A Smart Legacy

Dean Smart headshot

Dr. Denise T. Smart has led her college through a number of huge successes, including the financial support of the McCoy family, a new building, and new graduate programs.

After 20 years, she is stepping down as dean at the end of the academic year — but will continue as a member of the faculty.

“I’m excited,” she says, “and a little tentative. I’m hoping it’s like riding a bicycle — that you always remember how to teach again!” When reflecting on her experiences, Dean Smart conveys her appreciation for those who have traveled alongside her.

The Journey to Becoming Dean

Like many young college students, Smart first had to find where her true passion lay. 

“When I was in college, I thought I wanted to be an engineer, and then I took some engineering classes and quickly discovered I did not. So eventually my father said to me, pick a major and stick with it. That ended up being a major in textiles and clothing with a retailing option,” she says. 

It was one particular experience Smart had that caused her to develop a keen interest in the world of business, recounting, “I did an internship with a department store in Denver between my junior and senior year, and then they hired me. So, when I graduated from college, I went to work for this department store and I was on a management training program.”

“As part of being in the management training program and being in charge of departments, I got to put together some of the ads that went into the newspaper. And then I’d see the sales. It was just fascinating to me to think about the message that you put in the ad — the creative part of it — and then to see the results, you know, how many dresses or shirts, pants or coats got sold. That really made me interested in marketing, advertising and communication broadly.”

This was to be the starting point of her career in businesses, and it would be the experiences she garnered while working in the industry and obtaining her MBA that would eventually lead her into academia. 

“I had always wanted to be a teacher, from the very first memory,” Smart recalls. “I ended up going into a doctorate at Texas A&M; marketing was an area that I had an interest in, and it was very dynamic, and they had a great faculty. There was a wonderful woman on the faculty that taught advertising sales promotion, and she was really a mentor to me. In fact, we’re still friends.”

After obtaining her Ph.D., Smart would come to sharpen her skill set as a visiting assistant professor, department chair and associate dean. Then, in 2000, she received the fateful call from what was then Southwest Texas State University. 

It was in her initial visit that Smart would notice the uniqueness of the university. “When I came to interview at Texas State, I distinctly remember being at an open forum for faculty and looking around the room and thinking, ‘Isn’t that interesting? There are so many women in this room.’ It was significant.”

Smart recognized the value and importance of having women leaders and mentors in universities, noting, “About the time I was hired, I think there was a general awakening, broadly speaking, of the need to include more women. And so, in that sense, there was an opportunity, because there was a more active search for women to put in these roles.”

DEan Smart awarding student with scholarship at annual awards day event

Drawing inspiration from the positive relationships she had with her female mentors, she affirmed her commitment to becoming a force for good in the academic community. “I get joy out of helping people, whether it’s faculty or students, achieve what they like to do or to make their life easier — to help them along the way. Whether it’s strategizing about a way to approach something or helping provide some resources that they can use to do research, to go to a conference. It gives me great joy to work with donors and facilitate the joy they get in giving a scholarship to a student, which helps the students maybe work less and be able to spend more time on their studies and take advantage of student organizations or extracurricular activity. Solving the problem and helping facilitate somebody else’s goal is, I think, a critical part that I always feel good about.”

Since coming on board as Dean of the McCoy College of Business, Smart has persevered and sought to be a role model for all, though she understands that her position as a leader at the university is vital for the development of female students. “One of the ways it matters is as role models for students coming up through the pipeline or faculty members that may aspire to administrative positions. Only 20.7% of business faculty full professors are women. When you think about that, most deans would be full professors — so the pool gets a little narrow. There’s been the idea of encouraging and mentoring women to go into administrative positions for quite a while, so the needle’s moved, but it’s not fifty-fifty.”

Dean Smart with Brian, Wetonnah and Miriam McCoy

Looking Back at 20 Years of Success

Though Dean Smart is averse to singing her own praises, the reality of her successes is a testimony to her personal contributions to the university’s efforts. 

She was leading the college in 2004 when Miriam and the late Emmett McCoy gifted $20 million to establish the McCoy College Foundation Endowment.

Throughout Smart’s tenure, the college has received a number of additional endowments, including $1.5 million from Distinguished Alumnus T. Paul Bulmahn for the development of a state-of-the-art research and trading lab, $2 million from Miriam McCoy in 2018 in support of the McCoy Scholars Program, and $2.1 million from Jerry D. and Linda Gregg Fields for the creation of two endowed chairs, one in urban and regional economics and a second in ethics and corporate responsibility.

The journey has been so positive, and I appreciate being able to be here. Great administration, solid and supportive leadership, and a strategic and inclusive focus have made it a good place to be because you know what the road up ahead is. You know how the college contributes to that direction.

Alongside her pivotal roles in helping to facilitate endowments, she has also been the recipient of much individual recognition. 

In 2005, she was named “The Most Supportive Dean of the Year” by the national board of directors for the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) organization (now Enactus) – a panel that consisted of Fortune 500 executives. In 2010, she was selected as a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Accreditation Quality for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Smart’s role in this international agency, which represents more than 1,700 educational institutions, businesses and other organizations across more than 100 countries and territories, is reflective of her desire to ensure that students of McCoy College are at the forefront of globalization.

Ever striving, Dean Smart’s dedication to excellence and her inspirational leadership continue to be lauded; she was awarded 2019 Dean of the Year by Beta Gamma Sigma, the premier honor society for AACSB International accredited schools of business. 

Dean Smart with Brian and Wetonnah McCoy

Still, it isn’t the honors or congratulations, praise or applause which Dean Smart so fondly recalls, it is the simple acts of “getting to interact with people across the span of the college, university, business community and alumni.”

“It was the research being done in the college, the development of student organizations, the faculty and department chairs, working with the advisory boards in the college, supporting people and facilitating opportunities, getting students to explore new cultures to understand globalization, those are the things I am most proud of during my time here at McCoy College,” Dean Smart shares.

To her surprise and joy, an endowed chair was named in honor of Dean Smart in 2019, when Brian and Wetonnah McCoy donated $1 million to the college.

Dean Smart and Dr. Paul Gowens

Once a Bobcat, Always a Bobcat

When reflecting on what it means to be a Bobcat, Smart notes, “My theory is because we started as a normal school, it’s in our DNA to care about the success of students. I think that being a Bobcat has been and is seeing students — a lot of first-generation students — come here, get a superb education, and go out and have a lot of opportunities. Our students are grandly capable and hardworking.”

While her guidance will be missed, Dean Smart is certain that the future of the college is as bright as ever.

“The future is exciting, there are lots of opportunities ahead for the college to reach new heights. The collective reputation of our programs is positively growing, and businesses are saying that our students are well-trained, hard-working, and ready to hit the ground running. Faculty are undertaking research that has increasing impact on business practice, and alumni are more engaged than ever. I look forward to what the next stage looks like.”


Thank you, Dr. Denise T. Smart, for 20 years of success, generosity, and leadership.