Hilary Buttrick has big shoes to fill.
This week, the Butler University law professor was named executive director of the Orr Fellowship, replacing Karyn Smitson, who was hired as the organization’s first executive director in 2015.
Since its founding in 2001, the Orr Fellowship—a two-year program that connects high-caliber college graduates with high-growth companies—has had an immense impact on the growth of central Indiana business and the tech industry in particular.
The fellowship was founded by Angie Hicks, chief marketing officer of what was then Angie’s List, along with Bill Oesterle, the company’s CEO at the time, and Scott Brenton, then the chief operating officer, as a way to stop brain drain.
Smitson was a big part of enhancing programming for Orr fellows and growing and diversifying participation in the program, said Brenton, who still oversees it.
In Buttrick, Brenton thinks the program has found a worthy successor.
“We had 85 qualified applicants. A team of current and former fellows and members of the board formed a search committee. We spoke with about 20 job candidates, narrowed that to 10 and met virtually and in-person with those candidates. Hilary was our clear No. 1 choice, and we were thrilled she wanted to take the job,” Brenton told IBJ.
Smitson’s last day as executive director was May 28, and Buttrick officially takes over July 26.
Buttrick comes to the Orr Fellowship with a background in law and higher education. Following a career as a litigator with Ice Miller LLP, she joined Butler University in 2012 as an assistant professor of business law. In 2017, she was promoted to associate professor of business law and named chair of the Department of Economics, Law and Finance.
Most recently, Buttrick served as interim dean of Butler’s Lacy School of Business. She will continue to work at Butler through July 2.
Buttrick, a lifelong Hoosier, grew up on her family’s farm in New Harmony, and earned her bachelor’s in English composition from DePauw University in 1999.
She completed her law degree at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 2002.
“As an educator, Buttrick has dedicated much of her career to helping young professionals discover their passions, identify their career goals and develop the skills necessary to achieve their dreams,” Brenton said. “I am confident she will bring that same dedication to Orr Fellowship and build on the great work of Karyn Smitson.”
In addition to shepherding about 170 fellows, Buttrick will manage a staff of two. Brenton said as the program expands class sizes, the staff will likely grow.
Buttrick’s current staff includes Jen Agnew, who was named director of programming and engagement in June 2018, and Alyssa Graudins, who was named director of talent acquisition and company relations last August.
Orr has agreements with 27 colleges and universities, many in Indiana, with a sprinkling from surrounding states. Orr officials recruit heavily at those schools, but the fellowship accepts applications from anywhere in the nation. It has received applications from both coasts as well as from Texas, Missouri and other far-flung states.
In 2016 and 2017, the organization inched up the number of fellows per class to 42. And the board wanted to keep growing. At the time, “we had our eye on having 100 fellows per class,” Brenton said. “That was our big goal.”
In 2018, Orr Fellowship took a big step in that direction, bringing on 70 fellows.
The program had 63 fellows in 2019 and 56 in 2020. It originally had 68 in 2020 but had to downsize.
Despite the hiccup caused by the pandemic, the Orr Fellowship is back on its growth spurt.
“Our new 2021 class will have 81 fellows, and our goal for 2022 is 90,” Brenton said. “Some guideposts we put out for the organization is, we’re looking for 125 fellows in [the class of] 2025 and 200 fellows [per class] by 2030. That’s what’s in front of Hilary and I.”
Diversity in the classes is also on the rise. The Orr Fellowship has historically had 9% ethnic diversity, Brenton said, but the 2021 class has 29%, even higher than the 19% ethnic diversity of the schools it works with to recruit students.
To manage such an increase, Brenton said, the organization will need a full-time paid staff of about 10. “We’re looking to make an impact on this community through our fellows, not by growing a huge staff,” he said.
Brenton knows Buttrick has a big challenge ahead of her.
“Hilary is going to have 170 very ambitious young professionals that are ready to change the world,” Brenton said. “For every single one of them, this is their first full-time job. That first job isn’t always what you think it’s going to be in your mind. These fellows can be demanding and will have a lot of ideas and thoughts.”
Buttrick is undaunted—and excited to face the challenge.
“Being a litigator can be a very high-challenge job,” she said. “At Butler, I work with a group of high-achieving students with high expectations. And being a university administrator during a global pandemic has been a real growing experience for me. It’s been a situation where students, faculty and staff are looking at you to set the tone.”
Though Brenton and Buttrick will look to enhance—and possibly modify—the program, Buttrick said her first order of business is to listen.
“My first step will [be to] work very closely with the board to make sure I understand their plan and vision and also to hear from the fellows,” Buttrick said. “I think, coming in, it’s important to hear where all the group’s ideas are before coming up with a bunch of recommendations for change.”•