Highlanders in the News: Week of February 12, 2024

Every other week, our Highlanders are using their education to do extraordinary things. Here, we’ll highlight some notable mentions from local, regional, national and international news media. Whether our students, alumni, faculty and staff are featured as subject matter experts in high-profile stories or simply helping make the world a better place, we’ll feature their stories.


Marty Smith ’98, one of ESPN’s most trusted and popular hosts and reporters, is also a podcaster and radio broadcaster who, in October, was also among the three Highlanders to receive the 2023 Alumni Award from the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences (CHBS). 

On a recent episode of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s “Dale Jr. Download” podcast, Smith and Earnhardt, longtime friends, take a deep dive into the ESPN star’s career, complete with a discussion of a roadblock Smith hit years earlier as a student and the silver lining he found in it that formed the crux of his origin story.

Marty Smith ’98 (Screencap: The Dale Jr. Download podcast)

Giles County native Smith, at that time, had been playing baseball at a university in Tennessee, but when he transferred to Radford, he was cut from the Highlanders squad.  

 That discouraging detour, however, ultimately led him to seek work in Radford’s sports information office.

Smith said he told them he simply wanted to volunteer: “You don’t have to pay me. I just want to learn.”

Over the years that followed, that decision would pay handsome dividends.

“Because of the work I did there, I was hired by The Roanoke Times newspaper,” covering high school sports and the New River Valley Speedway, he explained.

Off that success, Smith, while still a Radford senior, became The Washington Post’s Virginia Tech football beat writer. From there, he was hired by the Lynchburg, Virginia, News & Advance, which led to a position at NASCAR.com.

In 2006, he ascended to a sportswriter’s dream job at ESPN.

Over the course of the chat, which runs about 80 minutes, Smith expands on his work, his journalistic approach and his long and distinguished career.

Fans can watch the full interview on YouTube and stream or download it from Apple Podcasts or most other audio platforms. 


(Screencap: The Dale Jr. Download podcast)

The "Journey" is the destination

Heather Renee, M.F.A. ’21 (New River Community College)

While growing up in Grundy, Virginia, artist, teacher and photographer Heather Renee, M.F.A. ’21, initially had access to just one camera – a simple Kodak film device whose only “extra” feature was its flash setting. 

Nevertheless, Renee recently wrote, “I took it everywhere, taking as many photos as I could.”

Later on, one of her high school teachers loaned her a Nikon DLSR, which gave her the next step up, photographically.

“It encouraged my many nature photoshoot excursions, discovering the many functions the camera held as my experience grew,” she wrote.

Renee kept taking pictures and making other kinds of art, and she recently launched an exhibit of her digital photography, “Twinklings of a Journey,” according to a February article by SWVA Sun News.

The show, also reported by Cardinal News and The News Messenger, remains on display through March 15 at New River Community College in Dublin, Virginia, at the Fletcher Gallery in Godbey Hall 145.

Renee is a Radford-based artist who specializes in both two- and three-dimensional mediums, according to her artistic statement.

Several examples of her work were included in Radford’s Spring 2021 M.F.A. Show


"Hello There, Little Lady" (Digital photo: Heather Renee)

Working in recreation

Director of Recreation and Wellness D.J. Preston

About halfway through a recent episode of Campus Rec magazine’s podcast, Radford’s Director of Recreation and Wellness, D.J. Preston, is asked about what led him to pursue his current occupation.

“Divine intervention,” Preston tells host Grady Sheffield without a moment’s hesitation.

Campus Rec is aimed at college and university recreation professionals, and Preston’s interview runs about 30 minutes, during which time he explains his metaphysical reply and introduces listeners to Radford University in depth.

Among other topics, Preston also discusses his career path, which took him from Virginia to Texas and back again, as well as the challenges of cultural changes, how he dodges burnout and the many ways his athletic background affects his leadership style as he marks his fifth year at Radford.

“I was coached so much in my career coming up, I’ve turned into a coach,” he says. “And I think the way I lead is definitely [about] motivation and being unafraid to have direct conversation and be amicable about things.” 


Evan Jacobson, M.A. ’95, first took piano lessons at age 9, but only really found his true instrument a couple years later, when a summer camp counselor introduced him to the music of the rock group The Police. In particular, he honed in on the unique style of percussionist Stewart Copeland and, following that example, Jacobson was off and drumming.

Since then, he’s been a professional musician, a disc jockey, an audio engineer, an educator and several different kinds of students (he came to Radford in 1992 and wrote his master’s thesis on drumset technology), but he’s never stopped keeping the beat.

Jacobson’s life, his work and his music were recently the subject of an extensive profile by the Sebastian Daily, out of Florida, the state he now calls his home.

“The plan is to continue with musical goals,” he told the newspaper. “Connect with musicians, perform as much as possible, and teach private drum lessons.”

Feb 16, 2024
Neil Harvey