Center for Excellence Honoree: Robert Smart

Robert SmartRobert Smart has shaped the way thousands of students, faculty and staff members approach the written word.

The professor of English and co-developer of Quinnipiac's successful Writing Across the Curriculum program has been recognized for his efforts with the university's most prestigious academic honor, the Excellence in Teaching Award. He was honored at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Service to Students Awards Ceremony on Oct. 14 in the Recreation Center.

However, if Smart's father had his way, the acclaimed professor would be tending trees instead of students. "When I graduated high school, I developed a pretty good penchant for getting into trouble," Smart said. "My father had enough."

Following high school graduation, Smart's father gave him the option of either working toward a degree in agriculture or forestry at the University of Maine.

Without an adviser, against the advice of friends and without any options, Smart said he registered for the only available literature course to fulfill his humanities requirement.

Smart was greeted on the first day of class by Roland Burns, a professor with a long beard and thick mustache. "He began the first class by talking about how poetry saved the world," Smart said. "I thought 'holy smoke, that's what I want to do.' It was never more clear."

Smart said he immediately returned to the registrar's office and signed up for two additional English courses and a philosophy class - and aced them all. He earned degrees in English and history in three years and went on to earn a master's in comparative literature and rhetoric at the University of Utah. A few years later, he earned a doctorate in comparative literature at the University of Utah.

"I couldn't get enough," Smart said with a smile. "After 31 years of teaching, I have never awakened to ask myself, 'What am I doing?' Instead, I get up in the morning and say, 'Oh good, I am going to work.' Sure, sometimes I complain, but in the end, there's nothing else I'd rather do."

If he has a similar impact on even one or two of his students, Smart said his career will have been worth it.

Aileen Dever, associate professor of modern languages, said Smart's impact on the university community is clear. "If there is one person who has contributed to the overall excellence of Quinnipiac University over the last decade, it is Dr. Smart," Dever wrote in her nomination letter for the award. "With truly exemplary dedication and extraordinary care, Professor Smart has brought the importance of writing to center stage by creating and leading workshops in which full- and part-time faculty continue to learn practical and innovative strategies to integrate writing into their courses."

Mark Hoffman, professor of computer science and a previous Center for Excellence recipient, said he considers Smart a mentor. "He has provided hands-on leadership," Hoffman said. "He's very inviting in terms of his personality. It's that humbleness that makes him easy to approach. He's a very open, honest, approachable person."

Hoffman said a lot of what he does today is based on the lessons Smart instilled in him as part of Writing Across the Curriculum. "If it wasn't for Bob, I wouldn't be doing what I am today," Hoffman said. "As attentive as he is to students, he is to faculty, too. I'm very thankful for that."

Smart's writing seminars have crafted better professors that will make for better students, Dever said. "It can be truly said that the educational experience of students is more complete and comprehensive through his teaching of teachers," Dever said. "I have been truly struck by how Professor Smart talks about his students with real joy and respect. There is a happy sparkle in his eyes when he confides how a work of literature profoundly affected students for its themes and artistry."

She said Smart's commitment to his students reaches far beyond the classroom. "It's clear that he hasn't forgotten what it is like to be on the other side of the desk," Dever said. "I appreciate seeing someone who appreciates that the students are the reason we are here and to be flexible when it is appropriate and to remember that we are dealing with human beings."

Suzanne Hudd, professor of sociology and co-director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program, said one of Smart's greatest attributes is his desire to continue to learn. "To me, he is the person who has impacted the campus in the greatest way," she said. "His impact is so broad-based on so many levels. "

Smart is a really sincere person who tries to do his best by all, Hudd said.

Smart, whose talents have been recognized with dozens of awards, committee appointments, consulting requests and published materials, said the accolades that mean the most are the ones selected by his peers and students.

"Two words fit with Bob Smart: Kindness and honesty," Dever said. "Those radiate from him. Those are two characteristics that people really admire about him."

In addition to Smart, the following individuals will be recognized at the awards dinner: Rebecca Abbott, professor of communications; Cherie Finoia, custodian; Jeffrey Meyer, professor of law; James Moniello, security officer; and Tami Reilly, assistant athletic director for fitness and wellness.

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