Career Paths, Interests Converge, Lead to National Recognition for APUS Professor
Today, American Public University System professor Jim Smith is a nationally recognized researcher in the field of airports and emergency management. He began his professional career 40 years ago, “wanting to be the next Jacques Cousteau.” He credits APUS with bringing together his professional experience and interests – and providing a new professional outlet.
“Teaching online has provided huge satisfaction for me,” he says. He compares it to the Southern Louisiana word “lagniappe” or unexpected gift. In addition to teaching, he conducts APUS-funded research that is among the first of its kind. He recently presented his 2009 findings before the Transportation Research Board (TRB).
“TRB is the pinnacle,” says Smith. “Its publication of my research and proposed solutions will ultimately help airports be better prepared for emergencies.”
Smith began his professional journey in North Carolina. He has a great interest in science and the ocean, which led to a bachelor’s degree in zoology and chemistry. He completed his Master’s in Oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He then entered the Navy, where he served as a precision cartographer during the Vietnam War.
After his service, he again studied at Scripps and completed other graduate courses in engineering, becoming a professional engineer in 1990. Smith remained in the Navy Reserve for 24 years and earned a diploma in strategy and policy through correspondence courses with the Naval War College. He earned his doctorate in environmental design and planning from Virginia Tech in 1995.
Smith has had a long professional career, holding city, county and state positions in coastal planning, water quality, regulatory compliance and more. He also has led his own consulting firm since 2002. Despite professional success, Smith says a turning point came in 1999 when a Reserve colleague connected him with APUS. APUS asked him to develop an oceanography curriculum for the university.
In 2005 Smith began teaching emergency and disaster management courses for APUS. While teaching and interacting with students, who are often professionals in the field, Smith uncovered a national issue: a tremendous gap in how airports cooperate during times of disaster.
“Airports have always been taken for granted, that they would do what was necessary during times of emergency,” says Smith. “Hurricane Katrina proved that was wrong.”
APUS funded research into the issue in 2007, 2008 and 2009. He will continue his research in 2010. Smith posted findings during the research at www.airportstudy2009.com. Participants reviewed the information and provided ongoing feedback.
“This approach was far more interactive than most research. However, we were looking at an entirely new area, so needed that transparency to gather the best data and sustain expert validity,” he says.
Keys to professional success
Smith’s accomplishments are extensive, including 20 published research papers and service on national committees for the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Association of Airport Executives, and the International Association of Emergency Managers. Smith says his success is based on focus and time management, not multi-tasking.
“I’ve learned how to interrupt work when I need to, make a note and then go back to it,” he says. He shares this philosophy in the “College 100” course he teaches.
“Everybody has his or her own natural rhythm for work, studying and life,” he says. “I help my students manage their impatience and funnel it into motivation.”
He says teaching this introductory course has been among his most enjoyable professional experiences. He greatly enjoys the interaction with adult students and showing them the possibilities of online learning.
“APUS delivers online learning so much better than anyone else,” he says.