Dr. Suzanne Smith, a member of the Erskine College Class of 1990, has been selected by the board of directors of the State University of New York at Potsdam (SUNY Potsdam) as the institution’s 18th president. She is set to start work in mid-April.
After graduating from Erskine College with a bachelor’s degree in behavior science, she completed a master’s degree in family and child development at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a Ph.D. in child and family development from the University of Georgia. She has completed the Harvard Graduate School of Education Management Development program and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Millennium Leadership Institute.
Smith most recently served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Georgia. She cites “the sense of family or sense of community support” as a common thread connecting her Erskine experience, her tenure at Georgia Southwestern, and her new position at SUNY Potsdam.
“I enjoy being on campuses where people support one another, where they are focused on helping students succeed as everyone at Erskine was, and where colleagues develop a true sense of community,” she says, adding, “This is something that existed at Erskine, is very apparent at Georgia Southwestern, and is something that drew me to SUNY Potsdam.”
As an undergraduate, Smith played on the women’s tennis team, served as vice chair of the Judicial Council, and was active in the Philomelean Literary Society. “My time at Erskine taught me the importance of being involved not just academically, but also in co-curricular activities,” she says.
Smith believes that critical thinking as well as such skills such as “time management, being a good group member, being a good group leader, and learning to get along with a wide variety of people” can be developed as students “navigate life in campus activities.”
Grateful for the mentoring she received at Erskine from Dr. Beth Norrell and Dr. John Showalter, Smith cites as an example of that assistance an undergraduate research project which, “thanks to Dr. Norrell’s guidance and support,” was accepted for presentation at a national conference. It was a pivotal experience.
“Conducting and then presenting this research gave me the confidence to think I could be successful in graduate school, and I was capable of more than I had ever imagined,” she says.
She was invited to apply to a master’s program in which she would work with some of the leading scholars she had met at the conference.
“This literally changed the course of my life,” Smith says, “and led me on the path I have followed ever since.”
She’s had a few surprises along the way. “After I finished my master’s degree, I wasn’t sure where my career path would lead me,” she recalls. “My mentor, Dr. Norrell, ended up changing jobs that summer and recommended me for her position while [Erskine] did a national search. Ironically, I had always said the only thing I knew I didn’t want to do is teach!”
Classes were due to start in about two weeks when Smith accepted the teaching opportunity, thinking it might be good “to have a job for a year and figure things out.” Erskine friends in the area helped her find housing.
A week after she started the job, she called home and told her parents that she now knew what I wanted to do with the rest of her life—teach at the college level.
“So, twice Erskine helped set me on the path I was meant to take in my professional life,” Smith says, first with the undergraduate research project and then with the temporary teaching position at Erskine after she got her master’s degree. “I taught at Erskine that year and the following summer and then started my Ph.D. program at the University of Georgia.”
Asked about what advice she might offer college students who are making their way toward a career, she remembers her initial reluctance to consider teaching. “I think the greatest obstacle can be figuring out what you’re passionate about,” she says, “and then how to achieve that goal.”
Based on her own experience, she recommends being “intentional and purposeful about what you do and how you pursue your goals,” and believes that “having someone to help mentor you along the way minimizes the obstacles you face.”
As she prepares for her work as president of SUNY Potsdam, she looks back at her career. “In my profession, having a Ph.D. was essential to my success, as well as having a desire to work with others and to focus everything I do on student success,” she says. “A positive attitude and a desire to help others are key.”
Suzanne Smith and her husband Brett Lloyd enjoy “playing golf, hiking, snow sports, and being outdoors.” At the time she was interviewed, they had five dogs, three of them under the age of seven months. She described their house as “full of activity and dog hair!” and added, “We love spending time with our friends and family, and I still have relationships I cherish that were born in my time at Erskine.”
At top of page, Smith in her regalia on a recent commencement day at Georgia Southwestern State University—”my favorite day of the year on a college campus because we are celebrating an extraordinary accomplishment with our students,” she says.