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Associate Professor, Faculty of Information & Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario

By: Kate Robertson

On top of being a teacher that is well-liked by both students and faculty and a widely published academic, Sandra Smeltzer, PhD, also sets out to improve the lives of others far beyond the walls of the North Campus building at London’s University of Western Ontario.

An associate professor in the Faculty of Information & Media Studies and co-coordinator of the Media and the Public Interest Program, Dr. Smeltzer puts her background in anthropology, international development and the political economy of media to good use in her research on communication in developing nations and those in transition, and how IT and communications technology is used for social justice objectives.

Having already received over 10 awards for her work, this year Dr. Smeltzer was honoured with the University’s Humanitarian Award. The award goes to faculty, staff and students at the school who are dedicated to making life better for people or communities internationally.

The award is well deserved. Currently, Dr. Smeltzer is completing a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She is examining how internet technologies, such as Twitter, are used for political purposes in Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia. She has also published research on the topics of surveillance, non-governmental organization work in East Africa, and information and communications technology for development, the ethics of activist research, alternative media, surveillance and knowledge workers.

A good bulk of Dr. Smeltzer’s doctoral research for her PhD in Communication at Carleton University was conducted in Malaysia, where she studied how electronic information and media has affected development in the country. She also completed a masters of arts degree in anthropology at Carleton, during which she travelled to the University in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania for six months to study the transition from public to privately-owned television in the country.

Back in London, Ontario, Dr. Smeltzer teaches courses in Information and Communication Technologies for Development, Alternative Media, Development Communication, and the Political Economy of Communication. In all of her classes, she encourages her students to see the world any way they can, whether it’s through volunteer work, education or paid opportunities. Dr. Smeltzer emphasizes the importance of the interconnectedness of international communities and being a global citizen. She has sat on 37 boards and committees including the Canadian Communication Association, Scholars at Risk, the Canadian Journal of Media Studies and Western Heads East, an HIV/AIDS research and development project in East Africa, focussed on social justice issues.

One of the ways Dr. Smeltzer encourages this global participation is by organizing internships in Asia and East Africa for Western students. Some students have worked with the Centre for International Journalism in Malaysia to improve citizen communication, while others have worked with Western Heads East, a UWO organization that was formed in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. In doing so, Dr. Smeltzer not only provides students with invaluable global experience, but also provides additional support to organizations doing important work abroad. Closer to home, Dr. Smeltzer has partnered students with the London Abused Women’s Centre, the Humane Society, the Unity Project for Relief and Homelessness and the Canadian Cancer Society.

She has been awarded the University Students’ Council Teaching Honour Roll Award of Excellence for every year she has taught at Western and is the recipient of her faculty’s Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Dr. Sandra Smeltzer was a runner-up in our social media poll to select the woman to grace the cover of this special Top 25 Women of Influence™ issue! Congratulations!