|Sport(s):||Dean of Students|
A longtime administrator at the College, Mary Ellen Smith is being posthumously inducted into the Saint Mary's College Athletic Hall of Fame on May 31, 2019 for her contributions to the Department of Athletics.
Mary Ellen Smith was the consummate student affairs professional. As such, she was charged with providing services and support for students that drove student learning outside of the classroom. And that she did! Her career spanned nearly 40 years, and Saint Mary's was blessed to be a stop on her highly successful career journey. She first served as director of student activities from 1986-1989. She was then dean of students from 1989-1992. That position, at the time, represented the most senior leadership position within the division.
During her time at Saint Mary's, Mary Ellen worked with students in both an advisory and shoulder-to-shoulder capacities in the areas of parents’ weekends, orientation programs, commencement activities, and athletic events. These opportunities afforded her the chance to work with many involved constituent groups – board members, parents and alumnae – and she realized their unselfish commitment to Saint Mary's helped shape the student experience. She wholeheartedly believed in the benefit that a Saint Mary's education could make in a young woman's future, and it was the driving reason she was as committed as she was to the College. Her connection to Saint Mary's students, now alumnae, and their families remained strong throughout her lifetime. She counted many of them among her closest friends, and that was reciprocated.
Mary Ellen was a true advocate for student-athletes. She traveled with the teams, often helping to drive vans on spring break trips. She stayed with the teams on these trips and was happy to provide her exceptional culinary skills to prepare meals and snacks. She worked events and often served as the official scorer for softball games. She never missed the annual athletic award dinners, and to say she assisted with student-athlete fundraising events would be an understatement.
It was during her tenure that the athletic department was given permission to use the College parking lots and fields to offer football parking for all home Notre Dame games. More than 25 years later, that initiative remains the department’s greatest fundraising effort funding everything from spring break training trips to assistant coaching stipends.
Mary Ellen's legacy within the Saint Mary's athletic department, however, will always be that she spearheaded the transition from the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) to the ranks of NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) Division III. Then director of athletics, Dr. Jo-Ann Nester, provided the information and rationale for making the move, but it was Mary Ellen's advocating and negotiating with the College's senior leadership and Board of Regents that brought it to fruition. She understood the prestige belonging to the NCAA would bring the College and how it would help in recruiting students and coaches. It would also open the door for the College to join an athletic conference. A conference would allow student-athletes to be recognized as player of the week, all-academic team selections, all-conference team honorees, and conference players of the year. In turn, those recognitions would give a clearer path to All-American honors. It would also allow teams to compete in conference championship tournaments, ultimately allowing automatic bids to national championship competitions. Essentially, joining the NCAA was a game changer for Saint Mary's athletics. The success our student-athletes and teams have had over the last 25+ years can be traced back to Mary Ellen's support and advocacy to make the move a reality.
As someone who spent the majority of her career as a student affairs professional, Mary Ellen would be extremely proud of the Belles of today. As they did during her era, they spend countless hours practicing and honing their skills, excel in the classroom, are active participants and leaders in the daily life of the College, and every time they don a Saint Mary's uniform, they bring great pride to the institution. The College, and the athletic department specifically, will be forever grateful for Mary Ellen's contributions.