Doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching
College of Education
Kim Smith is a doctoral student in reading education and she previously earned a Master of Education at Auburn. Smith has worked in Africa over the past 10 years conducting teacher training in South Africa, Malawi, Kenya and now Sénégal. She also has worked on school projects in Iraq and studied language skills in France. Smith is currently working in Sénégal through the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program, which provides grants to colleges and universities to fund research projects of individual doctoral students in modern foreign languages and area studies.
1. What brought you to Auburn for your doctoral work?
I grew up in L.A. – lower Alabama – in Brewton, where my parents, who have been incredibly supportive in this whole process, still live. I am pursuing a doctorate in reading education as I believe strong literacy skills are essential in providing students with the base to learn in all subject areas.
I was made aware that completing the doctoral process gives me broader experience and credentials to further assist the people with whom I have been working over the last several years. In addition, it gives me the potential to make a contribution on a wider scale. Having participated in the Master of Education program at Auburn, I had learned so much from Edna Brabham, my committee chair, and Bruce Murray, committee member, and I knew I wanted to be better equipped to aid educators dealing with second language learners. I am so grateful for the wide range of support and encouragement I have received in my time at Auburn. Without the Auburn family, there would be no way this exciting project would be possible.
2. What motivated you to explore the Fulbright-Hays fellowship program?
Searching for a way to bring needed resources to an area of Africa in which I have been working for a number of years, I investigated several potential grants. Because I am examining the oral language development of young second language learners in French, this project has unusual parameters. I am very grateful to Dr. Royrickers Cook of University Outreach who recognized the potential benefit of this type of project in assisting West African schools and communities and its prospective implication in addressing learners' needs in other cultural contexts as well. In addition to providing many wonderful books and resources for these schools, University Outreach's initial support of the project has given me the opportunity to design solid instruments and the confidence to pursue additional sources of funding. The Fulbright-Hays grant supports language research in developing countries, so its guidelines matched well with the scope of this project. It is a great honor to be a part of a University Outreach project and to receive the Fulbright-Hays award on the behalf of Auburn University. This opportunity is allowing me to extend my collaboration with West African schools with which I have been partnering over the course of the last seven years.
3. Can you describe the research you're doing?
Sénégal is not unlike many countries around the world where young children speak one language at home, but arrive at school having to learn to read and write in a formal language that is not their mother tongue. I am working with local educators to evaluate oral vocabulary development in French and Wolof, the local Sénégalo-Guinéen language, in order to help promote French literacy skills needed for potential academic and economic success. We are evaluating the efficacy of using different types of shared storybook readers in promoting the acquisition of novel French vocabulary.
4. How has this fellowship helped you pursue your educational and professional goals?
My desire is to bring to bear effectual instruments and pedagogical practices that can be of aid to educators who are working with children in complex second language settings. I have a heart for impoverished contexts, especially the developing world, where there is little access to needed resources, often not even water or electricity.
In addition, I enjoy mentoring young scholars in developing a more expansive worldview. I believe this helps prepare university graduates to effectively engage their world and to have a positive influence in our modern society, which now is more interconnected globally than ever.
Being a Fulbright Fellow has given me the wonderful privilege of interacting with international professionals on a much broader scale. Links with the U.S. Embassy and opportunities to dialogue with a range of development workers have afforded me a larger view of educational work from a global development perspective as well as allowed me to participate in teacher training on a national level in Sénégal.
5. What have been some of your best experiences during your time in Sénégal?
I have been greatly enriched by friendships and partnerships with people from a variety of cultural contexts. I have been compelled by the needs that are present in developing areas of the world, Africa in particular, which has some of the world's starkest inequalities in access to education. If I can be of the smallest bit of service by offering what has been entrusted to me by God's grace in order to assist the next generation in having an opportunity for a future and a hope, I am very content. Over the last several years I have seen how even small things can be of great aid.
I am currently working in neighborhoods where people with light skin are not often seen. I therefore have had to get accustomed to little children frequently crying out, "toubob" (white woman) as I walk or pass by on my beat-up Vespa. It did make me smile recently when I came up the road to one of the schools and heard the children call out with excitement in Wolof, "OUR toubob is here!"
The children have been a great joy. They are so vivacious and eager to learn. They are often content with the smallest of things and can find great joy in playing "rock" soccer in the corridor at recess. They really are lovely.
I was completely taken by surprise one day when I rolled up to the local scooter mechanic in the low-income neighborhood in which I am working. A new guy I had never met assisted me and I noted that there was something weirdly familiar about him – he was wearing an Auburn hat! It was great. He did not know what to make of my enthusiasm. What a War Eagle moment!