Kristen and Todd Smith of Williamsburg, Virginia, are loyal Virginia Tech alumni who have been football season ticket holders for 25 years and attended 14 bowl games. Their devotion to everything Hokie took on a new facet when their son Brett came to Virginia Tech in 2015.
“Suddenly, it wasn’t just about athletics,” said Todd. “It gave us a different perspective to be parents of a current student.”
Kristen and Todd are active members of the Student Affairs Parent Committee. Through it, they have helped other students and their families make the most of the opportunities at Virginia Tech. Their recommendation is simple: get involved, try things, find your community, create bonds, and have a stake in your education.
“When Brett came here, it opened our eyes to other aspects of student life. We wanted to be part of the generations coming together, helping other students find their niche,” said Kristen. “Sometimes it takes a while.” Kristen speaks from experience. Both she and Todd changed their majors three times before each settling on what was then called Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management. Todd graduated in 1989 and Kristen in 1990.
Kristen and Todd met as students when they both worked in Virginia Tech dining centers as part of a class. Though they now joke about the polyester uniforms, they said the hands-on experience gave them confidence. “It was part of growing up, bouncing back, and learning,” said Kristen. “At that time, we were both shy and a little unsure of ourselves.”
A lifelong Hokie fan and the eighth Hokie in his extended family, Brett came to Virginia Tech early decision. He was one of seven in his graduating class of 33 to choose Virginia Tech, thanks in large part to Kristen’s involvement in his school from Kindergarten through high school and her representation of Virginia Tech to his peers.
“The more you put into it, the more you get back,” said Brett, a junior majoring in Agribusiness Management with minors in Communication and Entrepreneurship. Brett is a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and serves as its public relations chair. He is also a member of the Fly Fishing Club at Virginia Tech. Brett’s advice to first-year students is, “Keep your options open. Go where you fit. It’s not just about status or getting a title.”
It’s advice his younger sister, Bridgette, is taking to heart as she conducts her own college search. A lacrosse and field hockey athlete, Bridgette is leaning towards a career in education. She is keeping her options open and touring campuses -- while not ruling out becoming the ninth member of her family to attend Virginia Tech.
Family is important to the Smiths. The Smith family business, Whitley’s Peanut Factory based in Hayes, Virginia, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Founded by in 1986 by Todd’s father and older brother (who are also Hokies), the company sells gourmet Virginia peanuts and candies in two retail locations and online. Their third location is opening in Richmond this fall.
“Todd’s late father Marion [who graduated from Virginia Tech in 1964 with a degree in Education] embodied the Hokie Spirit with his God-given ability to make everyone around him feel welcomed and comfortable,” said Kristen. “He shared his gift with many adopted Hokie fans and passed it down to us and then our children. My father, Mickey, has guided us with his insightful business sense and giving spirit. He taught us many things and, through his entrepreneurial experience, taught Todd to take care of his customers and employees first and his company would be successful. Our moms were the backbone of our family. I try every day to live up to our moms’ example. All have been incredible grandparents. Though we lost Todd’s mother 16 years ago and his father just recently, they live on in all they taught us. My parents continue to be a source of strength and unity for our family.”
The Smiths hope to involve their children in the family business, but also want them to gain practical experience. “We want them to have the opportunity to work with other people before considering coming to work for Whitley’s,” said Todd. “Then they can bring their new ideas and perspectives to the company.”
“It takes some thought to balance being involved in your children’s lives and letting them make their own decisions, even if it involves making mistakes,” said Kristen. “You should guide them, but let them experience their education themselves. We are so proud of what Brett has accomplished.”
This summer, the Smiths hosted a Parent Committee dinner in their home in Williamsburg. A dozen members joined Patty Perillo, Vice President for Student Affairs, Penny Helms White, Student Affairs’ Chief Advancement Officer and Director of Family and Alumni Relations, and Jonathan Schramm, Assistant Director for Family Engagement and Leadership Gifts, for an evening of getting to know one another, sharing experiences as Hokie family members, and brainstorming ideas for the coming year.
“We know from experience and research that families are vital to student success,” said Perillo. “Having the support of Hokie families like the Smiths, who are willing to share their story and talk about issues, helps Student Affairs enhance parent and family involvement in students’ educational experience. Families are vital partners, and when we work together, students thrive. Beyond that, the financial commitment that goes along with membership on the Parent Committee makes an immediate and positive impact on the student experience, from orientation to graduation. The Smith Family is modeling the way!”
Also this summer, the Smiths fulfilled a 25-year dream by purchasing a house in Blacksburg. “We talked about it for years and now we finally own a home in the place we call home,” said Kristen.
“Virginia Tech is made up of people with a common goodness,” Todd added. “They are inclusive and non-judgemental, welcoming and approachable. You don’t have to go to school here to be a Hokie – you just have to love it.”
Written by Sandy Broughton