TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Former Florida A&M University (FAMU) President Walter L. Smith will serve as the keynote speaker for the 2013 Founder’s Day Convocation on Tuesday, October 1 at 10:10 a.m. in Lee Hall Auditorium.
Smith was born in Tampa, Fla., and grew up in Cairo, Ga., Tallahassee, Fla. and Harlem, N.Y. Smith dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to participate in the Korean War. At age 23, he obtained his GED and later received an associate’s degree from Gibbs Junior College. He received his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in educational leadership in 1965 from FAMU and his doctoral degree in higher education from Florida State University (FSU).
In 1965, Smith was recruited by the United States Office of Education (USOE) where he became a program officer in facilitating the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Title I of the 1965 Elementary Secondary Education Act. He worked specifically with school districts in the eight Southeastern states in the development of desegregation plans and compensatory education programs for students and teachers throughout the south. He also helped to develop desegregation and graduate education training centers for African American administrators at select universities. This included the University of Miami and the Desegregation Center at FAMU under the direction of the late Dr. James Beck.
Smith was later recruited from the USOE by the National Education Association (NEA) to assist in breaking down racial barriers in teacher organizations in the Southeastern States. He also assisted in the development of collective bargaining concepts for classroom teachers. Smith became the first assistant executive director of The Florida Education Association, and the programs he developed in human relations in Florida received the National Rosena Willis Award from the NEA in 1971 and 1972. For his work in developing strong human relations programs throughout Florida and other states, Smith was awarded a full scholarship by the African-American Institute of African Studies to study abroad. Throughout the summer of 1971, he studied at universities in Ghana, Togo, Dahomey (Benin), and Nigeria.
Upon completion of his doctoral coursework at FSU in 1972, Smith was recruited by Hillsborough Community College (HCC) as assistant to the president. He was later promoted to collegiums director, dean and provost at HCC. In 1974, he was named the second president of Roxbury Community College in Boston, Mass. In 1977, Smith was recruited to become FAMU’s seventh president.
As president of FAMU, Smith spearheaded the development of the School of Allied Health Sciences, the School of General Studies, the School of Journalism and Graphic Communications, and the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. In addition, Smith led the creation of FAMU’s first doctoral program in the College of Pharmacy, as well as graduate programs in business, architecture and industrials arts. To accommodate these new academic programs, he spearheaded the development of facilities in architecture, agriculture, business, health programs and industrial arts. Additionally, he led the development of new facilities for female sports; an Olympic size swimming pool; an all-weather track field; new tennis courts; a new baseball stadium; and an improved Bragg Memorial Stadium, elevator and appropriate accommodations for indoor upper-level Box seating.
Following his term as president, Smith moved on to Africa where he was appointed senior Fulbright Scholar at the University of Malawi. During this period in 1985-86, he served as head basketball coach. His team at Chancellor College won the Malawi National Championship.
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