Hard work and determination are two qualities that Diane Smith ’90SVC sees on a daily basis at St. John’s University.
Since 2008, Smith has served as the Major Gift Officer for St. John’s The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, regularly interacting with alumni who serve as corporate executives and CEOs. “These alumni have such strong work ethics, from their time at St. John’s all the way to today,” Smith said. “Some of them tell me about how they used to do their homework in their cars, how they’d take two buses just to get to campus, or work jobs before and after class. And now they’re chairmen of the board.”
Their stories are similar to Smith’s. Graduating with a B.S. in Communications in 1990, Smith worked multiple jobs during her student days at St. John’s, a task that helped drive her to make the most out of her degree.
“My extracurricular activity was working a job,” she joked. “That was my college experience. And the alumni I interact with, they were working too. That’s why they’ve had the type of success that they’ve had – they know how to work hard.”
After graduation, Smith spent 18 years working on Wall Street and in finance. She was Assistant Vice President for HSBC Bank in Forest Hills and held a variety of positions at Prudential Securities. Her time at Citibank in Flushing is what first got her interested in returning to St. John’s.
“Many of my clients were employees at the University,” she noted. “They got me thinking that I’d like to work at St. John’s, so when the position of Major Gift Officer became available, I went for it.”
Smith is now responsible for encouraging financial gifts for the Tobin College of Business, working with alumni to secure contributions that go towards scholarships and other endeavors. It’s a field of work that Smith finds immensely rewarding.
“The only way you can properly raise money is if you believe in your cause,” she said, “and I believe so much in this institution. The alumni who I am fortunate enough to meet, most of them started out with very humble beginnings. Their generosity to the University is because the students remind them of themselves, and they know that if you pursue your dream throughout college, you can be whatever you’d like to be.”
Two of Smith’s favorite Tobin College of Business initiatives are the Executives-in-Residence Program (EIRP) and the Alumni Insider’s View … Business Plan Competition. The EIRP gives undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to gain firsthand experience in the world of business by working for actual companies and non-profit organizations.
The AIV Business Plan Competition, underwritten by one of the University’s most generous and dedicated alumni, is a unique program where students submit entrepreneurial proposals to be judged by a panel of alumni. The top six receive cash prizes to make their winning business plans a reality.
Smith is quick to point out that the most essential component for both of these endeavors is alumni support.
“The alumni I work with are so generous, not only with their money, but with their time and energy,” Smith said. “Our alumni stay late for the Business Plan Competition, offering their help and guidance to all the students. We have other alumni who volunteer to serve as mentors for current students. They just do so much and go above and beyond to help our students with networking opportunities.”
Working with Victoria L. Shoaf, Ph.D., Interim Dean, Tobin College of Business, and the faculty has been one of the most enjoyable parts of Smith’s job. And seeing alumni reach out to the current business students is also rewarding.
“I actually just got an e-mail from an alumnus asking me if I could provide him with a St. John’s intern,” she said. “So, as you can see, our alumni are always looking to help students. And to know that I played a small part in making that happen is a truly wonderful feeling.”