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Featured Faculty: Smith Wins National Award

Dr. Allegra Smith, originally from South Lyon, Michigan, is an assistant professor of professional writing with a B.A. in Professional Writing as well as Women’s and Gender Studies from Michigan State University, an M.A. in Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing from Michigan State University, and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition from Purdue University.

Smith was recently recognized with a national award: the distinguished Hugh Burns Dissertation Award. Smith’s dissertation is titled “Digital Age: A Study of Older Adults’ User Experiences with Technology.” Through interviews, observations, and structured task analyses, Smith researched how individuals falling under the 75+ age range living in a retirement community used technology in order to find issues they faced during their technological endeavors.

“I am passionate about working with older adults because they are a population that is often ignored in technology research or stereotyped as technophobic or tech-illiterate,” she said.

By helping create new forms of technology and educational materials suitable for them, Smith is addressing her goal is to empower them with confidence in their technology skills, so they can experience all that digital life has to offer.

The Hugh Burns Dissertation Award is named after Dr. Hugh Burns, who is credited for writing the first dissertation on computers and composition in 1979. This annual award goes to the best dissertation on the subjects of computers and writing.

“Dr. Kris Blair, editor of the Computers & Composition journal, wrote of my work that ‘Dr. Smith’s study of older adults’ computing practices is an exemplar of engaging, compelling, and significant research. The study comprises outstanding depth of methodological and analytical work, and Dr. Smith’s engagement with participants demonstrates care for their well-being and excellent attention to ethical research practices. Given how much critical literacy abilities have mattered politically and socially in recent years, this study explores technology use among an important and understudied population. Dr. Smith’s work will engage the field in meaningful learning and reflection on the values of older adults’ participation in digital spaces and with digital tools.’”

In her second year at JSU, Smith is teaching Speech, Technical Writing, and Writing for Social Media. She says her favorite is Writing for Social Media because she has the opportunity to teach students, who are often active consumers of social media content, the research and strategy behind building a brand–something often overlooked. Smith was recently awarded a grant from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education to support work students in this course will undertake to help the state of Alabama with a social media campaign to encourage college students to stay in Alabama after they graduate.

One of Smith’s responsibilities in the English Department is coordinating the English Internship Program, which gives pre-professional experience to undergraduate students majoring or minoring in English. Last year, English majors interned with the Freshwater Land Trust, Houston Cole Library, Digital Media Services, Faculty Commons, a literary magazine, and more. The program helps students build their digital portfolios, practice interviewing, and better understand the wide variety of potential jobs for English majors.

“Mentoring English interns is the best experience because I get to see them grow their professional skillset,” stated Smith. “It is the best feeling to meet in the EH 491 class and hear students explaining to each other how they are putting into practice the skills that they have developed in English courses.”

When asked about her favorite part of the English Department as a whole, she credited the “impressive” “wealth of expertise in Stone Center.” As the largest department on campus, the English Department represents a wide range of skills and interests in the expertise of the faculty . According to Smith, there are “novelists, poets, grammar experts, actors, audiophiles, designers, comic enthusiasts, community organizers, athletes, podcasters, multi-lingual individuals, small business owners, coders, and most importantly, teachers and advocates for students.”

Currently, Smith plays a role in the leadership for a standing group of the Conference on College Composition and Communication that focuses on researching and building resources for online writing instruction. Smith believes online writing courses can be beneficial to students who need more accessible learning opportunities, “and I am passionate about making those learning experiences engaging and relevant,” she said.

In her spare time, Smith enjoys cross-stitching in her comfy chair with a cup of tea while watching a costume drama or playing Pokémon Go.

Smith advises students to think about their future and to build skills and relationships that will help them reach their long-term goals. She also advises students to keep their own needs in mind and take time for themselves, saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

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