The Power of Empowerment: Awakening Hopeful Inquiry

Dr. Korydon Smith with a student.

By JESSICA SCATES

Published March 26, 2019

“For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” 
― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Although Dr. Smith is quick to brush off any accolades for the work he has accomplished, we are all deeply indebted to him for the time, energy, and thought he devoted to CGHE.

Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education that considers students not as containers that must be filled with knowledge, but as actors who must engage with and question the systems around them in order to create knowledge. Teaching, therefore, becomes a political act – an awakening of the critical consciousness of students so that they can work toward a socially just world.

For Dr. Korydon Smith, professor and chair of architecture at the University at Buffalo (UB), this type of teaching leads to “durable” learning. His method? As much as possible, put the students in charge. Littered with colorful post-it notes and flip charts; groups of students working in teams; short, interactive presentations; and lots of peer critique – his learning spaces do not look like traditional classrooms.

It is fitting that Dr. Smith believes when he puts the student in charge she learns the most. Growing up in rural New York, he came from a family of makers. At the age of eight, he helped to build his family home from the ground up. His first job: stacking concrete blocks. These experiences resulted in his hands on way of thinking about and learning from the world. It also combined with an interest in math, science, and art, skills that helped him to achieve undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture at UB.

After receiving a Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) from UB, he accepted a teaching position at the University of Arkansas. There, his teaching evolved – he taught first-year undergraduates to advanced students, everything from lighting and furniture design to research methods and architectural theory. He also sought to improve the quality of his teaching craft and earned an Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership, and, along the way, has earned 7 awards for outstanding teaching.

Dr. Smith’s philosophy of education – in short, empowering the student – is evident in his research and service, most of which is community-led. At the University at Arkansas, in collaboration with state officials, he led a multi-year project to increase the quality of state-subsidized housing through both policy change and designing single- and multi-family prototypes. The work entailed town-hall meetings with diverse stakeholders from every county. It was the first of many projects Dr. Smith has led in the field of inclusive design, or how architectural design accommodates different bodies, minds, cultures, and worldviews.

When asked how his research evolved throughout the years, he quickly suggests he has taken advantage of happenstance. His natural curiosity about the commonalities that exist between otherwise remote phenomena – how we can use one problem and solution to address another problem and solution – has led him to lead projects in community-led housing design in Kigali, Rwanda, sustainable design in Costa Rica, informal settlements in Mexico and India, and shelter design for refugees in Uganda. His emphasis on empowerment – for the individual and the community – are at the heart of his work locally, but also globally.

As Co-Director of the Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity since 2015, Dr. Smith helped to knit together a community of nearly 100 scholars and educators as well as 700 interested, engaged students. While in his post, Dr. Smith shepherded all CGHE global health education initiatives including the creation of the annual Global Innovation Challenge, academic program proposals in global health, a multidisciplinary textbook in Global Health (Springer; 2019), and funding proposals to bring innovative curriculum to UB students.

In March 2019, Dr. Smith stepped down as Co-Director for CGHE. Although Dr. Smith is quick to brush off any accolades for the work he has accomplished, we are all deeply indebted to him for the time, energy, and thought he devoted to CGHE. Thank you, Kory, for your constancy, your drive to do all things well, and for your continued focus on empowering all students, young and old, to pursue hopeful inquiry in the world, with the world, and with each other.