Adam A.


African Americans
Biracial, Multiracial Identity
Faculty/Staff Development
Programs for High School Students
Racism/Racial Justice
Youth/Student Activism
Adam A. Smith is an acclaimed speaker and innovative advocate for educational diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. As a university administrator, he has spent three decades building successful coalitions and initiatives that have transformed high school graduation rates, increased college enrollment, charted pathways for student success, and supported campus leaders to address institutional disparities.
He is a highly sought-after speaker on the importance of education, African American history, leadership, and the challenges facing students, faculty, and staff of color. A dynamic and engaging presenter, Smith is skilled in addressing a range of audiences - students, educators, administrators and professional staff, community members, and those working in corporate settings. He is both thought-provoking and motivational, providing concrete solutions for the complex problems facing society today. Currently, Adam hosts the podcast "Get Uncomfortable" focusing on issues that can divide us or bring us together - race, politics, and religion.
Smith currently serves as Executive Director for University Academic Advising at the University of Kentucky. Previous positions have included:
     • Director of Multicultural, American Indian, and Retention Services at Metropolitan State University (St. Paul MN)
     • Director of Undergraduate Academic Advising and Student Success at The University of Alabama
     • Assistant Vice President for Student Success at The University of Akron (OH)
     • Director of the TRIO Upward Bound program at Rock Valley College (IL) where he later served as the college’s Dean of Students and Community Outreach. He also was Rock Valley’s Associate Head Football Coach for six years.
He has also taught both graduate and undergraduate courses in Human Services, Human Resources, and Organizational Leadership at Judson University (Elgin IL). 
Additionally, Smith has an extensive background in community advocacy, empowerment, and development through positions at Comprehensive Community Solutions, a major community development corporation, as Vice President for College Access and Success with Doorway to College Foundation, as “Education Czar” to former Rockford (IL) mayor Lawrence J. Morrissey, and while serving as the Executive Director of the Allied-Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood Center in Madison WI.
A first-generation college graduate, Adam is committed to ensuring college access and success for all Americans and has spent his life working with young people as an advocate, mentor, leader, and empowering force. He works every day to attack the systems that act as barriers between marginalized populations, and educational and life success. 
Adam Smith holds a Bachelors Degree in Theology and Pastoral Ministry from Concordia University, a Masters Degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from National-Louis University and has taken courses toward his doctorate in Education at The University of Alabama and University of Akron.
"Adam Smith is a dynamic speaker with the ability to connect and inspire his audience. His passion and desire to impact and propel others is felt in every speech. Smith challenges students to be who they can, and find out who they are. His ability to motivate a student to aspire to be great is remarkable. Adam Smith captures, cultivates, inspires, leads, and transforms."
- Avis Brown, The University of Akron

“Adam was amazing to work with! He was willing to meet virtually to make sure our organization’s needs were met and spent more than an hour learning about us and discussing the issues facing our youth. Additionally, he attended a virtual practice even though he is completely comfortable navigating a virtual world. One hundred percent of the 221 educators, child welfare professionals, juvenile justice professionals, and parents who completed an evaluation of the session indicated they got ideas from the session that they can put into action!”
— Regina Walter, Educating Children of Color, Inc.

"We first saw Adam Smith speak to our local TRIO conference and knew we needed him to present to our students. Adam’s life experiences, combined with discussion of current events, gave our students motivation to pursue their passions. I was impressed with Adam’s ability to engage and connect with our high schoolers – even over Zoom! I have no doubt Adam will be a tremendous asset for organizations looking for speakers."
— Doug Henry, University of Texas San Antonio

"We had the honor of having Adam as one of our plenary speakers for our 48th Annual Texas TRIO Conference. Despite the fact that we were on a virtual setting, Adam was able to generate participation and kept the membership engaged. His speech was relevant to the issues that we were facing and provided us context and strategies on how to best engage our students."
— Nancy Zamora, Director of TRIO SSS and Inclusion Initiatives, North Central Texas College

"We're working with Adam this year to provide a virtual workshop series on respectful dialogue and intentional listening. He is doing a great job capturing the attention of our students on these MUCH-needed topics given the contentious world we exist in right now. He also did a keynote for our program in September to kick off the academic year and provide motivation for our students to continue the hard work. Adam also provided a virtual keynote address to kickoff the academic year for TRIO Upward Bound students. I'm grateful for Adam’s ability to connect with our students even in the virtual environment and create a safe space for students to ask questions and learn how to have meaningful conversations about these topics."

- LAUREN ERDMAN, Director TRIO Upward Bound, Anoka Ramsey Technical College
"Adam has the unique gift of being able to reach students, their families, and the professionals who support and guide students with the same message. His words inspire, and he backs them up with genuine care and concern. Adam will tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear, and he speaks from his own experiences, failures, and successes to help everyone see the greatest possibilities, as well as the path to achieving them."
- Teresa Radomski-Bomba, Miami University
"Adam is a truly remarkable speaker. His engaging personality and willingness to share his own life experiences allow him to build instant rapport with his audience. His passionate message of perseverance and overcoming obstacles is uplifting, inspiring, and enormously entertaining. Keeping youth engaged can be challenging, especially in a virtual setting. Adam is incredibly skilled at creating meaningful connections with students, regardless of the situation."  
- CHRIS YOUNG, TRIO Upward Bound Director, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University
"When Adam speaks people listen as he masterfully herds the crowd towards the purpose for which they have gathered.  He knows his audience, what they seek, and delivers the message in the way they need to hear it. In a world where others will try to anchor you down, people like Adam will lift you up." 
- Laura Weissbaum, Georgia State University
"Our 2021 spring orientation session was led by Adam Smith. He dropped several gems for the participants and staff members of our TRIO Student Support Services program. If you’re looking for an engaging speaker that models the use of transparency while telling his story to motivate the audience, Adam Smith is the answer. Adam sees each opportunity to share with TRIO students and staff as an opportunity to serve, which aligns with success."
- Loretta Mask Campbell, Director, TRiO Student Support Services, Wor-Wic Community College
"Adam Smith, AKA “AVP”, has the natural ability to connect with people, regardless of where they come from and make them feel like they are somebody. He makes them feel like them can move mountains and accomplish anything. The thing that sets him apart from others is he stays in contact and doesn’t leave anyone during their process of success."
- Daniel Diaz Nilsson, Kent State University
"Adam is thought-provoking, sit-up interesting, and has an absolute brilliant delivery.  He has just the right blend of humor, wit and professionalism.  In my estimation, truly one of the nation's best public speakers. Mr. Smith is the type of speaker you would want to listen to everyday!"
- Tyrone E. Wilson, The University of Kentucky
"Hearing Adam was appreciated and a MUST for students within our school community. He related to the high-school-aged youth on so many levels. The kids in our program come from one of the poorest zip codes in the United States, and he was able to relate with them in a matter of minutes. There were adults who initially thought his presentation would just benefit the students but, by the end, they expressed how the could relate to the positive tone and real-life situations Adam shared. I most definitely will be reaching out in the future to have Adam speak for other programs I am involved in."
- DENNIS BAILEY JR., Career Pathway Success Coach & 21st Century Site Coordinator , Manual High School - Peoria Illinois

Adam is available for campus, community and corporate presentations. See sample presentations below.

Leaning Into the High Impact Practices of Federal TRIO Programs: Increasing College Access and Success for All

The first TRIO program, Upward Bound, was founded out of President Johnson’s War on Poverty with the Educational Opportunity Act of 1964. Within a decade the two additional “first TRIO programs,” Educational Talent Search and Student Support Services were implemented.  Today, TRIO programs reside on most college and university campuses and have survived changes in the federal political landscape, enjoying bipartisan support for being the vaccination for barriers to college access and success for first generation, low income and students with disabilities. Despite this track record of best practices, campuses often ignore TRIO’s results and best practices and create their own student success initiatives. This session provides practitioners with real results taking the TRIO tenants and identifying, amplifying and replicating them for dramatic results. It also equips participants with the tools necessary to impact student success campus-wide through coalition building.

Black, Indigenous, Students of Color, and First Generation Student Success
Creating intentional and holistic supports for our most vulnerable students are key to ensuring success of what is and will continue to become “new traditional” college students. This is imperative as America continues to become more “brown” and the numbers of first generation students rise. Campuses are called upon to create a campus climate, initiatives, programs, and culture that ensures the new majority belongs and has support “before they ask for it.”

It's Our Job, But It's Their Home: Creating Models of Student Success That Build Student Ownership
Higher educator faculty and staff often struggle with change and yet the students who reside on college campuses continually struggle to succeed in an environment where success is measured by six-year graduation rates that would be called abhorrent failure in other industries. Practitioners are called to be mindful of the changing demographics of college students and thus the needs of Gen Z, creating structural changes in response to student’s need to feel connected, belonging, supported. Proven student success strategies grounded in change, intentionality, intrusive supports and data informed practice leading to dramatic results on diverse campuses nationwide.

Combatting the Disease of White Supremacy Through Accountability, Dismantling Co-Dependance, and Moving to a Space of Racial Recovery
The racial reckoning of 2020 and 2021 has highlighted just how unwilling white Americans have been to have conversations about systemic racism. This unwillingness to address the issue and moreover ability to focus efforts on whose work it is to heal has resulted in overt racism unmatched since the Civil Rights era. The Black community has bore the burden of eliminating the disease of racism, one that does not infect, yet effects us.  Utilizing the elements of the Twelve Step Recovery Movement focusing on intervention, accountability and holding to our bottom-line is fundamental to eliminating the plague of racism from our nation once and for all.

Knowing When to Let Go: When Resilience Goes Too Far
As higher education pushes the need for “GRIT and Resilience” - qualities first generation, BIPOC, and other minoritized populations have in excess - those who support those populations learn to equip students with the skills to learn to let go when holding on is detrimental to personal, academic, financial, and social well-being.  Practical conversations with educators, parents, and students are critical to equip them with skills to ensure that our most vulnerable students utilize their gifts and the resources around them to attain post-secondary success with the highest return on investment.

Speak Up or Pull Up: Becoming an Active Ally and Accomplice
The workshop takes students from diversity and equity, to the bystander effect, to becoming an active ally and accomplice. The session includes interactive and group activity to equip students with the skills to recognize where they fall on the “justice continuum” and to strive to move toward active accompliceship. Ideally this is a three or four part virtual workshop which can be aimed at middle school, high school, or college students.

For First Generation: Students Building your Backpack for College Success
As colleges and universities embrace the nation’s growing population of first generation students, the students need to brace to prepare for institutions that were founded for the privileged few and whose systems are often not in line with the nations’ new traditional student population. This “grow mindset” focused talk explores the assets of first generation students and builds upon those assets to equip students with the practical skills to navigate today’s institutions of higher education, while preparing for “when life happens”  to ensure success.

Multiracial Roots, Black Fruit
Growing up in a multiracial family in the ultra-diverse Twin Cities (Minneapolis, St. Paul) created a unique perspective on issues of inclusion that were shattered once I embarked on my college journey.  Learning how to be multi-racial and yet 100% Black was a journey of self-discovery, growth, tears and trauma. This talk focuses on Adam’s unique perspective and journey in a call to action for real reconciliation, repair and justice.

Becoming a Social Justice Superhero: Allyship for Young Warriors
Young people are historically the nucleus of social justice movements both past and present. Equipping middle and high school students with the tools to put their frustration with the societal systems of oppression and to become Superheroes for Justice will bring about present and future change. This interactive workshop empowers youth with tools to have “tough talks” with friends, family and community as well as to link arms with other warriors of change to bring about radical transformation of a nation.

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts: Combatting the Disease of White Supremacy Through Personal Accountability
The “Twelve Steps” of accountability begin with acknowledging that "I" have a problem. Dismantling white supremacy always starts with the “I”. The true disease cannot be cured by people of color, no more than the children of an alcoholic can cure the alcoholic parent. BIPOC communities can hold their white friends, family and colleagues accountable to bottom-lines of doing their work to dismantle this disease from their lives and all those in their community. This session will introduce and expand awareness of accountability, while giving professionals tools and inspiration to work on accountability in their company/organization. It will also equip professionals with practical skills to be able to apply both being an ally and accomplice to daily life.

We Would Hire Them If They’d Apply: How to Create a Culture that Recruits, Hires and Selects Diverse Employees
Corporations and institutions often cite the lack of BIPOC candidates for vacancies as rationale for not having a diverse workforce. The ability to recruit, hire and select for difference begins with a long and hard look at organizational culture. This session debunks the myth and divisive-nature of “fit” and how to create hiring processes and culture that will result in a not only diverse applicants, but hires. Additional examination of required shifts in organizational culture will result in BIPOC team members being their authentic selves thus increasing overall retention and recruitment efforts.

Cameras Off: Creating a Culture that Sees your BIPOC Colleagues and Where Their Trauma is More Important than Your Discomfort
The continued trauma inflected against communities of color came to a head with the civil unrest of 2020 and 2021. Many BIPOC professionals felt powerless to impact change in the streets, but showed their resistance and solidarity with The People by keeping their camera off during virtual meetings with colleagues. This “silent solidarity” was often a response to not feeling seen by their white colleagues who many times failed to acknowledge or address the pain and trauma that was being inflected on a daily basis on their BIPOC colleagues and communities. Often this failure to acknowledge was strictly the unwillingness of white professionals to “overcome awkward” and recognize that just seeing the trauma and pain was more important than their lack of comfort with the conversation. This session will explore how simple recognition and sincere empathy can result in true solidarity and an increase in BIPOC employee satisfaction, recruitment and retention.