Dwight Smith poses next to Brutus Buckeye

For many alumni, as time passes, it’s pretty rare to remember specific details about the numerous undergraduate advisors, financial aid counselors and professors that made up the administrative backbone of their undergraduate experience.

But Dwight Smith (BSBA ’78, MBA ’79) is an exception.

“It’s been four decades, but these are the people who impacted my life, and they still mean everything to me. I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” says Dwight. “That’s the power of relationships and the Ohio State experience.”

Dwight’s parents divorced when he was young. His mom raised him and his three siblings.

“We didn’t have much financially, but we had everything we needed,” says Dwight.

Graduating from high school in Springfield, Ohio, at 17, Dwight arrived at Ohio State a full year younger than his peers, and he admits his youthful immaturity initially impacted his academic performance.

“My undergraduate advisors, Mac Stewart and Dr. Cathy Clark sat me down and set me straight. They saw my talent and helped me find the academic discipline I needed to succeed,” he said. “So many people believed in me when I was at Ohio State that it helps me believe in others.”

Dr. Joseph F. Strangess, Jr., who worked in the financial aid office, helped him find grants and loans to make college a reality.

“Without his help, I wouldn’t have been able to take classes,” says Dwight.

He credits Bill Johnson, head of what was then the Office of Minority Affairs, as the person who helped him secure an internship with IBM, which led to a full-time offer after graduation.

Last, but certainly not least, Dr. Wayne Talarzyk taught Dwight’s marketing 650 class. But the relationship did not end in the classroom. Wayne became a mentor, advisor, friend and colleague.

In fact, before launching his own company, Dwight turned to Wayne for the guidance and feedback he’d come to rely on from his former professor.

Dwight Smith professional headshot
Dwight Smith BSBA ('78, MBA '79)

He sent Wayne his business plan for Sophisticated Systems, a technology services and solutions company he hoped to build.

“Wayne served on my company’s board until he passed in 2005,” says Dwight. “I guess he liked the business plan.”

Since its creation in 1990, Sophisticated Systems’ growth, success and commitment to community service have been recognized by a number of publications, including Inc., Fortune, and Columbus Business First.

It’s not just the academic relationships that have stood the test of time. Dwight and his college roommate, Leroy “Chip” McKinney (BSBA ‘’78) are best friends.

“Every Saturday morning, we talk — no matter where we are — we talk. I’ve called him from Australia and from Mt. Kilimanjaro,” says Dwight.

“That’s living out ‘how firm they friendship’ in real-time.”

Legacy work

While earning his business degree, Dwight was recognized as a Pace Setter and was a member of the Council of Black Students in Administration (CBSA). He served as the organization’s president for a year, joining a long list of leaders who, for the past 50 years have guided one of the oldest diversity-focused student organizations at Ohio State.

Today, he visits campus to speak to students in finance and risk management classes and participates in panel discussions with business students.

“I wouldn’t be back on campus if I didn’t have the relationships with folks at Fisher,” says Dwight, who serves on several boards, including The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, State Auto Insurance, Highlights Foundation, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Choice Legal (Tampa, Florida).

“For me, as much as I give to students by coming back, I get so much more out of it. Fisher encourages students to give back and is helping to reframe what success means. The same business principles and intellect that are used to create a business plan can be used to create a plan to change society.”

Those strong relationships and networks continue to help Dwight today. He and his wife, Renée (Stone) Smith (BSBA ’80) co-founded My Special Word, a nonprofit program to encourage young people to reach their greatest potential and aspirations. The program seeks to empower and uplift children around the world by creating greater self-awareness and building their confidence.

“At My Special Word, it’s about choosing a word that represents who you aspire to be,” says Dwight.

One program participant, an elementary school student, chose “kind” as her word because she said she needs a reminder when it comes to her behavior toward her younger brother.

“We strive to inspire our youth to live each day committed to their personal values, which reflects positively on themselves and their relationships,” says Dwight.

Looking for help in how to increase the impact of My Special Word, Dwight turned to Ohio State’s Buckeye Leadership Fellows program for fresh insights. The program creates beneficial partnerships between alumni and community leaders and undergraduate students at Ohio State to offer transformative, real-world learning experiences.

Buckeye Leadership Fellows at home with Dwight and Renee Smith
Buckeye Leadership Fellows at the home of Dwight and Renée Smith 

“They used their business acumen to help scale this nonprofit,” says Dwight. “Here are students saying, ‘let me tell you how to change the world.’”

“People worry about the future, but when I interact with the students at Fisher, I don’t worry at all. In fact, I am inspired by what I witness, because Fisher is reinforcing a value proposition for our young people that says, you can build your legacy with your work from day one. You don’t need to wait until you retire. You can build your career, and your legacy, while you change society through your work and business savvy.”