Jorden Smith is a former JWU Denver men's volleyball player who captained the Wildcats to the NAIA National Invitational tournament in 2011, leading the team to a 20-12 regular season record while earning Academic All-Conference recognition and being named a finalist for the Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar award. After graduating from JWU with a degree in Criminal Justice and earning his Master's from Marshall University, Smith is now an Area Supply Manager for Lexus.
Smith returned to campus this week as a keynote speaker for the College of Hospitality Management's 'Innovation in Sports, Entertainment & Event (SEEM) Management Conference.' Prior to Friday's conference, Smith sat down for lunch on Thursday with faculty, staff and student-athletes to discuss a variety of topics.
Q: What are some of your best memories from your time playing for JWU?
Jorden Smith: Our program accomplished a lot, being the only men's volleyball program in the state – DI, DII, DIII or NAIA. One of the most significant accomplishments was when we made our first national tournament appearance. This small school from Denver, Colorado that nobody ever heard of, everyone thinks is a cooking school, getting to the NAIA national tournament in 2011. I would say that was the most memorable, just because it was something that we never thought would happen. We always tried, we always lost in the finals in the conference tournament, or praying that we would get a bid. That was an awesome year that we had.
Another cool accomplishment was when we broke into the top 10 national rankings. At one point our highest ranking was 5 or 6. A lot of us were also among the top in the nation in statistical categories like blocks and aces. Those were like pretty big for us. Once again, a tiny school and we're holding these national records.
Q: What's the feeling like now coming back on campus and seeing those banners hanging in the Wildcat Center?
JS: It's very nostalgic in a sense. I've seen this campus transform big time. I remember when that gym was facing the other way in the opposite direction – going north and south instead of east and west. So to see it now, to see the NAIA banner up there, is special. I remember when the last ball hit the ground and we won, everyone running on the floor. I remember my last home game. Senior night. I saw so much transformation at this school. Our colors used to be maroon and yellow before we broke into the blue, which a lot of people don't we know we were that color. Just seeing where we were and how we're growing now is pretty awesome. It's definitely special.
Q: What was your journey like from when you graduated from Johnson & Wales to where you ended up now as a Demand & Supply Manager for Lexus?
JS: It's been a wild ride the last couple years. When I left here I went overseas to pursue a career in professional volleyball. When I got done, I went go to coach at Marshall University as a grad assistant and get my Master's degree. I then went to work in Chicago for the county sheriff's department and coached at Dominican University, which is a small DIII school there with a men's team and women's team.
I got to a point in my life where I knew I wanted to move on from law enforcement and look into something else. That's when I got an opportunity from an old teammate who worked for Toyota and called me and said, 'Hey, come work for Toyota, the no. 1 car manufacturer in the world.' I said, 'Buddy, I don't know squat about cars. Never sold a car, never worked at a dealership.' He's like, 'Nope, it's not like that. It's people, business, relationships.' So I said I'd give it a shot. That was July of 2014.
I started from there and just kind of blasted off. Went to a management training program, moved to LA from Chicago, lived in LA for a little bit, in Cincinnati, and now I'm back in Southern California. It's been a wild ride. I've had several different titles and different positions. If you were to ask me 10 years ago, I wouldn't think I'd ever be here.
Q: How did your experience in collegiate athletics set you up for success professionally?
JS: I always talk about understanding people and just building and maintaining relationships. Being on the men's volleyball team here, at the time we were one of the better teams on campus, we had a good record, we were winning, we were doing all these things, so it put me in front of a lot of people. I learned how to talk to different people, how to be respectful and understanding. Most importantly, I made sure I was holding good relationships.
What I took most from here is that there's always somebody who's thinking about you. I mean, professors still know my name, teammates are still calling me up. I think our school's more like a fraternity or sorority where you're part of a fellowship. Especially our team. We were like a brotherhood. We all looked out for one another, we all cared for each other. We all still talk. I ask guys if they need help with anything. Like, 'Are you guys looking for work?' Someone did it for me, right? It just makes us all tight and close. I've been an officiant for their weddings, a godfather to some of their children, attended their children's baptisms, whatever it might be. We really were our own, little tight-knit group. It's something you can't get everywhere.
Q: What's your advice to current students to help set them up for success as they enter the professional world?
JS: I always talk about questioning the 'why.' I think it's good for people to focus on what they really want to do. If they don't know, then to explore a little bit more. Ask the reasons why they want to do what they want to do. If there's one piece of advice I wish I had, it would've been to ask myself, 'Do I really want to be in law enforcement? Should I still study it?'
Everything happens for a reason. All my experiences from law enforcement have helped me get to where I'm at now. But, we often forget to ask why? So if you're a student here, you want to make sure you know you're pursuing something that you want. And if you don't' know, that's OK. Take that time to discover what you really want to do, because you don't want to work in something that you don't love. This is America. We work our lives away. We all work really hard, and most of us will spend 30-40 years working after we graduate, if not more. So try to find something that makes you happy, because that's what matters most.