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Dr. Alden Smith


February 2009

Faculty Feature

Dr. Alden Smith


An advisor for some of the top theses to come out of the Honors College, and the current record-holder for directing the most humanities theses (fifteen), Dr. Alden Smith is deeply committed to undergraduate scholarly research.

When questioned about the worth of writing an Honors thesis, he likened the sometimes-dreaded task to dining at a restaurant famous for its desserts. You'd be crazy to not get the dessert, right? Your friend argues back: "It'll cost more." Well, yes, but you'll miss the best part if you don't pay the extra price.

Dr. Smith takes tremendous satisfaction from observing the "process of discovery" which takes place during thesis writing, comparing his role as an advisor to that of midwife during delivery. Often, Dr. Smith's biggest role in the process is to give the student a direction to run in, after which he steps back and watches the student begin to take ownership of the project and experience the personal gain that comes from writing a thesis. "Doing scholarship can change a person," he says.

Two of Dr. Smith's most memorable moments as a thesis advisor involved students, Everette Robertson and Heather (Foote) Boumann, for whom outside readers were invited from other universities-a rare occurrence for any thesis. Both of these works merited outstanding praise from the guests, who compared them to some of the best graduate work the professionals had ever seen.

While Dr. Smith enjoys encouraging scholarly inquiry in students, he is also an active researcher himself. On top of being the associate dean of the Honors College, director of the University Scholars program, and a Classics professor, Dr. Smith is a Virgilian, meaning he focuses on the work of Virgil, although he does some work with other epic poetry. He has two books to his name and is currently working on a third, also on Virgil.

Dr. Smith attributes his love for research to a high school teacher who taught him how to "read well" and who provoked him to "ask big questions." His appreciation for academic writing gradually increased during his undergraduate work at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, finally reaching a point of true enjoyment during the last year of his graduate work at the University of Vermont. In doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Smith actually looked forward to writing his dissertation, reflecting a marked change in his once half-hearted approach to writing.

Now, he, like many professors at Baylor, integrates teaching and research in an engaging way that allows him to be fully present in the classroom. Recently, Dr. Smith asked students in his advanced Virgil class to submit abstracts on Virgil to the annual meeting of The Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS). Six of these students' papers were accepted for presentation in April, though about fifty abstracts submitted by graduate students and professors were turned down by the conference organizers.

Besides involving students in his research interests, Dr. Smith has another secret for combining his teaching and researching responsibilities. "I do what students do," he says. "I don't sleep." With sleep or without it, Dr. Smith undoubtedly uses his passion for scholarly work to inspire his students to pursue their own "big questions," pushing them to expand the boundaries of learning beyond the covers of a textbook.




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