The Pathway to Success: Dr. Martin P. Smith Talks Career in Higher Education and Duke University

Follow Dr. Smith at @DoctorSmiff on Instagram

Follow Dr. Smith at @DoctorSmiff on Instagram

By: Kimberly M. Knight

Photo Credit: Allison Mathews Photography

Dr. Martin P. Smith is an Assistant Professor at Duke University whose discovering North Carolina one step at a time. Originally from California, Dr. Smith comes to North Carolina to bring his experiences in higher education to the university. This week we are talking with educators at North Carolina universities and I've really enjoyed getting to know them. One interesting fact I will share about Dr. Smith is he was a Division 1 college basketball player whom had the opportunity to play professional basketball overseas but decided to purse his Master's Degree. Now that he's off the court we had a chance to chat about how those experiences influenced his pathway to higher education. 

So Here's How It All Went Down.....

What brings you to North Carolina? 

I came to North Carolina because I was offered a job to be a Professor of Education at Duke University. It was a great opportunity and it fuses my interests. I'm very passionate about research and racial identity, athletic identity, and academic identity so Duke is a great place to do that specifically looking at Black males. 

What have your experiences been like moving to the South and working at Duke?

This is my first appointment at a university but before this I was teaching a class as a Ph.D student at University of Texas at Austin. My first official appointment I guess you could say is here. However, in terms of transitioning to getting acclimated here at a PWI (Predominately White Institution) it wasn't much different because I went to undergraduate and graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley. Then to University of Texas at Austin for my Ph.D. I have 2 siblings that went to HBCUs with one at Morehouse and my sister went to Tuskegee and FAMU to become a pharmacist. However, my full experience has been at PWIs. 

I like to say that I did not choose education but education chose me. - Dr. Martin Smith

When did you decide to seek a career in higher education?

Really what happened I went to UC at Berkeley and as an undergraduate I was playing basketball there. I played for 4 years and I started off wanting to do engineering. I have an aunt whose an engineer and I always liked what she did so I saw myself doing something similar but I wasn't too fond of the science classes. We traveled Wednesday through Sunday so I would miss Thursday and Friday labs so I would have to make them up on my own. So that was kind of a headache but like I said I really like math more so than science so I decided I'll just be a math major. I took all my lower division prerequisites but I could not see myself taking all of these upper division math courses of only math. Plus, I was still traveling so I didn't get a lot of interaction with people. So I started taking education and African American studies classes which I fell in love with. I didn't see myself being a teacher or educator but I just loved the material that I was learning. I was learning about people's learning styles, why certain groups were positioned or situated the way that they were, and how Brown vs. Board of Education where people saw it as such a positive or universal thing with schools being integrated but then I started looking at the negative aspects of that. I started seeing in education and African American studies how in my own family there were some that excelled in school and how some didn't where school did not treat them well but they were all highly intelligent specifically the males. I wondered what was the disconnect between school and learning or school and education because I started learning they were one in the same. So I was really passionate about that and had the opportunity to play professionally overseas. Then I got accepted into a Master's program at Berkeley and I was like basketball or school? I like to be different, I don't like to follow the heard where everyone else was talking about go play basketball but no one was going to get degrees in higher education. So I said let me just check this out plus it was paid for. I finished my Master's Degree but I still didn't see myself as an educator or teacher but my brother-in-law was a basketball coach and teacher. He said, " Look come back to San Diego I'll get you a job teaching and coaching are you interested?". I didn't have anything lined up at the time so I did that for a year then I taught for a year at San Diego Community College for 3 years then got my Ph.D in 3 years then did some research in Guatemala for 5 months then I ended up at Duke. I fell in love with it and people said I'm really good at what I do so that's why I say it chose me I didn't choose it. 

How's the connection been with your students at Duke?

Honestly, that's what drives me. I like to think of myself as a student first then an educator. During my office hours I had a string of students tell me they really enjoyed my course and that I'm bringing a fresh unique prospective. I had 2 students, one whose Asian American and the other is African American, told me they have never had a Black professor or Black teacher in their life. So I think I'm bringing a unique perspective being that I'm younger, a Black male, my athletic background, academic background, and coming from California. So I like to think I shake things up. I like hearing that students had never seen themselves taking education courses or being educators because they did not see the people teaching those courses looking like them. 

What do you like to do in  your leisure time?

I like to workout, I like to hoop, I like comedy shows, movies, swimming, fishing, and I like being outdoors. When I first got out here I went to Pisgah National Forest to the different watering holes and to see the natural rocks out in the mountains. I still want to hit the beaches in North Carolina because I love the beach. 

Dr. Smith's story talks about how education chose him as a career destination and how his perseverance in higher education has set him apart as an educator. Although he had a successful career in basketball which gave him international recognition he still decided to come back to America to complete his educational goals. Dr. Smith is a world traveler, lifetime student, nature lover, and an Assistant Professor of  the Practice of Education. He's an example of how you should never stop accomplishing your goals and that college is that time where you can discover your career. We wish Dr. Smith continued success in all of his endeavors. 

Until Next Time Ladies & Gentleman This Is The Lux Blog. - Kimberly 

Kimberly Knight