First Person: Mark Smith

“Olivet’s cohort experience strengthened my passion for diversity.”

January 11, 2023 Academics

Civil discourse is one of the outstanding hallmarks of the Doctor of Education in Ethical Leadership program at Olivet Nazarene University for Dr. Mark Smith. “Olivet’s cohort experience strengthened my passion for diversity,” he says. “In our ethics courses, we talked about very challenging issues, and we did that respectfully. Experiencing the diverse spectrum of opinions and attitudes helped prepare me for the path forward.”

Dr. Smith chose Olivet’s program as a unique opportunity to continue his leadership journey. A believer in lifelong learning, he has held leadership positions since high school days. Studying leadership ethics from a Christian perspective prepared him well for the challenges and growth waiting just ahead for him.

“Through my studies and research, I learned much more about people skills,” he says. “We exercised those in the cohort environment. That experience helped prepare me to take that expertise to the next level and prepare me for the jobs I was going to do.”

After receiving his Ed.D. in May 2017, Dr. Smith became Chief Executive Officer and National Commander of the U.S. Air Force’s Civil Air Patrol (CAP). For four years, he led over 63,000 members across the U.S. in fulfilling CAP’s congressionally chartered missions of Emergency Services, Cadet Programs and Aerospace Education, including Homeland Security as the newest member of the Air Force’s Total Force.

“I was ready for this assignment,” he says. “I was a stronger person and better leader because of my education in Olivet’s Ed.D. program.”


Dr. Smith was leading CAP when the COVID-19 pandemic and a period of intense civil unrest rocked the foundations of our country. “Leading CAP during a time of crisis was a challenge I wasn’t expecting,” he says. “I chose to lead from a position of kindness and compassion. I helped people successfully get through each day and keep moving forward. I did a lot of teaching and mentoring on leadership, wellness and self-care during that time. My personal faith walk helped me face the challenges that were coming at me.”

As an organization, CAP serves 27,000 young people. In order to address the suicide crisis among young people, Dr. Smith formed a team that developed “5 Pillars of Wellness.” This resiliency program is designed to help equip young people for every aspect of their lives.

“There are many underserved, underprivileged young people out there,” he says. “I was one of them when I was growing up.” Growing up in a rural area with limited educational opportunities, Dr. Smith entered the U.S. Air Force Academy without the academic strength he needed to succeed. While he graduated, he did so while struggling academically. Since then, his personal motive was always to keep doing better. He earned his master’s degree in aviation management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

In August 2021, Dr. Smith completed his leadership position with CAP. To honor his legacy, CAP commissioned the Major General Mark Smith JanEX Prize to honor CAP’s spirit of innovation, recognizing the most forward-thinking innovations in an annual competition.

Today, Dr. Smith welcomes and enjoys opportunities nationwide to teach, speak and mentor in the areas of leadership, motivation and change management. In the fall of 2021, he became an adjunct professor in the doctoral program at Baker University.

Dr. Smith’s next challenge on the horizon is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in March 2023. That experience will surely teach him more about leadership and people skills.

“Earning my Ed.D. at Olivet gave me the Christian focus on my educational experience,” he says. “Studying ethical issues from a Christian perspective and deepening my relationship with the Lord are beautiful blessings for me.”



To learn more about the Ed.D. program, contact the Office of Admissions at or 877-465-4838.

Published: 11/28/2022

Student on main campus wearing pink sweater and holding water bottle.

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