By Shedeiky Hamilton
He opens the door to the room that connects him to a program he wishes to change. Duane Smith accepted the role as the Director of the Honors Program hoping to make a difference in the lives of his students.
“I came to Mercy because of the opportunities it provides for me to rebuild the Honors Program while helping Mercy students achieve success no matter what their career or educational goals might be,” said Smith.
The Honors Program at Mercy College is on the threshold of important developments, not only with regard to the students it serves, but also in the way it serves those students.
With this in mind, Smith takes on the challenge of bringing this program to honorable standards while working with students to make the most of the opportunities available.
“My role is to develop the Honors Program and its opportunities and to continue the support and development of the McNair Scholars Program,” Smith explained.
Smith, a former resident of Delaware, is a middle child, having two older sisters, and a younger sister and brother. He grew up surrounded by woods, fields, and cow pastures, and spent most of his younger years working on the farm.
After graduating high school, Smith moved to southern Pennsylvania and battled to find his true profession, entering numerous jobs working as a construction worker, deliveryman, factory worker, office secretary, and security officer.
After much indecision and soul searching, Smith enrolled at the University of Delaware in his mid twenties and completed his BA and MA in English.
“Throughout high school, I was a voracious reader of novels, poems, plays, and social history. It was after I started college that I realized that I could earn a living doing what I really liked to do: reading literature and talking about it with others,” Smith added.
After graduation, Smith took up a teaching position at Troy University in Alabama where he helped to design the university’s Honors Program while he was also the Director of Honors English. At the same time he was working at Troy, Smith enrolled at Auburn University to earn his PhD.
After finishing his coursework at Auburn, he taught for three years at Ithaca College in New York and eventually finished his PhD dissertation on Jonathan Swift, a famous Irish poet and the foremost prose satirist in the English language.
Smith’s love for research expanded giving him the impetus to travel in the United Kingdom, Scotland, and throughout Europe, making stops at the southern-most tip of India to Darjeeling in the north from Calcutta to Mumbai.
“I have spent time in the United Kingdom, particularly at Manchester University and the Welcome Institute in London, doing research on literature and medicine in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries,” said Smith.
Smith married for 26 years, a father of four and a grandfather to a grandson who joined the Mercy’s Provost Office in November of 2009. He brings his experiences of re-inventing the University Honors Program at Saint Louis, where he developed strong undergraduate research and pre-professional health studies at Temple.
“For the past 13 years or more, I have been an academic administrator and program director, but I think my exact profession is as an educator,” Smith adds. “I love learning, and I became a program director and administrator largely to create opportunities for students beyond what I could do for my students in my classes.”
This researcher, however, had to work hard to make it to where he is today and while he can’t say that all the decisions he made were great ones, Smith believes that each decision contributed to bringing him to the present moment.
“If I had changed any significant decisions along the way, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And since I feel very good about where I am, I’d have to say, I wouldn’t change anything,” Smith said.
The Honors Program at Mercy is now in a rebuilding phase and Smith as its director wants to bring the program to greater heights.
“I hope that in the next few years we will be able to develop a program with a strong academic focus, which will nurture and develop the students’ spirit of inquiry and ability while engaging in their studies, in ways that excite them about the learning process while preparing them for future success in their continuing education, in their career, and in their lives.”