H.A. Smith

MA Latin American Studies Alumnus, 1997

May 12, 2021

H.A. Smith graduated from the University of Florida in 1997 with an MA in Latin American Studies. He retired in 2020 from a 31-year career teaching middle and high school social studies.

What is your current position?

I retired in June 2020. My first retirement gig is pouring into twin grandbabies every day. Before this, I taught in middle and high school for 31 years in Saint Augustine. During that time, I taught at a middle school for several years, took a leave of absence to pursue the MALAS for a change in career, and finished with the blessing of teaching for 23 more years at Allen D. Nease High School. Most of that time was spent teaching various courses in the Social Studies department.

How does your MALAS degree help you in your job today? How has it informed your career?

The MALAS was absolutely invaluable. As a generalist degree across the many UF academic departments, the expectation of field research, and of competence in a Latin American language, it allowed me to contribute to policy creation, and to teach a broad range of courses to a broad range of students. It also prepared me to competently advise my students (many UF bound) on the virtues of learning other languages and new skill sets.

What motivated you to pursue a MALAS degree?

I had become disenchanted with what my career prospects were at the middle school where I was teaching. My logic was that moving to a new school anywhere else would leave me still stuck in a similar situation. My wife and I decided that since we didn't have any consumer debt, that I should take a leave of absence and pursue the MALAS, since I'd heard good things about it through the UFCLAS Outreach office, and that with a MALAS, I could make a clean break with teaching. The Geography department seems the best option for me, which has turned out to be true. As it turned out, I returned to teaching, where the MALAS allowed me to thoroughly enjoy 23 more years of teaching.

What was the most valuable part of your MALAS experience?

Since you ask for THE most, not a number of them (this is really hard since there are so many valuable aspects), I'd have to say I felt that I was treated extremely generously and hospitably, by everybody associated with the Center for Latin American Studies. From Dr. McCoy and Wood as the directors, to the professors, scholars, and office staff, and fellow MALAS candidates. There was a clear expectation that diversity of thought or ideology was welcome and encouraged, and discussions were to be civil. It could have been a very lonely time, but it was not. There are many other valuable aspects of my MALAS experience that I love to chat about, but I'll discipline my response to your question.

What advice would you give students as they pursue their MALAS degree?

(1) absolutely do field research. I set up my lodging with a family in Chile, and they made tons of connections for me and welcomed me into their home. I got to meet with lots of people there who helped me with my research and became friends; (2) take electives in as many departments as possible. One thing that stands out to me is GeoPlan's allowing me to take an introductory GIS course. It was a very tough learning curve for me, but they were generous in their coaching and the experience has enriched my life; (3) insist on ideological diversity and insist on civil open discussion.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience in the MALAS program?

The MALAS prepared me to comfortably be an internationalist in many ways. I came into the program when I was 34, and my wife and two young children moved to Gainesville with me. It allowed me to further expose my family to things Latin American and has made my family nuanced and knowledgeable as we involve ourselves with Vida Joven, Young Life in Latin America. People crave leaders who have a deep understanding of the situations they are influencing, and the MALAS has been perhaps the most important component of helping me serve in that fashion.