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Teaching outside the classroom

Scott Smith earned a master’s degree in creative writing and literature from Kansas State University. (Photo/Nathan Carter)

Associate Professor Scott Smith enjoys being a part of The Writing Program at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. However, it’s the opportunity to teach the students he lives among that really inspires him.

A resident faculty member at Hillview Apartments for graduate students, Smith has loved the last nine years spent in student housing.

“It’s essentially a mentoring position where we’re showing students the city and engaging students on an intellectual level outside the classroom,” explained Smith, who spent his first two years in student housing as a resident faculty member at Trojan Hall. “So we’ll do programs that are educational and intellectually stimulating but in a more casual, informal environment.”

Smith, whose primary responsibility is to create programs for the residents, said he favors exploring new restaurants, going to a local silent movie theater and teaching students how to navigate downtown Los Angeles.

He also plans activities in the complex, including dinner in his apartment or workshops on job-interviewing techniques.

“My favorite aspect is that there is no grade,” said Smith, a native of Ohio who taught creative writing while pursuing a PhD in American literature at Kent State University. “It’s doing both the intellectual part and some social stuff as well so that they get a little more acclimated to the city.”

Though he’s never short on ideas for programs, Smith said it’s an ongoing challenge to get more students to participate.

“You plan something and think it’s going to be a big hit, and two people show up,” he said. “But then I did one event where we went to the Pantry at midnight during finals week just to eat, and there were 38 people there, so we had half the restaurant.

“The secondary part of that challenge is disconnecting yourself from the results,” he added. “If you get too wrapped up into why isn’t this working, it gets discouraging. You just have to keep planning things.”

Residence Coordinator Alaina Jackson described Smith as a 21st-century Renaissance man who is well versed in literature, music, film, politics, sports and pop culture.

“What is amazing about working with Scott is that he is just as interested in learning about his residents’ experiences and perspectives as he is in sharing his own,” Jackson said. “It is this aspect of Scott’s character that takes his role and presence in our residential community from being simply interesting to being accessible.”

Though living on or near campus has been convenient, disconnecting from work has not been so easy.

When Smith lived on campus in Trojan Hall, he found very little reason to leave since the gym, restaurants, mailing services and pretty much anything else he needed was at his fingertips.

“The big difference for me is that I’m not living among my peers, so strangely enough this has enhanced my social life because I end up going to see friends more often since I don’t see people my own age when I come home from work.”

Teaching outside the classroom

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