Campus News

Derrick Smith brings community engagement experience to WID

Smith has been the director of development for WID since June.

Smith has been the director of development for WID since June.

Image By: Danny Marchewka

The Wisconsin Institute for Discovery named Derrick Smith their director of development this summer. 

Born in Cleveland and raised in Long Beach, Calif., Smith previously worked as the director of strategic planning and special projects for Catholic Charities of Madison, before his position with WID. 

Smith graduated from the Air Force Academy with a degree in Biochemistry and later went on to work in scientific sales and marketing as a manager for Thermo Scientific Packaging/OEM/Diagnostics.

Smith joins WID Director Jo Handelsman, who was named to her position in 2017. Handelsman brought with her a new philosophy on WID’s objectives upon her arrival.

“In 2017…the WID community rededicated itself to serving as a catalyst for innovation through interdisciplinary research on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and beyond,” Handelsman said on WID’s website. “WID is exploring new ways to embody the Wisconsin Idea, the long-held tenet of the University of Wisconsin-Madison that a university is at its best when it is in dialogue with the public.”

WID is a research facility on campus housed in the Discovery Building. Founded in 2010, the organization seeks to “discover and inspire through interdisciplinary research conducted in a dynamic, collaborative community,” according to their website

Smith’s background in community engagement and service works toward the idea of WID being an institution that gives back to the community at large. 

Smith serves on the board of directors of the Urban League of Greater Madison, an organization whose stated mission is “to ensure that African Americans and other community members are educated, employed and empowered to live well, advance professionally and contribute to the common good in the 21st Century,” according to their website

In an interview with in 2012, Smith discussed his role in pushing for the then controversial Madison Preparatory School aimed to close the school district's racial achievement gap. 

“My father and mother were born and raised in Alabama, grew up in turbulent times, with Dr. King and whites-only signs, my mother couldn't vote until 1964. I have a strong conviction to honor the people who came before us, who had to struggle,” Smith added. “Unfortunately some people believe that ‘if it doesn't affect me, it is not bad.’ This is not just about my kids, it is about generations of kids to come.”

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