Mary Smith joins elite group of benefits experts
Mary Smith sees a common thread running through most of the major events
of her professional life: she's always made progress by doing things the
Director of the benefits department in Human Resources, Smith recently
became one of approximately 5,000 people worldwide to earn the the designation
of Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS). The rigorous series of
10 examinations required to receive the CEBS designation is given through
the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Timing is everything
Smith began working on the CEBS coursework in September 1992, the very
same month that Human Resources began sponsoring an extensive series of
informational campus meetings for employees on the EmoryCare health insurance
program, which took effect in January 1993. "Why I thought I needed
to start taking these classes at the same that Emory- Care was starting,
I will never know," Smith recalled. "And I finished the CEBS classes
just as we started open enrollment for our new life insurance programs."
Achieving the CEBS designation, Smith said, requires passing 10 exams that
are based on graduate and senior undergraduate level work in employee benefits.
The courses that precede the exams are coordinated through the Risk Management
Program at Georgia State University and taught by practicing professionals
in the benefits field. Smith said she took about half of her coursework
through the Georgia State offerings and did the other half through self-study.
The courses cover the entire array of benefits plans, including health,
life and disability insurance, retirement programs and educational benefits
such as tuition reimbursement and courtesy scholarships.
"The whole point of the classes," Smith explained, "is that
just because you work in a benefits department for one particular organization,
you still have to have a much more global concept of all the types of plans
that are out there. It's easy for benefits professionals to get focused
just on what their employer offers. But if you don't have any exposure to
all the other things that are out there in the marketplace and how they
operate, you're missing the chance to see how something you're doing in
your organization could be done differently."
In addition to the CEBS coursework, Smith also has gained a more global
perspective by giving presentations at national conferences for benefits
professionals. Last February Smith and Director of Employee Services Pat
Douglass presented "Hands-On 403 (b) Administration" at a San
Francisco conference, to which they have been asked back as presenters this
March. In October, Smith and Douglass traveled to a Chicago conference to
present "Fun and Games with 403 (b) Education," in which they
discussed their plans to promote greater participation in Emory's retirement
program. They've been asked back to that conference for next October.
Finishing college the hard way
Long before she came to Emory, Smith decided to take a step back and see
how she could organize her own life differently. When the youngest of her
two children was 10 months old, Smith decided she wanted to change jobs.
She was working in human resources for a family-owned wholesale distributor
of liquor and wine that employed about 150 people.
"What I found out was that even though I had all these great years
of experience and skills, I didn't have a college degree," said Smith,
who spent most of her childhood in Long Island, N.Y., before moving to Georgia
with her family after high school. She had attended college for a couple
of years, but then got married and started working full-time. Then, when
she reached her early 30s and wanted to advance her career, she found that
the lack of a degree was a major stumbling block.
"So I went back to college with two little kids and kept working full-time,"
Smith said. "I went to class at night and graduated from Mercer University
(Atlanta) in December 1987."
When Smith began looking for a job, she knew that employee benefits was
her passion, because it satisfied her desire to be in a business environment
as well as her need to have a career in which she could help people. Smith
was hired at Emory in March 1987 as an entry level benefits specialist and
worked her way up through the ranks to the position of benefits director.
One of the Human Resources projects of which Smith is proudest is the creation
of a Short-Term Disability Insurance program. The program provides income
for staff who become disabled for the four- to five-month period after their
accrued vacation and sick leave are exhausted, but before long-term disability
insurance takes effect.
Smith is also proud to have been involved in the major expansion the Emory
benefits program has undergone over the last several years, including the
introduction of EmoryCare and the addition of numerous investment options
to the retirement program. In fact, the excitement of being part of such
a dynamic operation is the main thing that's kept Smith at Emory for nearly
"I've had such incredible opportunities to learn different benefit
plans and to do project management," she said. "That's what keeps
it interesting. I think a lot of us in benefits stay at Emory because of
the continuing opportunities to learn and grow in our own field."
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