Science trumps the stage for Erica

Published 11 January 2019

Every now and then UNE's "closet thespian", Dr Erica Smith, looks at acclaimed Australian actor Cate Blanchett and imagines what it would be like to command an international audience. But not for long.

"I wanted to be either an actor, an astronaut or an Olympic athlete, but I was also very good at mathematics at school," Erica says.

"The career prospects for acting were not so good, so I enrolled in science, thinking I would study mathematics. But I drifted into chemistry and that's where I found my true passion."

However, it was not always the perfect part.

"I failed chemistry in my second year because I didn't have the foundation knowledge and I lacked confidence. However, I think this has made me a better teacher because I have genuine empathy for students who might be struggling,” Erica said.

As well as amateur drama skills - which do come in handy - Erica brings to her lecturing role considerable practical experience.

After graduating from the University of Sydney she worked for Unilever in the United Kingdom as a research chemist, for chemical and healthcare businesses in Europe and Australia, and lectured at the Lone Star College in the United States.

Erica joined the staff at UNE in 2010, where active learning in classrooms and innovative online teaching sets UNE apart.

"We are the only institution in Australia where you can study a comprehensive chemistry major online, with the addition of some excellent intensive schools for hands-on laboratory experience," Erica says.

"For people with family responsibilities and jobs, that flexibility is key."

Her dedication has earned Erica national and international recognition. She has received an Australian Awards for University Teaching Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning, a UNE Excellence in Teaching Award, and she was the 2017 Royal Australian Chemical Institute Chemistry Educator of the Year.

She is also a Senior Fellow of the United Kingdom’s Higher Education Academy and is currently convenor of the School of Science and Technology Education Committee.

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