Geographer receives national award for mentoring students, colleagues

Heather A. Smith’s students and colleagues have long praised her generosity and inclusivity. For the exceptional way she mentors others, the UNC Charlotte geographer is the 2023 recipient of the Susan Hardwick Excellence in Mentoring Award from the American Association of Geographers.

“Dr. Smith’s professional interests and mentoring strengths have guided a generation of geography students in effective community engagement and in the ethical conduct of engaged research,” the association’s awards committee said. Smith was recognized for a commitment to providing more access, opportunity, attention, care, critical engagement and professional development than is considered typical in academia.

“Further,” the committee said, “she has provided students with the skills and resources they need to succeed as scholars and practitioners. She shows sustained interest in the continued growth, well-being, and success of current and former students and faculty colleagues. The far-reaching impacts of her style of mentorship are carried forward by her mentees into other spaces and places.”

Smith is a professor of geography and interim chair of the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. She also is incoming faculty director and current faculty fellow of the Levine Scholars Program, one place where she brings her focus on collaboration, service and leadership to efforts across campus and in the community.

“I am particularly honored to receive this kind of national recognition for mentoring, which is not always recognized formally in things like annual reviews or performance evaluations,” Smith said. ‘Mentoring awards like this one from the American Association of Geographers, and others I have received from my department and University, uplift and highlight mentoring’s importance in our professional practice as professors and administrators.”

The Hardwick Award is given annually to an individual geographer, group or department who has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in building supportive academic and professional environments in their departments, associations and institutions and guiding the academic and or professional growth of their students and junior colleagues.

AAG also awarded Charlotte alumnus Michael Desjardins ’16 M.A. ’19 Ph.D. a 2023 research grant. Desjardins is an assistant scientist/research professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University’s Spatial Science for Public Health Center, which is part of the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Smith, Desjardins and other AAG awardees will be recognized during the organization’s annual meeting, later this month.

Read more on the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences website.