Commencement speaker Bonnie J. Smith loves teaching through telling stories that inspire students
May 9, 2023
Like many veterinary graduates, Bonnie J. Smith first intended to go into private practice. But she was always a teacher at heart.
“I have always been a teacher,” Smith said. “My mother was a first-grade teacher and she thought the best gift that you could give anybody was to teach them to read. Because, she would say almost anything you would ever want to know is in a book somewhere. She has pictures of me, when I was 6 years old, with our two dogs and one cat sitting in front of this little green chalkboard that she got me. And I'm teaching them letters. I've been a teacher since -- forever.”
A veterinary educator since the 1980s, Smith will be the commencement speaker for the newest group of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) graduates at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM). Commencement is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, May 12, at the Moss Arts Center. Smith has been an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathology since 1991.
Smith was the 2009 winner of the Carl J. Norden-Pfizer Distinguished Teaching Award, honoring her as the best among thousands teaching in the nation’s veterinary medicine colleges.
A winner of more than 20 teaching awards she arrived at Virginia Tech in 1991, Smith’s influence on future veterinarians starts early and lasts a lifetime, as she teaches first- and second-year students at VMCVM in anatomy and physiology courses.
“...you've got to save yourself because your work without you is meaningless. Take time for you. Be yourself.”
“My students are endlessly kind,” Smith said. “I have no idea how they could look back across four years and think of me, but I’m grateful. I'm humbled.”
Besides building the foundations of the science and clinical work for which students are preparing, Smith strives to help students see the natural wonders in the large and small things around them, and also to focus on their own wellness while pursuing achievement in scholastic and professional ventures.
“Never lose yourself to it,” she said that she tells students “Never give it all up.
“I tell them that vet school has to be a part of life, not life a part of the vet school. Away from vet school, you have to have a life. Vet school has to be important, your practice has to be important, your research has to be important. But you've got to save yourself because your work without you is meaningless. Take time for you. Be yourself. Don't ever lose yourself in it. Don’t ever give yourself away to it.”
Smith completed her own education at The Ohio State University, first with a B.S. in zoology in 1976, then a M.S. in 1979. She graduated cum laude from Ohio State’s DVM program in 1985, then completed a Ph.D. with a major in veterinary anatomy and a minor in human anatomy in 1986. She taught at North Carolina State in the mid to late 1980s.
A member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Veterinary Anatomists, and the American Association of Anatomists, Smith’s research interests include classical morphology, functional morphology, and teratology.
“I have been fortunate, blessed, whatever you want to say, however you want to phrase it, to make pretty much my entire life about doing two things: I love teaching and learning,” Smith said. “And the way I view teaching is: ‘There is so much cool stuff. And it really is cool. Let me share this with you. Let me share with you what I know. Look at this. Isn't it really cool how your knee works? Can you believe what your heart does?’
“I'm a storyteller. All I do is tell stories tell these wonderful stories about how the body is put together and how it works. And they scoop it up.”