After guiding the Cox Health and Counseling Center through the pandemic, a Plan B shortage and influenza outbreaks over the course of his six years at Kenyon, Senior Director of Wellness Christopher “Chris” Smith is set to depart the Hill next month. According to a Sept. 13 announcement from Vice President of Student Affairs Celestino Limas, Smith will leave Kenyon on Oct. 20 to transition into his role as associate vice chancellor for health and wellbeing at University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNC-Charlotte).
After earning a Bachelor of Science from Tuskegee University in 2004 and a Masters in Public Health from Saint Louis University in 2006, Smith spent three years working as a Public Health Management Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During Smith’s subsequent seven-year term as a public health advisor, he provided aid in a variety of global health and climate emergencies, including the West Africa Ebola outbreak and a 2009 Kentucky ice storm.
Upon joining the Kenyon staff in 2017, Smith spent four years as Director of Health and Counseling before his promotion to Senior Director of Wellness in January of 2022. A distinguishing feature of Smith’s time as director was his development of Kenyon’s health policies throughout the pandemic. Under Smith’s guidance, Kenyon was in the minority of colleges that retained students on campus throughout the fall of 2021. Using the experience in pathogen mitigation that he gained during his time with the CDC, Smith spearheaded the campus’ COVID-19-reduction efforts, which included sporadic “quiet periods” to minimize student contact, isolation housing and the eventual requirement of the COVID-19 vaccine for students on campus in the fall of 2021.
Smith emphasized that despite the novel threat presented by the virus, the Kenyon community endured by finding unity in the midst of physical isolation and worry. “Navigating the pandemic was like building a plane mid-flight and we [Kenyon] should be proud of the manner in which we came together in community,” Smith wrote in an email to the Collegian.
In his time as director, Smith was also tasked with guiding students through several other local and national crises, including a 2021 national shortage of Plan B and the yearly spikes in influenza and respiratory illness that accompany life in a residential college. Especially during outbreaks of illness on campus, Smith was vocal in his support of immunizations, voicing his trust in the COVID-19 vaccine and organizing a 2021 vaccination clinic that allowed over 700 community members to receive flu and COVID-19 boosters.
Beyond his work on campus, Smith was actively involved in wellness outreach in the Mount Vernon community, occupying roles such as Knox Community Hospital board member and president of the Ohio College Health Association. In all local endeavors and student interactions, Smith’s message to those he worked with was consistent: “‘Eat Well, Sleep Well, Be Well,’ ‘Get Your Vaccine To Stay Flu-Free’ and ‘Achieve an Adequate Night’s Sleep (minimum of 7 hours; consistently).’”
As associate vice chancellor for health and wellbeing, Smith will oversee UNC-Charlotte’s 30,000 students. According to Smith, the position will extend beyond the school’s health center and include the supervision of student wellness in recreational activities and other aspects of campus life. “I am excited to expand my current portfolio (health, counseling and wellness promotion) to also include campus recreation and the Center for Integrated Care, which are critical elements of a comprehensive well-being program,” he said. Smith emphasized that, despite his excitement for the opportunities afforded to him through his new position, the experience and connections he accrued at Kenyon will always remain dear to him: “The Smith family will be forever grateful to Kenyon College and I am hopeful that kindness remains a cornerstone of this campus community.”
Although the Health Center will be losing a valuable leader, Limas is confident that the arrival of President-elect Julie Kornfeld will reinforce the school’s capacity to prioritize student health and wellbeing. Kornfeld, who served as assistant dean for public health at the University of Miami’s Miller School, will begin her term as president on Oct. 1. “I think it’s also bittersweet that while [Smith is] departing, we’ve got someone like President Kornfeld that’s coming in with a strong public health background,” Limas said. “I take solace knowing that wellness and public health are still going to be top of mind for the college.”