Carnegie Mellon University

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June 01, 2011

Barbara Smith Worked To Make CMU a Better Place For Employees

By Bruce Gerson

Listen to what people have to say, be a team player and keep a sense of humor.

Those three working tips from Barbara Smith have served her well, and in turn have benefitted all Carnegie Mellon employees for more than two decades.

As associate vice president and chief Human Resources (HR) officer, Smith, who will retire from CMU July 1 after 22 years on the job, leaves an unrivaled legacy of employee advocacy.

Her list of accomplishments on behalf of CMU faculty and staff reads like the HR website.

She introduced the university's comprehensive flexible benefits program, online open enrollment, paid time off and short-term disability. She launched the Learning and Development curriculum, including Interactive Theater, and the Women Supporting Women mentoring program, which is being renamed the Barbara Smith Women's Mentoring Program in her honor.

She played an integral role in leading the development of the Andy Awards, now in its 17th year. And she created a complete HR framework and employee recruiting system to support the campus in Qatar.

In the 1990s, Smith led efforts to improve the Cyert Center for Early Childhood Education, the childcare and education center for young children of employees. Under her leadership the center expanded to include infants and young toddlers; adopted the child-centered, child-directed, highly interactive Reggio Emilia approach to learning; instituted a sliding scale for tuition; and underwent major facility improvements.

"We've developed and grown from a personnel department into an integrated Human Resources department," said Smith, who was recognized for her efforts with the first Pittsburgh Business Times' Human Resource Leadership Award in 2009.  

"We had just a couple health care options in the early '90s and no choices for long-term disability and life insurance. Today our flexible benefits program gives faculty and staff better choices and better options for meeting their needs. I'm proud of the changes we've made," she said.

Under Smith, CMU Human Resources has earned local and national awards for its new employee orientation program, its Learning and Development Program and its Interactive Theater Program, which helps participants to understand complex issues and relationships in the workplace through interactive skits.

While Smith will be remembered for her many tangible contributions, her colleagues may remember her most for her intangible qualities.

"There is a genuineness about her that inspires trust, confidence and respect," said Ron Placone, assistant vice president for Human Resources and director of Learning and Development. "She has been one of the rocks upon which the university is built.

"Barbara cares about people and she gets things done. She has impacted the university and the human resources profession in countless ways. Barbara will always be a role model for all of us hoping to become stronger managers and more compassionate leaders," he said.

Everett Tademy, assistant vice president for diversity and Equal Opportunity Services, has worked under Smith since 1990.

"She's a consummate professional who gives selflessly of her time and expertise - she's a mentor, a leader and a co-conspirator," Tademy said.  

"I really do believe that Carnegie Mellon is not just 'better off' and a more productive place because of her contributions ... but because of the compassion, empathy and care she brought to her work for 22 years. She pushed each of us to keep reaching to improve our service to the campus community," he said.

As she prepares for a new chapter in her life living in Cape Cod, Mass., Smith said CMU has lived up to her expectations and more since coming to Pittsburgh in 1989 from Princeton University.

"Carnegie Mellon gave me the opportunity to participate in exciting new endeavors, like building a HR function in Qatar, and to work with such wonderful people," she said. "All of us feel we have an opportunity to contribute to the mission of the university - to help solve problems through collaboration and innovation. It's a pleasure to work with people like that."

Assistant Vice President for Total Compensation Dianne Kenney, a veteran Human Resources officer who joined CMU from Dartmouth College in May 2010, will succeed Smith as associate vice president and chief Human Resources officer.  

To Kenney, Smith leaves three tips. "Listen to what people have to say, be a team player and keep a sense of humor."