Sandra Smeltzer honoured for humanitarian work and research

Sandra SmeltzerAssociate Professor Sandra Smeltzer possesses a sense of purpose and direction that many other people would probably envy.

“The first time I travelled to a developing country, I knew that, in some capacity, development would be my life’s work,” she says.

Smeltzer has spent her career thus far making good on that statement, and now she has been recognized for her work and dedication by winning a 2011 Western Humanitarian Award (WHA).

As is suggested by its name, the WHA was established to highlight faculty, staff and students involved in humanitarian work. Smeltzer’s broad range of research revolves around international and public interest issues. This includes research into information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D); she studies the use of alternative media such as blogs and social networking by civil society in Southeast Asia, the ethics of development, the ethics of activist research and the implications of free trade agreements for marginalized communities.

“At its core, I believe that humanitarianism is based on a concern for the welfare of others and that it is my duty to promote and support this ethos in both principle and practice,” she says. “To this end, my teaching, research and community service all aim to improve the quality of life of citizens both at home and abroad; I am dedicated to issues of equity, justice, democracy and citizenship.”

Smeltzer is similarly dedicated to the maturation and growth of her students, both undergraduate and graduate. Along with teaching a range of internationally focused courses, she organizes internships and practicum placements for her students with non-governmental, non-profit and community-based organizations. She explains the purpose of these placements is two-fold: to provide organizations with additional support for their activities, and to give students practical experience that will complement their theoretical training.

“I have also brought graduate students into the ‘field’ with me as research assistants. These students gain valuable hands-on experience living and working in an international context, as well as ethnographic and interviewing experience,” she says.

Media Studies PhD candidate Vincent Manzerolle has been Smeltzer’s student for about five years, and he has a solid grasp on what she’s able to bring to her work and her students.

“Sandy brings an incredible amount of passion and dedication to anything she works on, including supervising graduate students,” he explains. “While her own research often focuses on Southeast Asia, she has a breadth of knowledge and expertise that can flexibly be used to supervise a wide range of topics.”

Manzerolle goes on to explain that Smeltzer’s dedication and attention to all aspects of academia make her a great role model for students.

“As I mentioned, she has an incredible dedication to this profession, demonstrating to everyone what academic life is all about; that is, it’s not about isolated research in the ivory tower, but rather a process of engagement with students, colleagues and the community at large, whether national or global.”

In the future, Smeltzer says her scholarly research will continue to focus on producing academic material related to ICT4D, ethical issues around development and activist research and the relationship between communication research and social justice. She also plans to continue providing experiential learning opportunities for her students through internships and practicum placements.

As for winning a WHA, Smeltzer points out it’s not only an indication of the worth of her own work, but it also reflects well on the values of the university.

“Simply put, the Western Humanitarian Award is a tremendous honour. I am so very pleased that Western is at the forefront of universities in Canada to recognize these types of humanitarian-oriented endeavours that are not traditionally considered part of our faculty portfolios,” she says. “The award also raises the profile of the research I believe in and the causes I support in the wider Western and London community.”

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