March 20, 2018

Deborah J. Smith Receives Excellence in Mentoring Award

Deborah Smith, center, is flanked by Officer in Charge Mitch Nesler, and last year's winner, Anant Deshpande.

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – March 22, 2018) Deborah J. Smith, Ed.D, a professor in Human Services/Health Services at SUNY Empire State College, received the Empire State College Foundation Award for Excellence in Mentoring. The award was given at All College 2018 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

“I sincerely applaud Deborah Smith for her outstanding work among our students, both in the U.S. and abroad,” said Vice President for Advancement Walter Williams. “She has proven why the college is noted for its signature mentoring by its professors, often working one to-one with our nontraditional students, giving them personal attention, no matter their level of prior knowledge or experience.”

“As always, it is a surprise and a delight to be recognized by the college for all the diverse, hard work that mentoring entails,” said Smith.  “I am honored by this award and grateful to the foundation.”

Deborah Smith was lauded for being a mentor both to students and other mentors, and for her dedication to mentoring. She has mentored students in online and residency programs in all areas of study. She has also mentored internationally at SUNY Empire in some hot zones in the Middle East and in Europe through the college’s International Distance Learning online program, beginning in 2015. This included special cases such as international students seeking degrees by specific dates; students needing special accommodation or expedited consideration of degree plans, credit and completion, and students sponsored by other academic funders and located in situations that required constant monitoring for accessibility.

Smith mentored traditional-age students in SUNY Empire State College’s Lebanon Residency Program and continued mentoring support throughout the 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Working in cooperation with the University at Albany, she also was an instructor and mentor for the summer residency in Cyprus and mentored 12 special assignment students from Iran unable to leave the country due to religious or political circumstances, including work with multiple security restraints on communication, course access and resources. She worked with University at Albany funders to challenge a visa denial for the last Iranian student in the group, now living in Canada. With SUNY Empire’s help and advocacy, that student ultimately obtained a visa from his new home in Toronto to enter the U.S. and attend SUNY Empire graduation ceremonies.

Smith also is well-known for her travel writing, and, according to her colleague, Susan Oaks, Ph.D., Smith has broadened their knowledge of global issues. Oaks said that Smith “is always available to listen, respond, and offer questions and insights to help students move forward.”

About the Foundation Award for Excellence in Mentoring

The criteria for the award include superb performance as a mentor, encompassing the areas of teaching, student advising, scholarship, and service to the college.  There must be evidence of flexible instructional policy, mastery of teaching methods, and the ability to work with students from a variety of backgrounds and academic preparations, and to involve students in degree program design.  The mentor must be a broad-gauged scholar who is current in his or her field, who uses relevant contemporary data in teaching, sets high standards for students, and actively helps students attain academic excellence. In evaluating student work, the mentor demonstrates an ability to be critical and fair, and places greater weight on the student's final level of competence than on performance at the beginning of study. 

About SUNY Empire State College

Empire State College, the nontraditional, open college of the SUNY system, educates nearly 18,000 students worldwide at eight international sites, more than 30 locations in the state of New York, online, as well as face to face and through a blend of both, at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree levels.

The average age of an undergraduate student at the college is 35, and graduate students’ average age is 40.

Most Empire State College students are working adults. Many are raising families and meeting civic commitments in the communities where they live, while studying part time.

In addition to awarding credit for prior college-level learning, the college pairs each undergraduate student with a faculty mentor who supports that student throughout his or her college career.

Working with their mentors, students design an individual degree program and engage in guided independent study and course work onsite, online or through a combination of both, which provides the flexibility for students to choose where, when and how to learn.

The college’s 78,000 alumni are active in their communities as entrepreneurs, politicians, business professionals, artists, nonprofit agency employees, teachers, veterans and active military, union members and more.

The college was first established in 1971 by the SUNY Board of Trustees with the encouragement of the late Ernest L. Boyer, chancellor of the SUNY system from 1970 to 1977.

Boyer also served as United States commissioner of education during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, and then as president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 

More information about the college is available at