Coles College grad keeps promise to earn MBA
KENNESAW, Ga. (May 15, 2017) — Life is good for David Smith. Just a few days after moving into a new house, Smith received his Master of Business Administration degree from Kennesaw State University.
Add to that having a job he loves, and Smith is enjoying a contentment he didn’t think was possible not too long ago. Smith, 46, overcame several challenges to earn his undergraduate and graduate degrees from KSU, including a period of being homeless.
“I went from homelessness to home ownership while I was at Kennesaw State,” Smith said. “I’m living proof that you can change your life and move onto greater things.”
Smith enrolled at Kennesaw State in 2009 after moving to the Atlanta area following two stints in the armed forces. He was in the Marine Corps from 1992 to 1996 and, after receiving a hardship discharge to care for his ill father, served in the Army from 1998 to 2007.
Smith said that Kennesaw State’s “reputation and location were perfect” for him to start the next chapter of his life after his military career. He added that the University’s low faculty/student ratio appealed to him as a non-traditional student who had been out of school for a while.
“I wanted that connection, and Kennesaw State welcomed me with open arms,” he said. “I saw the growth potential the University had, and the great opportunity for me to grow along with it.”
After graduating with a sport management degree with a concentration in marketing, Smith enrolled in Kennesaw State’s Master of Business Administration program. However, just seven days after Smith received his undergraduate degree, his mother suffered a massive stroke.
Smith remained in school, attending classes during the week and flying to Detroit to spend weekends with his mother. The strenuous schedule eventually became too much for him, though, and he withdrew from KSU.
But with the encouragement of Executive Director of MBA Programs Amy Henley and others, Smith returned, taking classes online. He earned his MBA from the Coles College of Business this spring, fulfilling the pledge he made to his mother before she died on Christmas Eve of 2014.
“I promised my mom I’d get it done,” Smith said. “Having been in the military, I have that fortitude to finish a mission. I finished what I started.”
“I could tell David was a fighter, and he was going to keep fighting no matter what obstacles life threw his way,” Henley said. “The timing of his mother's illness during his first semester in the MBA program proves how resilient he is. Rather than giving up, he took some time off after her death, and came back stronger than ever.”
Along with earning two degrees from Kennesaw State, Smith worked at the University. Smith missed the camaraderie and service to country that he had felt in the military, so he became an admissions counselor and veterans recruiter for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
He then moved on to his current position as a senior peer specialist for the Veterans Supportive Housing program – a partnership between the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development that helps homeless veterans find and sustain permanent housing. It’s the very program that gave Smith a hand when he was homeless.
Smith said he also served time in jail for three DUI arrests before making a conscious decision in 2007 to change his life, because “no one was going to do it for me.” Now he shares his story to inspire the homeless veterans he assists, many of whom also need mental health treatment and substance use counseling.
“I have an avenue to deliver my story to help me to help them,” Smith said. “I have discovered that this is my passion. I don’t work – I love what I do.”
So while he is celebrating receiving his second degree from KSU, Smith does not consider it an individual achievement. He gives the credit to the many people at Kennesaw State who helped and supported him along the way.
“I could give you a list of unbelievable people on that campus who believed in me. That was what I needed,” Smith said. “It’s a journey of humility. I’m humbled by it all.”
“Every student needs to feel as if someone believes in them, especially non-traditional ones, and it was very easy to believe in David,” Henley said. “It’s an honor to teach someone as special as David Smith because I probably learned more from him than he did from me.”
— Paul Floeckher
Photos by David Caselli
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.