Wally Smith, assistant professor of biology at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise has received Virginia’s highest honor for faculty by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Smith, who has been teaching at UVa-Wise since 2012, was one of two recipients statewide to receive the Rising Star Award. The award is given to faculty members who show extraordinary promise early in their teaching careers. The award is based on performance in teaching, discovery, integration of knowledge and service.

“Whether in the field or classroom, Wally Smith always fulfills the College’s mission to combine exceptional teaching and strong research to give our students real world experiences that will ultimately make them better scholars and community leaders,” UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry said. “His UVa-Wise colleagues and I are thrilled but not surprised that he has received Virginia’s highest honor for faculty.”

Smith has become one of the college’s most popular professors among students and has developed novel, nationally recognized approaches to integrating traditional undergraduate curricula with biological research and community outreach. A conservation biologist and herpetologist by training, Smith has been described by students as “the best professor on campus” and an “outstanding teacher…(who) truly understands how students learn.”

In addition, he has been involved with grant projects receiving over $2 million in funding both as a sole investigator and co-investigator for research and curriculum development at UVa-Wise. His research has been put into practice by multiple communities in rural Appalachia and is a model for how interdisciplinary research involving students can transcend the academy to create tangible impacts in rural communities.

“I was stunned,” Smith said when he learned he had received the award. “I am incredibly honored and humbled. There are a lot of impressive folks on the list who have received this award, and I don’t feel like I belong with that group.”

The faculty position at UVa-Wise is the first one for Smith. He and his wife, Katie Dunn, have gained a reputation for helping their adopted community, especially in outdoor recreation and conservation.

“I really think I’ve found a home here, both at the college and the community,” he said. “I’m happy.”

Smith and other recipients of Outstanding Faculty Awards will be recognized in Richmond in February at a ceremony. The OFA program is administered by SCHEV and funded by a grant from the Dominion Foundation, which has fully supported the OFA program since 2005.

Smith is the first UVa-Wise professor to win the Rising Star Award, but faculty members Amy Clark and Garrett Sheldon, and former faculty member Brian Wills, were previously honored with the Outstanding Faculty Award.