Political Science professor wins prestigious teaching award

May 05, 2009

Professor of Political Science Herbert C. Smith received the Distinguished Teaching Award May 3 at McDaniel College’s Honors Convocation. The annual award and $5,000 prize recognizes inspired classroom work and dedication to students and honors the beloved emeritus faculty member Ira G. Zepp, who taught full time in the department of Religious Studies for more than 30 years.

“Every time I walk into a McDaniel classroom filled with students, I feel honored,” Smith said. “Every time I witness a McDaniel commencement, I feel honored.

“But to hold an award named after my faculty mentor, Professor Ira Zepp, the honor is not only priceless, it's infinite.”

Smith is both a professor and practitioner of political science whose expertise in the applied aspects of the governmental process prepare his students — first and foremost — to become fully productive citizens of a democracy. He earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in Political Science from The Johns Hopkins University and joined the faculty here in 1973, teaching courses in “American Political Institutions,” “State and Local Governments,” and “Campaigns and Elections,” among others. Over the past 30 years, he has also continued to ply his political know-how in Baltimore City and Maryland, serving as a campaign manager, campaign consultant, media coordinator, and public opinion pollster for offices as varied as governor, county executive, judge, city council representative, and mayor.

While these roles add depth and texture to his lectures, Smith believes their real value resides in the opportunities they create for experiential student learning. “Internships work,” he often says, “because they connect book-based theoretical knowledge with the practicalities of the real. A professor can eloquently explain the necessity of legislative bargaining and compromise, but actually seeing delegates and state senators wheeling and dealing in a conference committee communicates those concepts in a way never to be forgotten.”

Because of Smith’s positive reputation and personal connections in the State capital, interns recommended by him invariably are snapped up by senators and delegates. Professor Smith’s students have worked at internships ranging from semester-long assignments in the Maryland General Assembly to short-term campaign jobs. They have gained real-world experience as exit pollsters for WBAL-TV and Fox News, canvassers for state-wide and local candidates, and telephone interviewers for the McDaniel College Survey Research Center, which Smith founded and operates as director.

Numerous articles written by Smith have appeared in professional and government publications and his opinions on local and national politics are sought early and often by the media. Smith has written close to 100 articles of political analysis and commentary published in the Baltimore Sun and other newspapers, and he is frequently quoted in political news stories appearing in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and assorted local Maryland newspapers.

During his tenure at McDaniel College, Smith has served on every major faculty committee, ably led his Political Science and International Studies department as chair, and has become a true “voice of reason” on campus for students and faculty alike. His political science courses are regularly overflowing with students. Many go on to law school, others become lobbyists thanks to the exposure they get to politics through Smith’s brand of hands-on teaching. Still others cultivate successful careers in politics across the state and country.

U.S. Congressman Frank Kratovil, class of 1990, wrote in a letter of support for Professor Smith, “I can think of no other professor or teacher in my lifetime who has so consistently and unselfishly given of himself to his students…his commitment extends far beyond the walls of any classroom.”

For Smith, changing lives is not limited to academics. A decade ago, he was inspired to share with students his passion for fishing. The resulting courses, “Fishing the Florida Keys,” “Fishing Maryland,” and “Fishing and Diving Belize,” are extremely popular and often life-changing events for many undergraduates who are motivated to take their first plane ride, or their first trip outside the United States, to participate in one of these courses.

Smith’s student-centered approach to all he does is encapsulated in the standard opening speech he delivers to all of his classes:

“Good morning. I’m Professor Herb Smith. Over this semester, I will work very hard for each and every one of you. I don’t have any students to waste, and if you experience difficulty in any assignment, reading, or lecture, I need to know. I’m here for you and I expect you to be here — not for me, but for yourself.”