From Night School to Rutgers–Camden’s Finest

Meral K. Smith SBC’82, right, with daughter Allison CCAS’16, and Al Smith SBC’72.

By Sam Starnes

When Meral K. Smith graduated high school, she picked up a newspaper and searched in the want ads for a job. She found one as a bookkeeper in Camden only two blocks from Rutgers–Camden.

Despite the proximity to campus, she had no plans to take college classes until her future husband, Al Smith, then a student at Rutgers–Camden, suggested it to her. “He said, ‘Why don’t you take some classes?’ I said, no, I’ll never get in.”

She also worried about how to pay for it—she was making $85 a week and had her own apartment—but eventually he persuaded her to try. She was accepted and found support from her boss who agreed to pay her tuition. “I started taking one class at night for the first year just to prove to myself I was college material,” Smith said. “I got the bug and started taking two classes at night, and then I added a third class on Saturday. It took me ten years to get my degree.”

Smith, a native of Barrington, New Jersey, who now lives in nearby Haddonfield, graduated in 1982 with a degree in accounting. She said her education at Rutgers–Camden played a big role in helping her build a successful career as a treasurer and part-owner of two title companies. “The professors were really focused on how to help us have practical experience and move forward,” said Smith, who earned CPA certification a year after earning her degree. “It was a really great experience.”

When Smith began taking business courses at Rutgers–Camden, she often was the only woman in the classroom. “It never bothered me and I was always comfortable with it,” she said. “I knew I was working in a field that was male-dominated and I could hold my own.” Smith, who has served as treasurer of the South Jersey Society of CPAs, noted that more women eventually joined her in classes and that the field has changed significantly since then.

Smith’s career took off when she became a co-owner of Surety Title Corporation, which she helped to launch in 1992. The business grew from five employees to more than 150. When she sold her interest in 2009, she thought she would enjoy early retirement but soon found she was “bored to death.” She joined with a former business associate in the creation of Brennan Title Abstract, and continues to work as a co-owner.

She and her husband, Al, a 1972 business graduate whom she married in 1978, have long been supportive of the university and the Rutgers School of Business–Camden. Both were named to the first class of the Rutgers–Camden Finest, a recognition of exceptional alumni. “Al and I are grateful for the education we received at Rutgers–Camden and are proud that our daughter, Allison, followed in our footsteps,” she said. “The presence of Rutgers in Camden has allowed many more students a chance to attend a premier university.”

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