Smith’s Path Paved by Opportunities to Lead

Matthew Smith found himself at Arkansas Tech University.

“I don’t think Matthew Smith four years ago really knew who he was,” said Smith. “I think that’s the beauty of college. It helps you find out who you are. You have four years to really dig deep, figure out what you like, what you don’t like and where you want to go in life. I am more confident in myself. Four years ago, I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to be the student body president. I’ve really grown to know who I am, and that has helped me pursue my goals.”

He became a senator in ATU Student Government Association, served an internship for a U.S. congressman, performed countless hours of community service as a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and was elected student body president for his senior year at Tech.

On Saturday, May 12, he will be honored as the recipient of the Alfred J. Crabaugh Award as Tech’s most outstanding senior male student during spring commencement ceremonies at John E. Tucker Coliseum in Russellville.

“I am speechless to be among the ranks of some of the best people who have ever walked through Arkansas Tech University,” said Smith. “It’s an honor to be named as one of those outstanding men. I get butterflies inside thinking about what people have seen in me to nominate me for this award…things I might not have even noticed.”

A graduate of Hermitage High School, Smith chose ATU because of its geographic location in the northern half of the state and its agriculture program.

His passion for the study of agriculture began in an eighth grade class. Smith joined a livestock judging team, and he became a state champion and national runner-up in that field. He also served as state reporter for the Arkansas Future Farmers of America.

“It just kept going from there,” said Smith. “I met so many people and legislators from across the state, and I was able to attend the National Ag Day forum in Washington, D.C. That plugged another piece for me because I realized that agriculture could be used for a wide array of careers, whether it be working on the farm, going into public relations or serving in politics.”

It was at the end of his freshman year at Tech that Smith ran for and was elected to the ATU student senate. He recalls being immediately drawn to the fast pace of the meetings and the camaraderie that existed among the SGA representatives.

“It really was the first time, there in that little senate room, where I felt like I was a part of Tech and could do some things to help the campus,” said Smith.

As he progressed from SGA senator to executive board member, he discovered that his experiences were allowing him to grow as a leader.

“Student government has taught me about leading an organization and communication,” said Smith. “There’s a lot that goes into not only what you are saying, but how you are saying it. You might be conveying that message to the school’s administration or students or faculty…it really teaches you to convey a message well and accurately. I think being on student government has taught me how to ask those important questions about why or how.”

He soon became more comfortable asking those questions.

“Conflict management has always been an issue for me,” said Smith. “Harmony is one of my top five strengths because I always want everyone to be happy and be friends, but that’s just not how it works all the time. When you are working with a group, there always seem to be some problems. The biggest thing I’ve learned through my leadership roles at Tech and through internships is how to deal with that in a professional manner so that everyone knows I am not coming after them as person. I’m just trying to get that position in the best place it can be.”

All the while, Smith was excelling in the classroom. He has maintained a 3.95 grade point average and will graduate with honors from ATU with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture business.

“The Department of Agriculture is absolutely amazing here at Tech,” said Smith. “The professors in the department were super helpful in getting me through extracurricular activities and classes. Their doors are always open to chat about this or that, whether it is related to class or not. Even if it is just general life advice, they’re always there to help us through things and to ask us questions that provoke thought.”

After graduation, Smith will be employed as an administrative and public policy assistant with the Agricultural Retailers Association in Washington, D.C. He says he was bit by the “Washington bug” while serving internships for CropLife America in summer 2016 and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York in summer 2017.

“I think having both sides has really helped me out as I have applied for jobs,” said Smith. “Seeing the membership side of things with the trade association (CropLife America), I learned what companies and people wanted from Washington and how we could relay that information to the members of congress who were voting on those matters. It’s about conveying a message. On the congressional side, it’s a lot more hectic. The congressman doesn’t get to sit in on every meeting, so it is very important for the legislative staff to relay information efficiently and accurately to the congressman. Seeing both sides of that was interesting.”

As he chases his dreams, Smith believes that his ATU experience has prepared him for everything to follow.

“I think that Tech is the best university in the state and one of the best in the nation,” said Smith. “There’s no other place like it…a university this size and you still get those small interactions with the faculty and staff. It’s the love and sense of home that everyone preaches about, but they preach about it because it’s true. It’s what you feel when you are a student here. There are 12,000 other students, but somehow Tech makes you feel like you are the most important one. I don’t know how any other university could compete.”