Polk State College Professor of Biology Lisa Smelser is making a difference both inside and outside the classroom, and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) recently presented her with the 2019 Dale P. Parnell Faculty Distinction Recognition in honor of her ability to provide students with exceptional education and opportunities.
She is one of 22 professors recognized nationally, and she is the only recipient from Florida.
“This is a huge honor and I am grateful to everyone at Polk State for being so supportive,” Smelser said. “This recognition isn’t about me, it’s about highlighting the strengths of the College, where everyone works so hard in the best interest of our students. This award tells me that we are on the right track.”
Smelser joined Polk State in 2013 after achieving a doctorate in Education in Science from Ball State University.
Her love for biology comes from her innate fascination with “knowing how things work.” She planned to go into pharmaceutical research after receiving a master’s degree in biotechnology but sought a career with more human interaction.
As a professor, Smelser fosters a classroom environment where interaction is encouraged and active learning is at the forefront of each lesson.
“Just because I stand at the front of the classroom and talk doesn’t mean the students are learning the information,” she explained. “I encourage my students to take ownership of their learning and to feel comfortable asking questions. I want them to build relationships and make connections in the classroom.”
Smelser succeeds at engaging students from all populations, including those enrolled in biology to fulfill general education requirements for their Associate in Arts degrees, and those taking anatomy and physiology who aspire to serve in healthcare fields.
She also teaches Polk State’s only discipline-specific SLS 1122 First-Year Seminar course. This First Year Experience class allows first-time-in-college students to learn about College resources and STEM careers.
Outside of the classroom, Smelser instills in students a passion for science through the STEM Club she was instrumental in launching on the Polk State Lakeland Campus in fall 2018. Through a partnership with the Winter Haven Campus STEM Club and the College’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program, Smelser provides students with STEM learning experiences, extracurricular activities, and mentorship.
“With biology as one of Polk State’s top 10 transfer intents for students, it’s important to provide STEM opportunities for our students that go beyond the classroom,” Smelser said. “In just a short period of time, the STEM Club has grown to 60 members, students have taken leadership roles, and they have participated in a handful of unique learning opportunities.”
The AACC awards faculty like Smelser with the Dale P. Parnell Faculty Distinction Recognition for demonstrating a passion for students in the classroom and the willingness to support students outside of the classroom to ensure success in their academic endeavors.
Additionally, the recognition requires inclination to participate in college committees. Smelser is an active member of Polk State’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) and STEM Pathways work groups in which she collaborates with her peers to develop student success initiatives.
“Dr. Smelser’s genuine care for students and investment in all areas of the College continues to positively impact students,” Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti said. “She is a prime example of the College’s ability to transform lives through the power of education, and I am extraordinarily proud of her on this well-deserved recognition by the AACC.”