Helen Smith

Helen Smith is Professor Emerita of Mathematics at South Mountain Community College. She joined the faculty in 1986.

Helen Smith, 1994
Image provided by South Mountain Community College

As early as 5th grade, Helen Smith knew she wanted to be a teacher. She also knew she wanted to teach Math. She grew up near New York City, and was brought to Arizona when her husband was hired by the Maricopa Community College District to initially implement the Student Information System. Smith remembers the “infamous day” when her fmily arrived for the first time on a particularly hot day in Phoenix, Arizona. South Phoenix, she remembered, was very rural, with rose gardens lining Baseline Road.

Helen tells of her first impressions of South Phoenix

Smith considered herself very lucky in the 1980s when she was offered a job at the Maricopa Community Colleges District Office. Her first supervisor was Dr. Jeanne Stahl.

In South Mountain Community College’s earliest years, the campus struck an agreement with Arizona State University regarding all remedial/developmental education classes. It was under this agreement that Helen began teaching Math 055 to ASU students through SMCC.

In the 1980s, South’s reputation was still evolving. Helen remembered that her students faced constant stigma regarding their intelligence and abilities, specifically based on location.

Helen remembers stigma around community colleges

Helen Smith went on to devote much of her professional life to the students at South Mountain Community College. She held several roles over the years. In addition to teaching developmental Math (and thus being a founder of the developmental education programs at SMCC), Smith was also the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society advisor. She later became the PTK state coordinator. Smith also became a Division Chair for Math and Sciences, and was then asked to serve as Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs.

Helen lists the many roles she held at SMCC

For Smith, the decision to leave SMCC was fraught with emotion. She was ready to retire, but sad to leave behind friends, colleagues and students. Thus, she remained committed to serving honors students by staying active in the PTK national organization even after she retired.

NarratorHelen Smith
Place of OriginNew York
Place of Residence
OccupationProfessor Emerita of Mathematics at South Mountain Community College
Years Active in South Phoenix1986 –
Recording Duration1:33:02
DateApril 9, 2019
Location South Mountain Community Library
Interviewed ByFaculty Researcher: Summer Cherland
Story Written ByFaculty Researcher: Summer Cherland
NotesPlease note that this is a joint interview with Matt Smith, Helen’s son.