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Jobs of the Future: Career change allows Steven Smits to reconnect and give back to home community

'There are meaningful ways for everyone to engage with Nipissing and champion the organization in impactful ways'

“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.     

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It has been a quick turnaround for Steven Smits, but since March of 2022 the North Bay native has been the Manager of Alumni and Advancement at Nipissing University.  

“Day to day within this role I’m collaborating with my team to make decisions about any pertinent donations that require our attention, any stewardship with donors or alumni that we may need to act on, or any fundraising opportunities that may be arising,” says Smits.   

“We assess the many events that may be happening at the university to be strategic about who we can invite so we can further engage with them. Our desire is to deepen our relationships with donors and alumni to keep them engaged with the university, which is really exciting. “  

A Widdifield Secondary School graduate, Smits looked to pursue a career in theatre production after being involved with Dreamcoat Fantasy Theatre, TOROS and Summer Challenge during his youth.  

After attending the National Theatre School of Canada and earning a Diploma in Production Design and Technical Arts in 2016, Smits worked first as a Stage Manager, then transitioned into Arts Management in 2018.  

“I ended up working as a Producer and Arts Manager in Toronto. As the pandemic started unfolding, I became the General Manager of Volcano Theatre in Toronto and the Associate Manager of Peggy Baker Dance Projects, which is a contemporary dance company,” says Smits.    

“A portion of my job was advancement and engaging audiences which tie in nicely to my work at Nipissing. Our goal is to get people to engage more deeply with our university.” 

Smits says on the alumni side of his role with Nipissing, their focus is on ensuring students who graduate still feel a connection to the university.  

“We want to be able to offer alumni ways to continue to engage with Nipissing as a Laker far beyond the completion of their education.” 

In late 2021 Smits got engaged and says, “My fiancé and I were looking into where we wanted to set up our lives and we quickly determined that North Bay was the place we wanted to be.” 

“My parents raised their family in North Bay and we were looking at the realities of what raising a family would be like in Toronto compared to those realities in North Bay. Both my fiancé and I love paddleboarding, hiking, and camping and if you’re in downtown Toronto, you have to travel an hour to do any of that, and here it’s right outside your door.” 

But they were going to need jobs in North Bay and Smits says he wanted to determine what sort of role would fuel his fire. 

“Is it the work in the arts or is there something else that is going to bring me some purpose?” Smits recalls.  

“I didn’t want a job that was just about earning a salary, I wanted something that was going to bring me personal fulfillment and that meant finding a job that was impact-oriented and had a community focus. That’s when I started looking for opportunities in North Bay and this job at Nipissing popped up, I jumped at the opportunity.”  

“With the university being a not-for-profit, I knew that there was something beyond just the bottom line that I would be working towards. It would also give me an incredible opportunity to engage with folks in North Bay and in the community and be a champion for the university,” says Smits.  

Smits says he has always been someone who is community-minded and part of the desire in moving back to North Bay was to contribute to the arts and culture scene. 

“I was part of various community arts organizations in my youth and those experiences really grew my passion for the arts. Now that I am back in North Bay, I have joined the board at The Capitol Centre allowing me to contribute to the vitality of the heart of our city while getting to tap into my arts management experience,” says Smits  

“Under the leadership of Nipissing University’s new President (Dr. Kevin B. Wamsley) there’s a lot of momentum building as we begin our strategic planning process. I am looking forward to contributing to the future plans of the University right as North Bay seems to be hitting its stride. It is a very exciting time to be in this region right now,” says Smits.  

“It really feels like there’s a lot of forward momentum happening in the city. If you have a city that is thriving and people take pride in living here, it will also entice people to come and study and want to stay here after they finish their studies.”  

“Nipissing prides itself on small class sizes and proximity to professors and that is something that a lot of other universities can’t offer,” he says.  

“That allows alumni to develop strong relationships with their professors and their peers and they can feel more connected to their university that way.” 

He says the spinoff effect is that connection propels alumni to want to continue to engage once they have graduated.   

“I think part of the work we’re doing is talking about the culture of philanthropy with as many people as we can. It is important to have these conversations with all the University’s stakeholders, including alumni. There are meaningful ways for everyone to engage with Nipissing and champion the organization in impactful ways,” says Smits.   

“You can be spreading the news within your circles about the education that you had at Nipissing and what made your experience at Nipissing unique.” 

Smits says his role really centres around building relationships.    

“Sitting down and having a one-on-one conversation with someone can’t be overlooked. I think a lot of people think that fundraising is just a one-way street. In reality, it’s a collaboration and a relationship that you are building. As a fundraising professional, what we need to understand is what our donors are looking for, and what their interests are.” he says.  

Smits says because Nipissing is a busy organization, the ability to multitask is something he learned during his theatre production years. 

“In the arts, you have to manage competing priorities all the time and when you’re working in the arts you have to collaborate which is essential,” he says.  

“You have to work with your team, support one another, align around what the priorities are, and plan for what the year has in store. I think those skills are key to transitioning into my current role.” 

He says most people don’t realize how important fundraising is for many organizations.   

“People think it’s exclusively tuition that helps fund a university or the province that grants all the funding to a hospital for instance and that’s not the case. There are a bunch of initiatives and programming that you want to be able to offer but you have to find a way to get the funds to do so,” says Smits.  

“Since graduating from NTS I have been a donor myself. I am not just a fundraiser who is engaging people in gift-giving and not reciprocating that, I have been donating to causes I believe in since I left school. It is important for folks to understand that our post-secondary institutions aren’t funded in full by any level of government and tuition fees.  In order to have a strong, resilient, impactful University, we need folks in the community to come together and continue to champion it.” 

If you have a story idea for “Jobs of the Future” send Matt an email at m.sookram@outlook.com