizations like Smith Undergraduate Student Association (SUSA) and its many clubs end up shaping the experiences students have within Smith. I think of things like joining a business fraternity, hanging out in the halls of Van Munching, and going to Rudy's right before classes. Whether you've experienced all of these things or only one, I think the Smith Experience is something that shapes you into a successful business student.

Tell us about a time when you felt a sense of belonging at Smith. What made you feel that?

Morrison: I felt belonging at Smith when I went to the first Women's Empowerment Institute meeting. I had never seen that many Black & Latinx women together in Smith, and as we sat there and shared our experiences I felt incredibly bonded with these women.

Smith has many programs in place to support Black and Latinx students. I've participated in events like Discover Smith and heritage nights, which have created a strong support network for Black & Latinx students. Additionally, students are able to find community and support from great staff members and groups like WEI, NABA, and SBA. Personally, the strength of the advising staff in supporting Black students has played a large role in my success.

What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, how does it shape the university experience?

Morrison: Diversity, equity and inclusion as a whole means that people of different identities and experiences are able to create a community and that everyone regardless of background is able to achieve their goals. Due to systemic and institutional practices, universities are not inherently diverse, equitable or inclusive and I have spent my time in university fighting to help ensure that these goals are reached for everyone. Many students, including myself, struggle to succeed in environments where diversity, equity, and inclusion are not valued. However, due to staff at Smith like Dean Mullins, Jeanette Snider, and Melanie Ashton, I've had a university experience where that was not the case.

Kayla Malone

Kayla MaloneDouble major, finance and management

Expected year of graduation: 2023

Summer plans: Goldman Sachs Asset Management internship, Chicago, Ill.

What does "The Smith Experience" mean to you? How would you describe that to others?

Malone: The Smith Experience means growing, pushing past boundaries and having endless possibilities. At Smith, if one puts their mind to something, it can truly happen. Smith has helped me pursue my passion for helping others and has opened many doors for me. I had a vision of revamping an organization, the Black Business Association, that could help many black students at Smith – and I was able to create that vision. I have grown tremendously as a person. Looking back, it amazes me to see how Smith has had such a great impact on my personal and professional growth and development.

Tell us about a time when you felt a sense of belonging at Smith. What made you feel that?

Malone: A time when I felt a sense of belonging at Smith was at the first Black Business Association's meeting. I was able to find an environment where I felt a connection to not only the students, but also the advisor and the dean himself. During this event, I didn't feel as if I had to prove myself. Smith has been a huge contributor in making this happen and it was at this particular event where I witnessed how amazing Smith truly is. The dean, an amazing advisor and other students who looked like me were all gathering for the advancement of diversity and inclusion. This event was so impactful, not only to me, but to other students as well because it truly showed the dedication Smith has to diversity and inclusion for all students.

What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, how does it shape the university experience?

Malone: Dancing like nobody is watching. I was once told that diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance, but belonging is dancing like no one is watching. Diversity, equity, and inclusion means to me having a sense of belonging. It means to be able to be my full self without any care in the world about being judged. Diversity, equity and inclusion has definitely shaped my university experience. Without the efforts and support of the Smith faculty and staff and their commitment to diversity and inclusion, I don't think my university experience would be the same.

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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