Women to Watch at UA Little Rock 2022: Molly Smith

Molly Smith

In celebration of Women’s History Month, UA Little Rock is profiling women in leadership positions who are making a difference at the university and in the community.

The next Woman to Watch at UA Little Rock of 2022 is Dr. Molly Smith, assistant professor of criminal justice in the School of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I’m originally from Houston, Texas, although I lived overseas in Australia for a few years while I was growing up. My family has always been super tight-knit and supportive, and I’m grateful for the fact that we still talk almost every day. I received my B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where I discovered a passion for teaching, research, and working with student groups. Even though I’m a proud Texan, I absolutely love living in Little Rock! There’s such a great variety of things to do here, from outdoor activities to places to eat or meet up with friends.

What is your current position and professional duties at UA Little Rock?

I’m currently an assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice and Criminology (SCJC). I teach a variety of classes in our undergraduate and graduate programs, but my favorite is Introduction to Criminal Justice because I get to introduce undergraduate students from a variety of majors to the range of opportunities that come with getting a degree in criminal justice.

My research focuses primarily on human trafficking, sexual victimization, and correctional healthcare. I’ve published several articles in peer-reviewed journals over the years, including “Criminology,” “Journal of Interpersonal Violence,” and “Journal of Correctional Health Care.” Many of these publications were with graduate students.

I’m very passionate about student mentorship, and I’m fortunate that my position at UA Little Rock affords me the opportunity to work with both them and undergraduate students on research projects. Several of my undergraduate students have additionally won competitive state-wide Student Undergraduate Research Fellowships from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, allowing them to present the findings of their research at national conferences.

In addition to research and teaching, I also am very involved with the Southwestern Association of Criminal Justice (SWACJ), which is our regional criminal justice organization. I’ve served on SWACJ’s Executive Board for four years, currently as both the First Vice President and Communications Liaison. In 2023, which will be my presidential year, I will be hosting our organization’s annual meeting here in Little Rock, and I’m really excited to show all my SWACJ colleagues everything our city has to offer!

What brought you to UA Little Rock?

When I graduated with my Ph.D. I really wanted to join a department that emphasized a balance between teaching, research, and service. I honestly didn’t know much about UA Little Rock before I applied, but the more I learned, the more excited I got about potentially working here.

I really enjoy the fact that the small class sizes at UA Little Rock give me the opportunity to get to know my students better and develop one-on-one connections. The variety of degree programs offered in SCJC, from an associate degree to a Ph.D., means that I also get to work with students in all stages of their academic careers. As the flagship criminal justice program in the state, our school furthermore has amazing connections with government and local agencies, allowing us to work alongside stakeholders to effect real change in the criminal justice system.

You’re involved in some exciting criminal justice research initiatives. Can you tell us more about your projects?

I’m working on a lot of exciting research projects right now! I just published an article in the “Journal of Correctional Health Care” concerning how correctional medicine contracting structures were related to the rates of reported COVID-19 diagnoses and deaths within correctional systems across the United States. This was a joint effort with Dr. Marc Glidden, who graduated with his Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from UA Little Rock in 2019, and is the first in a line of research that I have been working on concerning the disproportionate impact of the pandemic within correctional facilities.

I’m also thrilled to be working on a comprehensive evaluation of culture and climate within the Arkansas Department of Corrections, spearheaded by SCJC’s Dr. Mary Parker. This team effort also includes Dr. Bob Lytle and Cassidy Mitchell, one of our Ph.D. students. Over the next few years we will be surveying and holding focus groups with ADC inmates, their friends/family, staff, and volunteers to gain valuable insight that will be used to shape the future of corrections in Arkansas.

Working with graduate students on research is extremely important to me, and I’m very happy that my position at UA Little Rock affords me the opportunity to do this. Some of these projects include an examination of Black Muslims’ perceptions of police interactions and defunding with SCJC Ph.D. student Arsala Khan, and an analysis of the differences in sexual intimate partner violence perpetration according to sexual orientation with SCJC Ph.D. student Cassidy Mitchell.

What woman has inspired you the most and why?

I have always been fortunate to be surrounded by strong women, many of which have broken through gender barriers to reach great success. I would be remiss if I only mentioned one, as there are two that have truly inspired me to become the woman that I am today.

First and foremost, my mother has always been a massive part of my life and one of my biggest champions. She had a thriving career as a mechanical engineer in the 1970s and 1980s, something that was relatively uncommon then, yet she chose to stay home and take care of my brother and I as we were growing up. Her sacrifice and dedication towards our personal development and fulfillment is something that has always been very inspiring to me, as it shows the true range of capabilities that we women have and the impact that we can have on others’ lives.

The second person is Vicki Hollub. “Aunt Vicki,” as I like to call her, is one of my extremely close family friends and the very first female CEO of a major oil company. Like my mother, she rose through the ranks of a highly male-dominated field to achieve great success – not because she was a woman, but because of her intellect, wit, and passion for her career. She’s ranked on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list and regularly meets with the U.S. President, foreign heads of state, and other Fortune 500 CEOs; yet you would never know it if you met her. She is one of the friendliest, humblest, and most hardworking people I have ever known. It is these qualities that I want to be known for and inspire in other women as well – not just a passion for success, but also humility, compassion, and generosity.

How have you adapted to working in a world with COVID-19?

I think that the COVID-19 pandemic is going to have lasting implications within higher education. In particular, there has been a huge shift towards online course delivery and the implementation of new technologies in the classroom. While there has definitely been a learning curve involved in this, I think the payoff is absolutely going to be worth it. College education is now significantly more accessible than it has been in the past, and there’s a continuing push towards incorporating more student-friendly strategies in the classroom.

One thing I’ve really learned in the past few years is the importance of self-care. The pandemic has been stressful for everyone, and it’s critical to remember to look out for our own well-being. For me, this has meant focusing on things that make me feel fulfilled in my personal life, such as yoga, spending time with family, keeping in touch with friends, and hobbies. I’ll admit that it’s been a struggle to incorporate wellness into my everyday routine, but this has truly centered me and made it easier to stay productive and focused while I’m fulfilling my professional duties.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

Never apologize for being a strong and powerful woman. Generations of women fought tooth and nail for our ability to have a voice, so it’s important that we honor their struggle by using ours to better ourselves and the world.

I also believe it is important to lift other women up and help them achieve their goals, no matter if those are to be a successful businesswoman, career academic, homemaker, mother, or any combination of the above. Women are capable of so much, and while achieving our own personal success is undoubtedly fulfilling, it pales in comparison to helping others achieve theirs.

Name something about yourself that most people would be surprised to learn.

I am absolutely TERRIBLE at math. I lived overseas in Australia for a few years while I was growing up, and I temporarily skipped a few grades due to the shift from an American school calendar (August-May) to year-round schooling (January-December). Because of this, I never formally learned how to do basic multiplication or division, which has always been funny since both of my parents were engineers and my brother is now a plastic surgeon. They’re all great at math, and one of their favorite ways of joking around with me is to ask me a basic multiplication question, such as “what is 6 x 8,” because I usually don’t know the answer. I guess the joke’s on them though, because I do a lot of math when running statistical analyses these days – granted, my trusty phone calculator is always by my side.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

“I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.” – Estee Lauder

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