SIU faculty members wear many hats. Of course, you will find them in classrooms and research labs and at campus events. They advise student organizations and spend time in residence halls mentoring students.
They are a positive influence, because they care — not just about students’ academic success, but about their welfare. That is what Pamela Smoot experienced at Tennessee State University, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She also holds a doctorate from Michigan State University.
Pamela brought that caring attitude with her when she joined our faculty in 1999. A renowned scholar of African American history, as well as Baptist history, she is cross-appointed as a clinical assistant professor of History and Africana Studies. Pamela also is the director of recruitment, retention and outreach for the College of Liberal Arts.
I interact with Pamela frequently because of her extensive involvement across campus, which has included dozens of task forces and committees, the Faculty Senate and Graduate Council. Somehow, she finds time to attend every home game of the women’s basketball team, and even some away games. She devotes time to mentoring student-athletes off the court.
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When it comes to her teaching style, Pamela knows she has a certain reputation, one that she embraces.
“I hear the feedback,” she said. “Either you love me or you hate me, but folks say later on that they understand what I was trying to do with that tough love. Structure and discipline matter, and I demand the very best from all of my students.”
When Pamela hands out the syllabus on the first class of the semester, she tells students to start with the last page, Dr. Smoot’s House Rules.
“I have a reputation that ‘Dr. Smoot doesn’t play and you can’t be late, and if you don’t have on enough clothes, she will let you know,’” she said. “You have those who say, ‘She’s just too mean and she’s just too hateful.’ And then they figure out it’s not like that. When we’re in class, we have fun, but I’m serious about what goes on in there. If your cell phone goes off, you need to leave because you should not be getting calls during class. There are no privileged characters in my class.”
If a student misses a couple of classes, Pamela has been known to go to a residence hall and knock on that student’s door. Or, she will call. She wants anyone who is struggling to ask for help. As she walks around campus, she stops students and asks how they are doing. If someone has a problem — in another class, with financial aid, whatever the issue — she will help get it resolved.
Pamela mentors because of the many people who contributed to who she is today.
“If I can touch somebody’s life in a positive way, that makes me feel good,” she says. “Sometimes, you have to do things that are just going to benefit other people. I think often about the sacrifices that have been made for me by my family and friends. That’s important.”
Pamela is a good example of why we say SIU has the heart of a small college.
RITA CHENG is chancellor of SIU Carbondale. Her column appears weekly in Southern Plus.