Miriam Smith returns ‘home’ to Columbia after 4 years

By Olivia Cohen, Managing Editor

Kailey Ryan

After a four year hiatus, Miriam Smith has returned to her home at Columbia, as the new vice president of Development and Alumni Relations at the college.

“It’s wonderful … such a thrill to be back,” Smith said. “And for me, Columbia is home. So it feels like I’ve returned home, and it’s just so great to be back on campus and around students and faculty and staff once again. It’s been great.”

Smith worked at Columbia from August 2015 until October 2019 as the executive director of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, before returning to her family home in Atlanta. According to an announcement from the Office of the President, Smith worked in donor relations at the Grady Health Foundation, eventually becoming the director of Corporate Relations with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Smith held the role until August 2022, when she moved back to Chicago.

Smith has taken over for former Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Shawn Wax, who left Columbia over the summer, as reported by the Chronicle.

Before diving into the world of alumni relations and annual giving in higher education, Smith went to school for and was professionally trained in opera singing.

Smith received her bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence University in Yonkers, New York, where she studied music, art and art history.

“With my own professional and personal background, to me, Columbia — because it is a liberal arts institution and being a place for creatives — feels right at home to me,” Smith said.

Now, in her new role at Columbia, Smith reports to President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim and is a member of his presidential cabinet.

Smith said on a day-to-day basis she focuses on “big picture” projects, which includes generating support for the college and working with the alumni relations team while partnering with alumni donors, faculty and staff.

“[This job] really allows myself to go out there and meet with people to really help them and educate them, on one hand, about the wonderful work that we do at Columbia, and also understand what they’re passionate about, and trying to align their interests with the needs of the institution,” Smith said.

Smith added that her position is a “two fold” role, as the alumni relations-related responsibilities are one part of the job, while generating philanthropic support is another part of the role.

Smith said her favorite part of the job so far, despite only being in the role for a little over a month, is cultivating relationships with people both in and outside the walls of Columbia.

In her previous role as executive director, Smith said she created engagement activities and plans for initiatives specifically for the alumni community, as well as overseeing Columbia’s annual fund and the National Alumni Board.

The National Alumni Board is composed of Columbia alumni across the country. Smith said prior to leading the board there were 14 members, which grew to about 19 under her leadership.

Smith said the board works alongside the department advising on alumni programming and engagement strategies. Board members also support Columbia with philanthropic contributions.

For Smith, one of her biggest goals was to have the board further engage with the college.

“One of my goals with the board, when I started, was really to make them a little bit more engaged with the college. And so part of my efforts in that was to establish committees within the board, which happened,” Smith said.

The subcommittees that were incorporated into the board consisted of one committee focusing on impact, engagement strategies and networking events, while the other is an advancement committee focusing on fundraising.

In his Aug. 24 email to the Columbia community, Kim wrote: “In my conversations with Miriam, she stressed that as a musician, she is looking forward to returning to an institution whose mission reflects her personal values. She is very excited at the prospect of utilizing her skills and experience to help Columbia achieve the next levels of fundraising success. I hope that you will join me in welcoming her back.”

Smith said some of her personal values are reflected in the community and environment that Columbia creates on its campus.

“Columbia is a place that I feel allows people to be who they are and really, really allows for a space for people to express their thoughts and their vision and their opinions on things. … That’s really important in my own life,” Smith said. “I think it’s very important for me to be a part of an environment where I can be authentic and where I can share my opinions.”