A dormitory custodian has earned one of Ball State University’s highest honors for welcoming a homesick student to campus and helping motivate the student to succeed in school.
Steve Smith received the President’s Medal of Distinction from University President Geoffrey S. Mearns at the end of Mearns’ annual fall convocation speech on Friday.
“Today is only the second time that I have bestowed this medal upon a deserving recipient,” Mearns said. “I am grateful that I had the honor to present this medal to Steve and I appreciate everything he has done on behalf of this great University.”
In Fall 2015, Smith showed kindness toward a freshman from northern Indiana. Living on his own for the first time in DeHority Complex, the new student struggled with the transition to college. His parents worried about him dropping out.
Smith introduced himself to the young man and mentioned he was trying to learn the names of the students living in the facility he maintained. Over time, the two developed a friendship. Smith would ask the student about his day or his weekend plans and offer words of encouragement and kindness.
Knowing someone cared about him outside of his classes helped the student persevere. Not only did he stay at Ball State, but he also graduated in Spring 2019 with honors and a degree in computer science. He has since begun a successful career.
Smith’s compassion and willingness to go above and beyond the traditional role of a custodian came to Mearns’ attention when the student’s mother, wrote the University a letter.
“I’m not sure the ending would have been the same had it not been for Steve,” she wrote. “It's very important that every employee at Ball State University knows that they can make a difference in a student’s life and that they are important to the success of the university.”
Mearns recognized Smith at Emens Auditorium in a faculty convocation that the University streamed online.
Smith is a military veteran, a father of three, and a self-described “social butterfly.” He has touched the lives of hundreds of students since he joined Ball State in 1993, even learning how to say phrases like “good morning” and “hello” in multiple languages so he can greet international students in their native language.
“This is in my nature, and it comes from my parents,” he said. “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Smith and a small audience attended in-person while practicing physical distancing inside the building. The rest of the faculty and university community watched the convocation remotely.
Mearns also awarded a President’s Medal of Distinction in 2019 to University Trustee R. Wayne Estopinal's family.