San Antonio’s Southside is home to a very special community of creators, hard workers, and people that inspire—many of whom are leaders across the Alamo city. Our Southside Makers and Shakers blog series celebrates Southsiders making their mark. Each addition to the series offers new insight into the community and the gente that make the Southside so unique.
In this blog, we interview Associate Professor of Molecular Microbiology at Texas A&M University – San Antonio, Dr. Davida Smyth.
Interview With Dr. Davida Smyth
Tell us about yourself.
I hail from Dublin, Ireland. I completed my studies at University of Dublin, Trinity College and journeyed to the United States to complete my research training. I love being a professor and working at Texas A&M University – San Antonio. I can combine my two favorite activities, teaching and research. I strive to give students what they need to be successful 21st-century citizens and scientists. I endeavor to be as inclusive as I can, leveraging the diversity of my students when I teach, often starting class with an analogy of how I adapted to living in the US just as bacteria adapt to the environment. I focus on engaging with students, getting to know them, their interests and what is driving them. I love to use humor and bring joy into my classroom.
I use project-based learning (PBL) and ePortfolios to connect with real-world issues and to improve student civic scientific literacy. In my classes and labs, students learn the content and practice the skills they need to be effective scientists with me in course-based research experiences including the “Microbiome of Urban Spaces” and “Tiny Earth TAMUSA.” They then join my research lab and work in teams on various projects including identifying microbes in wastewater, characterizing microbes in the air and on surfaces and finding beneficial microbes in our soils. Through these experiences, students understand that science can hold the answer to solving global challenges and that the students themselves can help, especially if they work together and “science” the problem!
Like many of my students, my parents did not attend college. I am acutely aware that any student, no matter their background or learning ability, has the potential to develop and mature as tomorrow’s scientist.
What inspired you to become an educator on San Antonio’s Southside, and what keeps you motivated to continue your work?
I was attracted to the mission of Texas A&M University – San Antonio, which reflects the diverse and heritage-rich community it serves. Our environment is inspirational. It supports learning while fostering social development using relevant scholarship, research and public service that promotes, supports and grows Southside San Antonio. The faculty aims to help our graduates be well-equipped with all the knowledge and transferable skills that will help them find rewarding careers. We all hope that they will become citizens of the world and continue learning throughout their lives. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your students being successful in the world, happy and content and making a difference. I love my work.
How important is collaboration and networking in your role as a scientist, and how have you actively fostered these connections to achieve your goals and make a difference in your field?
As scientists striving to make a difference, collaboration and networking are essential to our work, we cannot do it alone and we love leveraging the skills and talent of all those around us. We’re surrounded by many collegial and sharing colleagues, both here at A&M-SA and across San Antonio and all the way up to New Braunfels and San Marcos. We’re connected to many San Antonio organizations through our work and collaborations and we’re lucky to be working with several amazing scientists at San Antonio River Authority. Many of our connections and collaborations are catalyzed by our students and graduates who often go on to work in our community. We are all working to elevate and grow research and science in San Antonio that has a real impact on the people and communities. We want to give back. Come join us!
Looking to the future, what initiatives or projects are you most excited about, and how do you believe they will benefit our city and its residents?
I’m excited about the agreement between A&M-SA and University Health. VIDA is home to the future University Health Institute of Public Health, a hospital and many doctors and specialists offices, bringing healthcare to the doorstep of Texas A&M-San Antonio. This will catalyze public health and medical research and be a beacon of inspiration and hope to underserved southern Bexar County residents as well as those in South Texas. The opportunities for research and collaboration for our students and the faculty at A&M-SA are exciting and we cannot wait. I’ve longed for connections with clinical research and to be in a position to collaborate. This will lead to training and internship positions for our students that are just a stone’s throw from us. It’s going to be marvelous.
I’m also looking forward to our University’s partnership with the San Antonio River Authority to study and research the development of the Espada property which will provide unparalleled opportunities for education and research for A&M-SA students and K-12 students from across San Antonio in a unique and emerging “Living Lab.” We’ll be able to conduct longitudinal research into changes at the site at many different levels of scale from microbes to birds and do so over time. This will be incredible for our students and demonstrate the ways we can work alongside SARA to understand the remarkable diversity, and range of ecosystems on the Southside.
Lastly, I look forward to the growth and development of my home institution of A&M-SA. It has a bright and exciting future. I came here to help grow, expand and nurture the students and I know we will be in a great position to develop tomorrow’s educators, researchers and community leaders already, willing, skilled and dedicated to improve and elevate the beautiful Southside of San Antonio.
What makes the Southside unique compared to other parts of San Antonio?
The people, the plants, the soil. It is special. The students I meet everyday are so hard working, so driven, so ready to change the world. They inspire me. They want to contribute to their community and their homes. You feel that there is a resilience and grit on our Southside that you don’t feel elsewhere. I’ve loved being immersed in the culture which is strong here and as an Irish woman, it is fun every day to learn more about this lovely and lively city.
Where can folks find you and your work?
@profsmyth on twitter and instagram