Dr. Heather Smith, Professor in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, is the 2014 recipient of the Provost’s Faculty Award for Community Engagement. Established in 2012, the award honors a tenured faculty member whose teaching, research and service embodies the University’s commitment to civic involvement and whose work strengthens the relationship between UNC Charlotte and the larger community.
In the 15 years since joining the UNC Charlotte community, Smith has built an integrated teaching research and service profile that places community engagement at its core. Her research explores how immigrants navigate new lives in new gateway locations, and how receiving communities respond to the needs, expectations and cultural diversity foreign born migrants bring. Her engaged work in the Charlotte community focuses on the rapidly growing Latino immigrant population and challenges of inclusivity and access. For Smith, the research partnerships she establishes embrace trans-disciplinary and cross-institutional learning in a way that fosters sustained commitment to growth, innovation, and the public good.
In 2005, Smith took on the role of primary investigator for the Mecklenburg County Latino Community Needs Assessment. The study revealed healthcare provision as a critical service gap, and it brought together the University, healthcare providers and researchers, Latino advocates, and community members to improve and expand healthcare opportunities for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County’s most disadvantaged Latino residents.
This work strengthened her partnership with Dr. Michael Dulin, vice chair and director of research in the Department of Family Medicine at Carolinas Healthcare System. Smith and Dulin are co-founders of the Mecklenburg Area Partnership for Primary Care Research (MAPPR), a collaborative research and outreach partnership that works to improve healthcare access and outcomes among immigrant and other underserved populations. Smith oversees the partnership’s community-based qualitative and participatory work. Under her guidance, MAPPR’s extensive partnerships now include physicians and staff at the Department of Family Medicine, Carolinas Healthcare System; faculty and graduate students from UNC Charlotte; the Latin American Coalition, and other community-based advocates and direct service providers.
Over the years, Smith has collaborated with the Levine Museum of the New South to develop the Newcomer exhibit, the Speaking of Change program, and the Latino New South Innovation Lab team; programs designed to strengthened the museum’s mission to shape Charlotte’s understanding of immigration and multiculturalism in inclusive ways. In partnering with the museum, Smith provided counsel about the conducting of research for and with the Latino community rather than just about them.
“Dr. Smith demonstrates that good scholarship does not have to take place in an ivory tower,” says Claire Schuch, a current doctoral student in the geography program. “I have learned much from her about building partnerships, establishing trust, and empowering community members in the research process.”
According to Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Joan Lorden, “Heather’s brand of community engagement includes building meaningful community partnerships, deepening research, teaching and service integration, and generating mutually reinforcing good.” Smith is the director of master's and doctoral programs in Geography, director of the Minor in Urban Studies, and Faculty Research Associate at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.