Brad D. Smith: A Look Back on 2023

President Brad D. Smith addresses a crowd at Marshall University.

Continuously dedicated to creating a better future for all, Brad D. Smith kept a packed and fulfilling schedule in 2023. Over the course of the year, Brad leveraged his leadership roles and experience to both further his commitment to the development of his home state, West Virginia, and support his alma mater as Marshall University’s President. He also drove new initiatives to uplift overlooked communities in Appalachia — opening opportunities to people across the region — and joined Amazon’s board of directors.

As 2023 comes to a close, read on to learn more about Brad’s work over the last twelve months.

Moving Marshall Forward by Increasing Access to Education

On the academic front, Brad has continued to foster new initiatives at Marshall University, driving the institution forward with the guiding principle of “Marshall for All, Marshall Forever.” Addressing one of the most prominent challenges — declining enrollment — Brad extended Marshall’s metro tuition in 2022 to cover those living within a 100-mile radius of Huntington. This has made higher education more accessible to prospective students and, in turn, Marshall’s metro enrollment has increased by 20% year over year.

“We will grow students, not fees…The efforts have paid off, as you have heard, we reversed a 13-year decline enrollment, and the Fall 2023 numbers are on track to come in at 4.5% in total headcount growth with full-time first-year freshmen up 13.7% year over year,” Brad reported during a Board of Governors meeting this October.

Brad and Marshall also kicked off a “Marshall for All” program in the fall of 2023 with 100 student participants. “Marshall for All” allows students to earn their bachelor’s degrees by combining work opportunities, scholarships, grants and family contributions to cover the financial cost of schooling. The program aims to help students graduate debt-free.

Additionally, Brad kicked off a high school tour where he visits local schools to recognize the efforts of incoming Marshall students by celebrating their academic achievements and commitment to pursuing higher education.

Supporting West Virginia Through His Personal Platform

In 2023, Brad continued to use appearances, events and press to bring attention to issues afflicting West Virginia and the greater Appalachia region. While he has both created and supported numerous organizations throughout the years, Brad has also taken opportunities to speak directly to the strength of West Virginia’s people. In June of this year, he was a featured panelist at Mountaineer Media’s Almost Heaven Classic where he discussed the state’s historical successes across several industries and how that same perseverance to succeed lives on in West Virginians today. In November, Brad was also featured as a guest speaker for the Community Foundation of the Virginias, Inc. dinner.

Most notably, Brad was also recognized by Forbes in November for his dedication to leveling the playing field of opportunity in West Virginia.

Women Warriors Summit

This year also witnessed the inaugural Women Warriors Summit — an event created by Brad’s wife, Alys Smith, to connect and empower women across West Virginia. The event took place in October 2023 and was sponsored by Brad and Alys’ Wing 2 Wing Foundation. The summit brought together more than 700 attendees and included a featured panel of accomplished women from various fields, as well as a keynote address from famed actress Nicole Kidman.

Celebrating Ascend West Virginia’s Second Anniversary and the Launch of a New Program for Local Graduates

This year, Brad also celebrated the second anniversary of Ascend West Virginia, a remote worker incentive program born from Brad and Alys’ Wing 2 Wing Foundation. The program has succeeded in garnering a newfound interest in the Mountain State from people across the U.S. and — in the two years since its founding — has brought a total of 299 people to communities across West Virginia. These almost 300 people can, like Brad, now call the Mountain State “home.” 

As Ascend WV has grown, it has also evolved to address the issue of recent local graduates leaving the state through a new spinoff program: First Ascent. Brad and Gordon Gee — West Virginia University’s President — announced the program’s launch in August this year. First Ascent aims to assist the next generation of hybrid and remote workers as they navigate their career paths while maximizing their work-life balance amongst the backdrop of the state’s exceptional recreational activities and charming communities.

Learn more about First Ascent and how Brad is empowering West Virginia’s young professionals.

Exercising His Executive Leadership Through Board Memberships

Beyond his home state, 2023 also marked Brad’s appointment to Amazon’s board of directors as a member of the Audit Committee. In addition to his newest board membership, Brad also continues to serve as a member of Humana Inc.’s board of directors.

Closing Out 2023 and Looking To 2024

From driving impact in academia to influencing change in his home state, Brad’s 2023 impact has been diverse and far-reaching. As the year comes to a close, plans are already in place for a productive 2024.

Keep up with Brad’s work in West Virginia and beyond by following him on LinkedIn, Substack and Facebook.