Championing a Laudable Goal
New School of Education dean comes prepared to listen, bring options to urban schools
July 23, 2012
Joshua S. Smith, Ph.D., had never heard of cura personalis. But he was delighted to find a Jesuit phrase that matched a concept he appreciated long before he applied to be dean of Loyola’s School of Education.
“That fits very well with what I’ve been talking about and trying to model for years, but I’ve never used the Latin,” said Smith, who is poised to become the president of the National Academic Advising Association. “In advising we might term it developmental advising or faculty development—supporting the whole person, not just answering a question or solving a problem. Effective advising isn’t about telling people what to do; it’s about listening. It’s about identifying options, presenting some possible paths, and then ultimately letting people select the best options for their situation.”
When Smith joined the Loyola community in July, he arrived prepared to listen and offer options to the School of Education and the greater Baltimore community. It’s an approach he adopted years ago when he began his career in college administration as an academic advisor for undeclared students at the University of Albany. There he learned to listen to students who were excelling, and to those who were struggling.
“They’re coming to me for the answer, and I can’t give it to them. They have to make that decision on their own,” said Smith, who started researching how students navigated transitions in their educational experiences. “That approach has really shaped who I am as a faculty member and administrator.”
Smith came to Loyola from his most recent position as associate dean for research and academic affairs and director of the Center for Urban and Multicultural Education at the Indiana University School of Education in Indianapolis, Ind.
Smith was attracted to the School of Education’s purposeful focus on urban education—as part of the University’s commitment to social justice—especially when he saw Loyola’s hands-on approach to Baltimore City schools.
“We’re not just placing student teachers in the schools and hoping for the best. At Loyola there’s a commitment for Professional Development School (PDS) faculty to be active in those schools for a long time, and not just to work with the interns, but with the teachers and the school community,” he said. “That’s not always happening, but it’s the goal, and it’s a really laudable goal.”
Smith aims to be more intentional in connecting the scholarship that is already occurring in the School and helping increase its impact on the students and the community. He wants to build relationships with schools, superintendents, teachers, students, and families to find out the schools’ strengths and needs. He also wants to spread the word about what the School of Education is doing. “We’re going to let people know that Loyola is the place to go if you want engaged faculty who are working closely with the teachers and administrators in the schools,” he said.
Smith also hopes to offer faculty ways not just to conduct research in the schools, but also to bring their research back to the schools. “We do research that actually makes a difference for the people we’re talking to,” he said. “The tenure-track clock doesn’t have a lot of patience and this approach to research takes time. But it’s incumbent on me to create conditions for our faculty to fully engage their scholarship with school partners.”
As he and his family make the move to Baltimore, Smith is looking forward to connecting with the community—particularly through Loyola’s initiative along the York Road corridor and the recently formed Consortium for Urban Education, a partnership between Baltimore City Public Schools and local University leaders.
“Economics are at the heart of the challenges with urban education,” said Smith, who earned his B.A. in U.S. History, M.S. in Educational Psychology and Statistics, and Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Methodology from the University of Albany, State University of New York. “We need to think about the heart of the community—school and faith-based organizations. Part of what is happening is connected to the downturn in the economy. Schools are doing a lot more with a lot less economically.”
Smith admits he cannot propose a specific solution. “I don’t have the answers. I have perspectives and ideas and optimism that is derived from the strengths and talent of the people who live, go to school, and work in urban communities,” he said. “My goal is to bring Loyola to the table, and provide resources so that our faculty can be the very best advocate scholars they can be.”
Smith’s wife, Yun-dih Chia-Smith, who holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, will teach courses at Loyola in the area of child development. He takes a hands-off approach to the schools for their sons, Elvis, 13, and Presley, 9.
“I’m not in education to help my kids, per se, and it’s not even for the next generation. It’s for 1,000 years from now. If that’s your lens, you will have a different perspective on your actions today,” he said. “We’re not changing education to get people into the workforce. We’re educating people for the long-term, for the goodness and the wellness of the world.”