By actively engaging marginalized communities around the world, Sandra Smeltzer brings an international perspective to the classroom that transcends the traditional teaching experience and prepares students to lead as global citizens.
“I don’t think of the work I do as a job – rather, it is my life,” the Faculty of Information & Media Studies professor says. “As researchers and educators, we are rewarded by training entire classes of students who will step out into the world and make very tangible differences in the lives of others.”
Smeltzer’s research, teaching and personal commitment to others is bound by an overriding passion for social justice. “At its core, I believe humanitarianism is based on a concern for the welfare of others, and that it is my duty to promote and support this ethos in principle and in practice,” she says.
Carrying-out extensive research in Southeast Asia, Smeltzer is keenly interested in the ethics of development, implications of free trade agreements for marginalized communities and issues related to information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D).
Many of these efforts focus on civil society’s use of alternative media – including blogging and social networking – to circumvent media controls, which is an issue that has become particularly salient given the rapid pace of technological change and the role technology has played in recent revolutions in Egypt and the Middle East.
These research activities also provide unique learning opportunities for Smeltzer’s students in the media and the public interest program. As part of her broader commitment to international development, she has coordinated and supervised 15 student internships with a range of humanitarian, non-governmental and community-based organizations, primarily in Southeast Asia and East Africa.
Half of these students have partnered with Malaysia’s Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), a non-profit organization dedicated to defending marginalized communities and improving citizens’ ability to communicate. Gaining practical, on-the-ground experience, students have provided community radio training, organized advocacy campaigns, facilitated media workshops and participated in conferences that address issues related to poverty and inequity.
Other students have interned with the Western Heads East (WHE) project, which is the University community’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. “I think one of the most valuable lessons I learned from Sandy was to recognize that the best humanitarian act is to acknowledge another person’s humanity,” says Jackie Strecker, a former student and WHE intern.
Smeltzer has also coordinated more than 50 local practicum placements for her students with non-governmental, non-profit and community-based organizations ranging from the Humane Society and London Abused Women’s Centre to the Canadian Cancer Society and Unity Project for Relief and Homelessness in London.
“The goal of these placements is to provide local organizations with additional support for activities dedicated to improving the lives of a range of citizens, while also providing Western students with an opportunity to gain practical experience in the non-profit sector that complements their theoretical training in the classroom,” she says.
Smeltzer will use her $2,500 Western Humanitarian Award to fund two additional undergraduate student internships with CIJ and the Malaysian Popular Communications Centre for Human Rights.