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Fall photo of Ferrum College campus.
Ferrum College News

Ferrum College Celebrates with Graduate Mike Smith ’24

05/23/2024

A degree 35 years in the making

Mike Smith of Burke, Virginia was among the Class of 2024 graduates who walked across the stage in Swartz Gym on Saturday May 4, but his journey was a bit different than most. Smith began his Ferrum College journey 35 years ago in 1988, then life took him on a different career path.  Eventually, working in education brought him back to finish his degree. Smith graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies with minors in English, Criminal Justice, and Psychology.

“I went on to become an industrial security contractor for the next 30 years and worked with the Departments of Defense, Justice and State, multiple military and law enforcement entities, Virginia State Police Executive Protection Unit, and numerous VIPs. I eventually took over, sold a private security business, and changed careers,” Smith explained.

Most recently, he spent the last 2 ½ years with Fairfax County Public Schools in Special Education as a paraprofessional, specifically with Emotional and Learning disabled students. Because of this career change, Smith became motivated to earn his teaching license. “Because I began at Ferrum – and I knew my advisor was still there and willing to help, it made perfect sense to complete the work as a Panther,” he said.

Ferrum’s supportive environment was the key to success

Professor of English Lana Whited was his advisor during his first few years at Ferrum and continued her support when he returned. “When I decided to come back and finally complete my degree, I somehow knew it would only take one phone call. Lana has always been a guiding light and a generous friend to me, and I cannot overstate how much I appreciate the support, encouragement, and, most of all, the extraordinary patience,” said Smith.

He also thanked Dr. Jason Powell for assisting him in the process of completing his degree. “He has been incredibly helpful in streamlining the return process for me. His support and patience were also appreciated and much of the heavy administrative lifting was taken care of so I could focus on finishing my work,” he says.

During his early Ferrum years, Smith was on the soccer and tennis teams. He was a Ferrum Radio host and was Sports Editor for The Iron Blade newspaper.

College President Dr. Mirta Martin shared her congratulations to Smith and affirmed how his story is similar to so many others, yet also exemplary. “At Ferrum College, each of our graduates has a special story. In most cases, the stories include a journey of resilience and determination. Mike Smith’s is such a story. He embarked on his educational journey at Ferrum College in 1988 and moved on to a career in industrial security. But, he became a member of the 2024 graduating class because of his unwavering commitment to advancing his education, coupled with his dedication to serving in special education within Fairfax County Schools. He exemplifies the power of perseverance and dedication. I have no doubt his journey will now inspire others to continue their education. That’s what Ferrum Panthers do; they persevere; they serve; and they inspire. Congratulations Mike! You make Ferrum College Panther Proud!”

Smith will begin work towards his Master’s in Special Education at George Mason University this summer, and he has accepted an offer at Lake Braddock Secondary School as a Special Education teacher trainee where he also looks forward to getting involved as a soccer coach.