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Chelda Smith named first-ever recipient of COE’s Commitment to Diversity Award

The inaugural recipient of the College of Education’s (COE) Commitment to Diversity Award was named this fall by the College’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Associate Professor of Elementary Education Chelda Smith, Ph.D., was the first member of the COE to receive the accolade.

“Dr. Smith’s background in the area of teaching diverse topics, and leading a program that included diversity as one of its components was important,” said Meca Williams-Johnson, Ph.D., chair of the COE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. “The application stood out among the group and left a positive impression from start to finish.”

The College’s Commitment to Diversity Award was designed to recognize a faculty or staff member who demonstrates a sustained commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

A faculty member in the College since 2014, Smith was an essential member of the initial development team for the College’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in Elementary Education program and has served as the program’s coordinator since 2018. The program offers a specific focus on cultures and communities, with one of the first course requirements focusing on culturally responsive pedagogy and classroom management.

“Grasping the challenges associated with teaching complex topics through the online medium, I initiated and continue to lead a weekend-long orientation experience for newly admitted candidates to the MAT program,” said Smith. “The primary goals include helping students build inclusive education fluency, which begins with unpacking individual and group identities, associated privilege and power, processing emotional responses, and to establish an initial commitment to becoming a social justice educator. Past attendees regard the orientation as transformative and life changing. An added benefit is the bond that candidates create with each other and with faculty.”

Smith’s scholarship also contributes to the exploration of diversity practices, as she investigates the professional and educational experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse people from traditionally marginalized backgrounds. 

“From Somali youth refugees to university faculty of color, I explore how pedagogy, positionality, and institutional policies affect the socialization and learning experiences of underrepresented populations,” said Smith.

Additionally, in efforts to provide an affordable graduate education experience, Smith sought to eliminate course material costs. In 2016, she and COE colleague Alisa Leckie, Ph.D., redesigned the College’s cultural issues course to eliminate textbooks. Gathering the latest digital resources, Smith and Leckie found that course materials were well received by students as well as provided current, relevant information for rigorous learning opportunities.

In a letter of support written by current MAT Elementary Education student Laura Vines, she states, “I have known Dr. Smith for less than a year, but her influence has already left an indelible mark on my life, no doubt many of my cohort’s lives, and our future students,” Vines writes. “With Dr. Smith at the helm, not only has she ensured that we can become teachers of record but also teachers capable of reaching every child.”

For more information about the Commitment to Diversity Award and the College’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, visit https://coe.georgiasouthern.edu/diversity-and-inclusion-in-coe/

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