Donald C. Smith, Ph.D.

Donald C. Smith Headshot
Communications, Film and Media Studies
College of Arts & Sciences

Ph.D. Communication, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

M.S. Communication, Emerson College, Boston

B.A. Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven

About Donald


Dr. Smith, in his time at the University of New Haven, has served as Chair of the Communication Department, Director of First-Year Advising, (a University of New Haven program that he helped found in 1990), Chair of the Faculty Senate, and Coordinator of Communication across the Curriculum, for the College of Business. He has served as a member or Chair on a dozen university committees. Dr. Smith has traveled extensively and stood on the Great Wall of China. He has seen New Zealand, Australia, Europe, South East Asia, Hawaii and most of the U.S. mainland. He likes to read for work and pleasure; anything from What the Best College Teachers Do to Dr. Sleep, one of Stephen King’s newest and most terrifying novels. At home, Dr. Smith has a collection of framed Thomas Kinkade lithographs, and guitars - the oldest of which is an Ovation Acoustic Electric Legend, which he purchased in 1975.

History, Influence, Questions and an Invitation

Dr. Smith genuinely loves education more than any other life pursuit because it transformed his life. “The greatest gift my father ever gave me,” he says, “is that I never saw him without a book in his hand.”  If you ask, he will tell you the true story of having been born into an Irish family of eight that had few resources, other than a strong faith, sound work ethic, and a relentless belief in the power of education. Once Dr. Smith saw what a book and his teachers could do for him, his path was set.  Years later, there was nowhere on the globe that he would not go and little he would not want to know. 

Dr. Smith loves teaching because he knows first-hand what it can do for people.  Today, each of his classes focus upon many different kinds of questions.  In Introduction to Human Communication, for example, he might ask: “How is communication used to build all relationships, good or bad, and how might those problematic relationships be improved?  In Intercultural Communication, Dr. Smith explores the conditions necessary for people to put down their fears and take up understanding.”  In Persuasion, one of his favorite courses, he presents this challenge to all of his students: “There is a difference between coercion and persuasion - when we have freedom, real choices, what choices do we make, what influences are at play, and what responsibilities do we have?” He has spent a lifetime learning how we are persuaded and how we persuade in return.

All learning begins with a single, well formulated question.  In Dr. Smith’s classes his students are encouraged to explore any and all communication puzzles that occur to them; drawn from the readings, lectures, or real life.

Ultimately, Dr. Smith teaches his students about communication and the social construction of reality. He teaches about symbols, their use and misuse. He teaches communication strategy and defense – mindful of Aristotle’s caution, that it is foolish if we can only defend ourselves with our bodies and not our minds. In possession of this knowledge, students can understand what they think, feel, know and do, while at the same time recognizing these processes in others. An excellent education should almost always address the role communication plays in the creation and maintenance of the social order.  Communication is not just the glue that holds organizations together, as Gerald Goldhaber observed.

Dr. Smith notes, Communication is the very thing that holds all of our relationships together; indeed every social relationship across the planet, whether those connections be between two people, or between and among each and every country in the world.  Dr. Smith is pleased that his interests, publications, and courses allow him to lecture upon any communication context and era from the 5th century B.C. to the present.  All University of New Haven Professors are required to stay current in their fields.

His own education, grounded in communication and rhetorical theory, help him to prepare his students for graduate education in a variety of disciplines.  It also helps put them in a much better position to create and send a wide array of messages be it for personal or professional reasons. Dr. Smith’s classes also help students with their multi-media work.  He notes, “Any machine is only as good as the mind at its helm”. His students are supported in their efforts to write, think, and speak clearly.

Over the years, Dr. Smith has been greatly influenced by his doctoral dissertation advisor, and current friend, Dr. Jane Blankenship - the National Communication Association’s Professor of the Century.  Blankenship was significantly influenced by her friend, the great rhetorical and literary critic Kenneth Burke.  In Dr. Smith’s classes students will find a wide variety of paradigms for analyzing communication situations and practices, and they will learn, exactly what it was Kenneth Burke meant when he wrote “The main ideal of criticism, as I conceived it is to use all there is to use.”  (The Philosophy of Literary Form 1941).

Kenneth Burke, by many, is regarded as one of the best minds of the 20th century.  Using a special lens he envisioned education as a formal dinner party. Guests arrive, discover others who have been there so much longer; people who are vastly more knowledgeable. It’s a place where there is such an energy of conversation that the newcomers cannot quite understand anything at first, and then they do, and they contribute with confidence and enthusiasm. Everyone participates in this wonderful discussion until the hour grows late, and they grow tired, and then leave.  Walking outside and down the steps, they see others are just arriving. Apparently this event never ends.  Indeed, it has been going on for centuries.   Dr. Smith, would like you to know that there is a seat for you, as soon as you are ready to take it.

Recent Work

(2013) Crisis Communication and Rhetorical Protocol: Looking Back on Hurricane Katrina. Paper presented at the AABRI conference, New Orleans.

(2013) Audience Adaptation Where It Counts:  Teaching Public Speaking to International Students from Their Point of View.” Paper currently under review for 6th Intercultural Pragmatics and Communication Conference at The University of Malta.

(2013) Invited by editor of The Public Speaking project (nationally recognized website) to write a Chapter on Voice and Articulation.  (Work in progress).

(2012) A Family Guide to Academic Advising, 2nd edition. Spanish and English. Co-sponsored by National Center for First Year Students and Students in Transition. 200,000 copies sold to date.

Published Books and Articles

(2008) "Teaching Managers to Relate: Using Employee feedback to Boost Commitment and Morale at Work," proceedings, Applied Business Research Conference, Orlando.
(2007) "Lessons from Katrina: Crisis Communication and Rhetorical Protocol," Journal of College Teaching and Learning, June, Volume 4, number 6.

(2006) 'A Universal Perspective on Communication: what Every International Business Manager Should Know," International Business and Economics Research Journal, Dec. Volume 5, number 12, pages 15-18.

(2003-06) A Family Guide to Academic Advising, National Center for the First-Year Experience, University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, S.C. (cosponsored by the National Academy of Academic Advisors and 114,000 + copies sold to date. The editor has scheduled a Spanish version of this work for 2008).

(2006) "Language, Choice and the Power of Definition: A Rational Understanding of Gender and Communication in the 21st Century," paper presented at the Oxford Round Table, Oxford University, England, March.

(2005) Asking People to Measure Up: A Strategic Approach to the Performance Appraisal Interview, presented at the Australia/New Zealand Communication Association Conference, Christchurch, N.Z.

(2003) Communication, Management, and the Role of the Expert Spectator: Adapting to co-cultures in the workplace, Proceedings of the Australia/New Zealand Communication Association Conference held in Brisbane, July.

Courses Taught

Dr. Smith has taught more courses and more Special Topics courses than anyone in the department. Over the years his assignments have included:

Graduate and Undergraduate courses in:  Introduction to Human Communication, Public Relations, Persuasion, Organizational Communication, Management Communication Seminar, Media Campaigns Analysis, Popular Music as Intercultural Communication, Communication for Management and Business, Communication in the Internet Age, American Cinema as Intercultural Communication, Persuasion in Professional & Collegiate Sports, Intercultural Communication, Seminar in Communication and Emotion, Small Group Communication and the Communication Module for Executive MBA students.

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