Encouragement Dinner


A flyer with a white plate, silverware and a wood table background detailing an event taking place on April 16th at 5:30pm CST

Encouragement Dinner

Near the end of each semester, the Native American House invites individuals to recall, reflect on, and narrate their student experiences in higher education. Speakers address topics such as adjusting to campus life, factors contributing to a sense of belonging, and accessing the right pathways toward degree completion. Speakers conclude their storytelling by emphasizing the value of higher education and offering encouragement for the Native student higher education community at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. Food is first come, first served. All are welcome!

Spring 2024 Dinner on Us Speaker: Mary Smith (Cherokee)


Mary Smith is President of the American Bar Association and is the first Native American woman in this role.

Mary is an independent board member and former CEO of a $6 billion national healthcare organization, the Indian Health Service. She currently serves on the board of PTC Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: PTCT), a global biopharmaceutical company and on the board of HAI Group, a leading member-owned insurance company for the affordable housing industry. She is also vice chair of the VENG Group, a national consulting firm.

Mary has served at the highest levels of government, both at the federal and state levels. She served on the senior team of the Civil Division at the United States Department of Justice and was general counsel at the Illinois Department of Insurance. Earlier in her career, she served in the White House as associate counsel to the president and associate director of policy planning.

In her private sector experience, Mary served in a senior role at Tyco International (US) Inc., a $40 billion public company, where she managed a $60 million budget. She also served as special counsel & estate trust officer at the Office of Special Deputy Receiver; a partner in the Chicago office of Schoeman, Updike & Kaufman, a women-owned firm; and an attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in Washington, D.C., where she specialized in governmental investigations and securities class actions.

In bar activities, Mary is a past ABA secretary. She was the first Native American to serve as one of 13 commissioners on the Commission on Women in the Profession. She has held leadership positions in both the ABA Section of Litigation and the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. She also served as an ABA representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Mary has also served in leadership roles in state and local bars. She served on the executive council of the National Conference of Bar Presidents and is a past president of the National Native American Bar Association. She was co-chair of the Litigation Section in the District of Columbia Bar Association and also served on the board of directors of the Chicago Bar Association.

In her civic activities, Mary is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Economic Club of Chicago, the International Women’s Forum, and the National Association of Corporate Directors.

She founded and serves as president and chair of a foundation named after her mother and grandmother, respectively, the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation, to train Native American girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) (www.carolineorasmithfoundation.org).   

Mary is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions. In 2023, Chicago United selected her as a Business Leader of Color, and she was the recipient of the ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division’s Nelson Award, which recognizes exceptional service by a public sector lawyer. She also was selected as a 2023 Director to Watch by Directors & Board magazine. In 2022, she received the Abner J. Mikva Award from the American Constitution Society Chicago Lawyer Chapter. She was also selected to Crain’s Chicago Business' Notable Women in STEM in 2020 and Crain’s Custom Media’s “Chicago’s Notable Women Lawyers” in 2018. In 2017, she received a Special Recognition Award from the National Congress of American Indians for her work at the helm of the Indian Health Service. In 2015, she was recognized on the Lawyers of Color Fourth Annual Power List. In 2012, she was a recipient of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession’s Spirit of Excellence Award. At the conclusion of her time in the White House in 2001, she received the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director’s Citation for Exemplary Public Service.

Mary graduated from the University of Chicago School of Law, cum laude, and received a B.S. in mathematics and computer science, magna cum laude, from Loyola University Chicago. She served on the Law Review and clerked for the Hon. R. Lanier Anderson III in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.