ST. BONAVENTURE — During the first 23 years of his life as an alumnus of St. Bonaventure University, Mark Schmitt didn’t have to worry about being mistaken for someone else: He was the only person associated with the university to have that name.
On April 10, 2007 — after the hiring of a new head men’s basketball coach at his alma mater — that changed.
Since then, despite a one-letter difference in their last names, an inadvertent link has formed with the man who has led Bonaventure’s men’s basketball program into a renaissance of winning. And, as far as the original “Schmitt,” a native of northern Virginia and a faithful follower of the program his “name twin” now leads, is concerned — it’s not a problem at all.
“I brought a couple of guys from my area up to a Bonaventure game last year and they all had a good laugh when they heard the coach’s name,” he said.
While the man with whom he shares the same verbal name has certainly found success on the sidelines of the Reilly Center, Schmitt’s most satisfying success has come from a life filled with changing the lives of others — something that began as a college student through the Bona Buddies youth mentoring program.
“I was looking for ways to get involved in the community, so as to do something outside of school and intramural sports as a way to try to find a balance and give back a bit,” Schmitt, a 1984 graduate, said about his decision to give back while in college.
That “balance” became weekly meetings with his Bona Buddy, Zack.
“We did a lot of reading and a lot of tutoring,” he said. “There were these cool things coming out: electronic games — I was fascinated with them and his parents bought them for us to use. Although they were electronic educational games, we still did reading with them. It was good fun.
“I think there’s a criticality for being there as a mentor,” Schmitt added. “This young man had a very intent mom and dad so that was perfect, but this was another opportunity for him to have a data point and example.”
Having college friends as a 9-year-old probably helped Zack’s development, too, Schmitt noted.
“He didn’t know too many college kids, so it was an opportunity for us to share the college life,” he said.
After receiving his degree in accounting from St. Bonaventure in 1984, Schmitt went on to become a certified public accountant before pursuing a master’s in business administration from the College of William & Mary in 1989. He then started the work chapter of his life in management consulting at KPMG.
From there, he began a nearly three-decade career as an executive in the tech industry and today serves as director of strategic sales at Accenture.
The common thread in his life, however, has always been a willingness to serve.
“That’s always been a part of the Franciscan tradition and is something that I do still,” he said, noting his involvement serving on the executive board and as treasurer of Good Shepherd Alliance, the largest homeless shelter in Loudoun County, Virginia.
“We built a number of homeless shelters and so I was able to parlay what I was doing in the Franciscan tradition into this work with a Christian organization.”
After the graduation of his youngest daughter in 2018, Schmitt took his longing to serve to another level.
Calling it a “year sabbatical,” Schmitt traveled the world, choosing to use the time as a major service trip.
A volunteer with the Red Cross and a certified emergency response vehicle driver, Schmitt traveled to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. His travels also took him through a tour of service in Tanzania.
Schmitt’s mix of volunteer work and travel during this time received coverage from the BBC, Forbes and other news outlets, which highlighted his choice of taking a “golden gap year” to more fully explore the world and to give back.
“I did a bunch of adventures,” he said. “I lived in a Scottish castle for a couple of weeks and worked in their gardens and farms. They don’t charge you — you work for your place to stay and food. It was just really fun.”
Schmitt credits his time as a Bona Buddy mentor for setting him on a path to a lifetime of helping others.
“Bona Buddies was just such a great opportunity,” he said. “Giving back has just been a huge part of my life and something I still continue to do to this day.”