Calista (Harden) Smith (’95, LD ’18) knew as early as sixth grade that she wanted to go to boarding school. She was fascinated by the idea of living and learning in the same space, and jumped at the chance to move from Ohio to Georgia to attend Darlington her freshman year.
“I found out about Darlington at a school fair sponsored by the Queen City Foundation in Cincinnati,” she said. “Queen City Foundation was affiliated with A Better Chance, which helps students of color and low-income families find independent schools.”
Smith loved life on campus and stayed busy with friends, band, cheerleading, debate, and her work on The Darlingtonian. Junior year, she became a resident assistant in Trippeer and took great pride in helping ensure that her dormmates’ boarding experience was as positive as hers.
“My favorite memory as an RA was getting to know the other students, almost like a big sister,” she said. “When you are young, you have a lot of assumptions about people from other communities or places. Media may make you think that someone’s life is all perfect, or all dangerous or all boring. I saw up close the humanity in all of us. We all had things that brought us joy and things that brought us pain. No matter if your family is financially rich or poor, if you are from rural or urban communities, if you are from the State of Georgia or the country of Georgia, we can all relate to each other if we make an effort to connect.”
Smith’s success at Darlington helped her achieve her goal of earning a full scholarship to college. She attended Villanova University, where she studied communications and participated in the Honors Program, and would later earn her MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.
She returned to Cincinnati and started her career with KnowledgeWorks Foundation, holding various roles in public relations, program evaluation, development, and grant selection and monitoring. She would go on to work in consulting, industrial program management and business development before eventually starting Scale Strategic Solutions in 2011.
“It was a winding journey that was a series of walking through the next open door,” said Smith. “I never wanted to start my own business until I started my own business, but I always wanted to be involved in the social sectors like education, public health, social services.”
Scale Strategic Solutions, which aims to transform information into action with expertise and love, provides continuous improvement services, including strategic planning, organizational development, and program evaluation in education, public health, social services, and economic development. A certified project management professional (PMP), Smith leads the organization in service to efforts focused on the greater good for organizations and communities.
The alumna credits Darlington with helping to prepare her for our global world.
“I think there are three parts to preparation for a global world,” she said. “The first is knowing who you are and that you have a unique place in this world. I think Darlington gave space for me to learn more about myself and what God had gifted to me. The second part is exposure to a setting to see what the unique gifts of other students are. The third is the context that we all have to figure it out together particularly in the spirit of ‘wisdom more than knowledge.’ We have to not just know the facts but understand the facts. We can’t just know people; we have to understand people.”
Smith often reflects on her boarding experience at Darlington, how well it prepared her for both college and life, and the connectedness of the school community as a whole. Her appreciation has led her to support and engage with the school in various ways, including participation in Leadership Darlington and service on the Alumni Council.
“Giving back is important to me because I came from a family of generous people,” she said. “It is in my blood to serve and honor my roots. Darlington is a part of my roots; it's part of where I am from just like the Edgemont neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio. I also want to support Darlington in living out its vision and providing an even better opportunity for the next generation. I hope to see an increasingly inclusive Darlington that continues to transform students into leaders that make our world a better place from boardrooms to barns, from classrooms to shop floors, from courthouses to legislative assemblies, from homes to public spaces.”