For the past 32 years, Joseph D. “Joedy” Smith Jr. has devoted himself to guiding and inspiring Wagner students, as associate professor of religious studies and as faculty secretary for the honor society ODK.
Now, says the longtime resident of the nearby Grymes Hill Apartments, he is getting organized to figure out what comes next in retirement.
First of all, he had his books — about a thousand of them, he says — moved from his office in Parker Hall to a heated garage for storage.
But what he treasures most of all was his students and their accomplishments. Next to his phone sit copies of two papers by Sarah Nehm ’11. She followed in his footsteps to Yale Divinity School, which she received a full scholarship to attend.
“What makes Joedy Smith a great professor is that he takes a personal interest in students,” she says, noting that he fostered her pursuit of her academic interests, helped her get her first publication in the Wagner undergraduate journal, and recommended her for graduate school and scholarships. Nehm is in her third year of the M.Div. program at Yale, working toward ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Between 1965 and 1979, Smith earned two master’s degrees from Yale Divinity School, plus two more master’s degrees and a PhD in religious studies from Yale University. Specializing in Biblical studies, he also took courses in Greek and Hebrew at Princeton Theological Seminary, and spent two years studying at the Catholic University of Paris and the Sorbonne.
A Florida native, he went to college at Florida State University, with the intention of becoming a bridge designer. But his general education courses in history, philosophy, and religious studies redirected his course.
Dr. Smith gives credit to the many professors and scholars who influenced him, and he emulated them in his own work. “Faculty really are the ones who inspire the students in their careers and their choices,” he says.
In recent years, his favorite courses to teach were ones focused on women’s roles in the Bible, which proved to be an eye-opening experience for students.
“That’s really rewarding, when students really discover something, when they really are using the right sources, thinking intellectually, and being challenged that way, and they can take ownership of discovery of something,” he says.
He knew many students both from his classes and from ODK, a group that he helped to build up from the time he arrived on the Wagner campus. “The number of students in ODK when I came here was in single digits. And when I left, we had accomplished so many things,” he says. ODK conducted annual holiday drives to collect turkeys, toys, and canned food; by the time he stepped down as faculty secretary in 2006, they had provided more than 1,800 turkeys to needy families. Dr. Smith received a number of awards for his work with ODK, including the Robert L. Morlan National ODK Faculty Secretary Award. And, the Wagner ODK chapter received the organization’s top awards for five years running, from 2002 to 2006.
Regarding the discipline of Biblical studies, Dr. Smith encourages everyone to dig into the newer scholarship. “The study of Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, and the New Testament is constantly evolving and becoming more refined,” he says. “There are more manuscripts out there that we are getting a better and better understanding of.”
— Laura Barlament, Editor, Wagner Magazine | October 31, 2013
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