Scholarship honors longtime language teacher

Christa Smith's office is a testimony to the students who have enjoyed her tutelage and value those experiences.

On one wall, a fabric hanging depicts Jamaica, and a laminated nametag of a former student who participated in the Olympic games representing that country hangs with it. On another wall, an Oriental wall hanging adorns the edge of a bulletin board also bearing posters of foreign countries. A paddle with stuck-on lettering - called by its creators the "German Honorary Stick of Knowledge" - is her favorite memento.

All are tokens of appreciation from students to Smith, associate professor of modern languages and English at Wayland Baptist University. In her 34th year of teaching at WBU, Smith has been associated with foreign language studies at Wayland longer than any other professor. According to Arch Mayfield, chair of the Division of Languages and Literature, she's also one of the most passionate.

"At the beginning of the year, (the division) set a goal to help fill the void in our scholarship offerings and provide assistance to students studying foreign languages, as well as to honor one of our faculty members who really symbolizes that field," Mayfield said in announcing the newly formed Christa Kunkel Smith Modern Language Scholarship, unveiled formally at a luncheon held Tuesday, Nov. 26, also in honor of Smith's 70th birthday.

Both Mayfield and Smith are quick to point out that the honor does not come along with a retirement announcement, but was planned this year, "so we could do this while she's still very much a part of the Wayland family," Mayfield said. As for Smith, she said she's sticking around until she "gets to the point where I'm not any good to Wayland or if I can't walk upstairs anymore."

Smith finds the whole thing humbling, since she said tearfully she's served the university gladly. But through the years, she's definitely endured some ups and downs along with the school.

Smith first came to Wayland in 1959 as a student, attending courses for fun while her husband Don studied to become a preacher. After the first semester proved academically successful - she earned three As and a B despite helping care for a husband and a baby daughter - Smith realized she might actually be able to complete a degree and become a teacher, fulfilling a dream held since childhood.

She graduated in 1963 and continued at Texas Tech, earning a master's degree in English in 1967 and one in German in 1969. She returned to WBU to teach in 1969 and taught English, French and German. She's held to that routine over the years, teaching all facets of English and the two languages.

Smith is proud of helping to institute the university's language lab, which began with her own tape recorder hooked to eight headphone sets for students. Now, the state of the art language lab is computer operated.

Throughout her years at Wayland, Smith said relationships and the Christian atmosphere have kept her at the smaller Baptist university, though she surely has had opportunities to go elsewhere. She also has a passion for teaching languages.

"I think an educated person needs to have an introduction to another culture, and studying another language helps with that," she said. "When you learn the language, you learn about the people."

In the past three years, Smith has been actively involved in Wayland's partnership with Kenya Baptist Theological College, traveling to the African nation three summers to teach English courses. The experiences have been rewarding, she said, though quite unlike her classes in America.

"The students there are very grateful to be taught, and they definitely build your ego," she said. "It's almost too good to be true."

The Smith Scholarship is designed to help a student studying foreign languages at Wayland, regardless of major. When the contributed funds reach $25,000, the scholarship will become endowed and interest pulled off annually to award scholarships. For information on making donations to the Smith Scholarship Fund, contact Martha Cross in the Office of Development at 291-3427