Graduate School

JMU doctoral student awarded SREB fellowship

Eric O. Smith doctoral student in Strategic Leadership program

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SUMMARY: Selected as an SREB-State Doctoral Scholars fellow, Eric O. Smith will receive financial support along with professional development opportunities aimed at helping him fulfill his goal of earning a Ph.D. and becoming a faculty member.

When doctoral student Eric O. Smith read the words “The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) is pleased to inform you…” he knew a new door had opened on his journey to earning a doctorate through JMU’s School of Strategic Leadership Studies. Selected as an SREB-State Doctoral Scholars fellow, Smith will receive financial support along with professional development opportunities aimed at helping him fulfill his goal of earning a Ph.D. and becoming a faculty member. “I am excited to represent JMU as an SREB fellow,” Eric shared, “bringing my unique perspective as an African-American and scholar-practitioner to my studies and to the SREB community.”

After more than 20 years of experience as a retail banking executive, Smith decided it was time to share his practical leadership skills, coupled with academic knowledge, to develop and equip young leaders through training and application. His achievements in business and scholarship make him an excellent role model and mentor for other students from underrepresented groups. Karen Ford, director of the School of Strategic Leadership Studies (SSLS), celebrated Smith’s accomplishment, saying, “Eric has the interpersonal skills and passion to be an outstanding professor, to mentor others, and to be an excellent spokesperson for SSLS and SREB, bringing opportunities like these into view for other students.”

The SREB is on a mission to increase the number of faculty from underrepresented groups by providing financial assistance, networking and mentoring opportunities, research support, and other resources to empower minority doctoral students who want to join the ranks of university faculty. Minority students face unique challenges when deciding to commit to this kind of rigorous study such as funding, advocacy, and access to other diverse scholars for networking and mentoring. For Smith, the SREB fellowship signals a meaningful opportunity in three key ways:

Eric O. Smith

“First, it provides me with the resources and support I need to accomplish a lifelong goal to be a facilitator of learning. Second, it allows me to bring some exposure to the wonderful call to diversity that is taking place at JMU and specifically in the School of Strategic Leadership Studies. Finally, to be a part of this regional program with so many wonderful individuals past and present, to be included among the ranks of these amazing scholars is humbling and awe-inspiring.”

In October, Smith will join other SREB fellows for the 2016 Compact for Faculty Diversity Institute on Teaching and Mentoring in Tampa, Florida. This event and other SREB resources such as job boards and scholar directories create opportunities for diverse scholars to build relationships and develop skills to enhance their scholarship and teaching. Smith explained, “The SREB’s annual institute is a chance to gather as student scholars from around the country to share research and build relationships that will be lifelong and career-altering.”

Michael Stoloff, Associate Dean of The Graduate School at JMU, hopes Smith’s attendance at the Institute will pave the way for more of JMU’s diverse graduate students to join the conference in the future through JMU funding and a growing partnership with SREB. Stoloff added, “We anticipate sending several faculty and administrators to the SREB conference in Tampa this fall so they can learn more about the needs of students from underrepresented groups and how these students might be more effectively supported.”

The Graduate School’s dean, Jie Chen, continues to be a strong advocate for diversity within the graduate student body. JMU leadership recognizes the important role of minority faculty in serving as mentors for minority students and offering an understanding of the world from various perspectives. While minorities continue to be underrepresented in doctoral programs and faculty positions, organizations like the SREB, in conjunction with JMU and other universities, are taking steps to create opportunities for success.

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Published: Friday, September 9, 2016

Last Updated: Wednesday, October 25, 2017

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