Adam E. Smith Named 2020 Outstanding Engineering Faculty Member

Chemical, biomedical engineering associate professor receives top honor for teaching, research, service

Adam E. Smith, chair and associate professor of chemical engineering, is the recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Engineering Faculty Award at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Nathan J. Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Each year, the University of Mississippi School of Engineering and Ole Miss Alumni Association select and recognize one outstanding engineering faculty member, based on the overall performance of teaching, research and service. The highest honor the engineering school presents to its faculty is the Outstanding Engineering Faculty Award.

The award this year went to Adam E. Smith, chair and associate professor of chemical engineering, academic director of general engineering and associate professor of biomedical engineering.

“To receive this recognition from my colleagues is affirming and encouraging,” Smith said. “As an alumnus of the Ole Miss School of Engineering, I love being able to contribute to the education of the next generation of Ole Miss alumni and seeing the amazing things they do after they leave Oxford.”

A native of Memphis, Smith attended Ole Miss and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 2002 and a master’s degree in 2004. He later received a Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2010.

“Though I did not always appreciate it at the time, the professors that taught me during my time at Ole Miss poured their heart and soul into helping each student achieve their full potential,” said Smith, who joined the UM faculty fall 2012. “I hope that my students will be able to look back and think the same of me.”

Smith has memberships in the American Chemical Society, American Institute of Chemical Engineers and American Society of Engineering Education. Much of his research focuses on developing novel materials for applications in drug and gene delivery.

Adam Smith helps a student work a chemical equation on the board in one of his classes. Submitted photo

“This research relies on pooling expertise in materials science, chemistry and biology to develop and implement a research plan to address specific challenges encountered when trying to selectively deliver therapeutics in the human body,” Smith said.

He said he believes students learn by doing, not by being told what to do.

“Most of my classes utilize students working in teams to solve example problems after a brief introduction of a new topic,” he said. “When I started teaching, I learned very quickly that you have to understand a topic in order to effectively explain it to others.

“By utilizing teams to solve problems, students are provided an opportunity to explain what they know to others. This approach, along with having other students ask questions, helps to cement the learning.”

Smith credited colleagues Peter Sukanek and John O’Haver as having had a major influence on him professionally.

“Both these men challenged me as a student and mentored me when I joined Ole Miss as an assistant professor,” he said. “Dr. Sukanek’s tireless preparation for every class and his grasp of concepts well beyond the purview of his course demonstrated to me the need for a teacher to be able to help students connect the dots between the individual courses in a curriculum.

“Similarly, I am amazed by the way Dr. O’Haver is able to endear himself to students through empathy while at the same time pushing them to be better and do more than they imagine they could.”

Adam E. Smith enjoys family time with his wife, Deb, and their daughters: Zoey (left), Ryleigh and Addison. Photo by Joey Brent

Dave Puleo, dean of engineering, said Smith has been “an incredible asset.”

“Professor Smith exemplifies a well-rounded faculty member, balancing teaching, scholarly activity, service and administrative duties,” he said. “We are thankful for such outstanding faculty who focus on student success beyond just the classroom, such as in the research lab and even committee work.”

Smith’s students gave him rave reviews in their annual faculty evaluations this year, as well.

“Dr. Smith truly loves chemical engineering, and it shows in his lectures,” wrote one student. “His lectures are interesting, extremely informative and very helpful in learning the subject.”

Another student wrote, “Dr. Smith is very knowledgeable in the subject and enthusiastic. He cares about his students.”

Still another student wrote that Smith is an excellent professor whose teaching approach is different from other professors at Ole Miss.

“Due to his method, the class is more enjoyable and allows the students to have a fundamental understanding of the material in the class.”

Smith and his wife, Deb, have three daughters: Ryleigh, Addison and Zoey. He enjoys spending time with his family on bike rides, playing board games and walking their dog, Obi.