Smiths establish $4 million fund for Cornell College’s Ingenuity curriculum

MOUNT VERNON, Iowa – If you ask John Smith ’71 about his time at Cornell College, he has a lot of memories and a lot of stories to tell.

Working with Professor of Economics and Business Don Cell to write his thesis is at the top of his list, along with vivid memories of a religion class when he traveled to Chicago to understand poverty in America.

“We went into the areas that weren’t so good and did a lot of interviews. I still remember that like it was yesterday,” John Smith said. “It sure was an experience I had never had before, and it helped me learn.”

It’s those types of experiences and educational opportunities that John and his wife, honorary alumna Dyan Smith, are passionate about. That’s why they’re giving $4 million to the Cornell College Ingenuity Fund at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation to support Cornell’s Ingenuity curriculum

“The students really demand and want this kind of education,” John Smith said. “We want to be sure Cornell thrives.”

Cornell offered its Ingenuity curriculum for the first time during the 2020-21 academic year after years of planning and development by faculty and staff. A key part of the new plan is Ingenuity in Action, which requires all students to have at least two experiences in the real world such as internships, research opportunities, or off-campus courses before they graduate. 

“Ingenuity is giving people experiences outside of the classroom just like John received in Chicago. It helps people become more educated, overall,” Dyan Smith said. 

Experiences and off-campus learning opportunities can cost money, but Cornell’s plan has that covered. In fact, Cornell provides all students with the opportunity as well as the financial support for those hands-on experiences thanks to the Smiths’ generous gift.

“Ingenuity puts us among the most selective few schools in the country that require experiences out-of-the-classroom and, as importantly, provide funding to make these experiences possible for all students,” said President Jonathan Brand. “This helps our students focus on the abilities and skills that all employers and graduate schools want in college graduates. Ingenuity is a game-changer for our students and for Cornell.”

Brand says he was moved by the Smith’s desire to differentiate Cornell among its competitor schools and their desire to position the college as a national leader in innovative education for 21st-century students.

“I am thrilled by the Smiths’ investment in Cornell and Ingenuity because it gives full life to a cutting-edge program that focuses on what students want and need in their college education,” Brand said. “Ingenuity prepares students for life beyond Cornell by ensuring that they have multiple opportunities to apply what they are learning in contexts and settings outside of the classroom. Ingenuity also makes the most of our distinctive One Course At A Time calendar, and is a program that very few other schools in the country can provide.”

The Smiths have loyally supported Cornell for decades and have provided lead gifts for many capital projects including the Science Facilities Project, the Thomas Commons, residence halls, and the Garner President’s House. They also support the Berry Career Institute and the Cornell Fund. 

“Cornell is a great educational institution, and Ingenuity helps to showcase that and differentiate us,” John Smith said. “It’s an exciting future for Cornell–one we want to be a part of by giving this gift.” 

John Smith graduated from Cornell College with a degree in economics and business and received his MBA from Cornell University. In 1983, he assumed leadership of his family’s business, CRST International, one of the nation’s largest transportation companies. John has been an active member of the Cornell Board of Trustees since 2004, serving as chair from 2008–2011. Dyan Smith was named an honorary alumna in 2009 but has been part of the Cornell community since John’s senior year at Cornell. In fact, they lived in the campus house next to the Scott Alumni Center when they were first married during John’s senior year—her junior year at the University of Iowa. 

The Smiths enjoy sharing their memories, and they’re looking forward to all of the new memories their gift to Ingenuity will create as it inspires new Cornellians to join the student body and experience Cornell’s one-of-a-kind education. 

About Cornell College: 

Cornell College is a liberal arts college of approximately 1,000 students in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Cornellians have been living, learning, and teaching on the block plan, One Course At A Time, since 1978. Each 18-day course can take students and professors off-campus and even out of the country due to the block’s flexibility, and students fully immerse themselves in their topic of study, taking field trips, diving into research, creating an art exhibit, or exploring issues in the local community. With students from 48 states and 18 foreign countries, as well as renowned faculty, speakers, and entertainers, Cornell offers the world from its campus.

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