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Mary Levi Smith, Kentucky State University

Former Kentucky State University president Mary Levi Smith, a native of Hazelnut, MS, grew up in the segregated South. After graduating from Jackson State University, she earned a master’s degree from the University of Kentucky in 1964, where she also earned a doctorate in education in 1980. She taught in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky and served as the assistant director of the Reading Clinic at Tuskegee University before coming to KSU in 1970.

Smith joined KSU as assistant coordinator of an in-service reading program for classroom teachers. Over the next 20 years, she rose through the ranks as assistant professor of education; then associate professor and acting chair of the Division of Education, Human Resources, and Technology; then full professor and dean of the College of Applied Sciences; then vice president for academic affairs. She was named interim president in April 1989 and KSU’s 11th president in late 1990ómaking her the first woman in that position and the first African-American woman to be president of any Kentucky college.

After 28 years at KSU, Smith retired in 1998. She remains active in organizations of historically black colleges and in civic and charitable causes. She is the author of a memoir, In Spite of the Odds: Using Roadblocks, Potholes, and Hurdles as Stepping Stones to Success.

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