Dr. Jon M. Smith, communication professor at Southern Utah University, is working as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) in the Kingdom of Swaziland in southern Africa. Smith was awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to lecture at the university and conduct research and video documentary production at the University of Swaziland-Kwaluseni during the 2011–2012 school year. Smith, a former SUU communication department chair, began teaching in Swaziland in August 2011 and is on sabbatical leave from SUU during this assignment. He will return to SUU in August 2012.
In Swaziland Smith has been teaching journalism and broadcasting classes to sophomores and juniors in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. He introduced his students to television news production and, for the first time ever, provided video coverage of the university’s annual graduation, involving the country’s ruling monarch, King Mswati III.
Smith arranged for first-ever student media credentials and security clearance for students to cover the event. A video showing UNISWA students covering graduation can be seen at: youtube.com/watch?v=0WP84h1l7uE.
Part of Smith's Fulbright assignment involves providing consultation to the media industry. While there is one independent newspaper in the country, there is one state-controlled newspaper and only one government-run television station and two government-run radio stations. Smith has had open discussions with industry professionals, his department colleagues and students regarding state-controlled media.
One challenge Smith had during his first semester at UNISWA was that the Swaziland government did not distribute university scholarships and student allowances because of a government financial shortage. Consequently, the university opened a month late and was disrupted multiple times by student boycotts and protests. As part of the financial crisis, the government labeled journalism and mass communication, along with all the humanities and law, as non-essential degrees for the country and did not fund student scholarships in these areas.
Because the UNISWA Department of Journalism and Mass Communication and its students don’t have the resources for a student newspaper or television or radio stations, Smith is utilizing the internet for program and content distribution. Most of the students on campus use Facebook regularly so in order to take advantage of that media audience, the journalism students created a student media organization called “UNISWA Today” and they post regular news updates, photographs and videos on a Facebook page (see facebook.com/#!/UNISWA) and post other videos on-line. One challenge is the slower Internet speeds available in the country but Smith believes his students need to push the opportunities with new media and that they will be prepared when the technology is fully available.
Another challenge for Smith is teaching the students about basic journalism concepts because most of the media in the country are based on what he considers a sensational tabloid approach. Additional challenges include teaching the students in English which, while it is an official language in the country, is a second language after their native SiSwati language.
In addition to teaching, Smith is working on several documentaries. The first documentary is tentatively titled “Park Neighbors” and compares the people who live near and work in national parks in southern Africa with those in southern Utah. Smith’s wife, Anne Smith, adjunct SUU professor in Outdoor Recreation and Tourism is co-producing that documentary because of her expertise in national park issues.
Another documentary which Smith works on during weekends is tentatively titled “The Kingdom of God in a Kingdom on Earth: Saints in Swaziland” and it explores the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ humanitarian and missionary efforts in Swaziland. Smith has been collaborating with KSL-TV in Salt Lake City on the documentary that will air on KSL-TV between sessions of the LDS Church General Conference in April 2012.
For both documentaries Smith has been capturing the life and culture of Swazi people which include the world famous Reed Dance and the “Incwala” or Kingship ceremony. He has also been documenting the national parks and game reserves with many extraordinary animals. Preliminary samples of Smith’s videos of Swazi culture and game parks can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=8ANZSqisizw and youtube.com/watch?v=nRGqwaziSU4
While in Swaziland Smith has been able to share some of his previously produced documentaries. His documentary “Jimmie Jones: Red Rock Painter” that was co-produced by SUU English Professor James M. Aton, was featured during the Gold Lion Film Festival at the American Embassy in October 2011 in Mbabane, Swaziland’s capitol city. He has also shared copies of his award-winning documentaries with various individuals and media professionals.
In Swaziland Smith is living in a small home on campus provided by the university with his wife and 17-year old son. He walks across campus to work each day to teach in a classroom and a computer lab. The family purchased a car for use while in the country in order to get to the various documentary shooting locations. Both Smith and his wife went through the awkward and sometimes scary experience of learning to drive on a different side of the road. This is the second Fulbright experience for Smith. In 1994 he taught at Catholic University in Porto, Portugal. At that time he and his wife took all four of their children.
Additional Information on Swaziland
Swaziland is a small land-locked country between South Africa and Mozambique. About 20 percent of the 1.2 million population live in three small cities with the remaining 80 percent living in rural areas. It is the last absolute monarchy in Africa as it is ruled by King Mwsati III and his mother, The Queen Mother. Swaziland was a British Protectorate until it gained its freedom in 1968 under the previous Swazi king, King Sobhusa II.
Additional Information on UNISWA
UNISWA is the Swaziland’s center for higher education. It has approximately 7000 students on its main campus in Kwaluseni and two other smaller campuses. Smith teaches in a small department with two other faculty members.
Additional Info on Jon Smith
Dr. Jon Smith started in the SUU Communication Department 1989 after a career in television news with Bonneville International Corporation and KSL-TV in Salt Lake City where he worked as a television news photographer and editor. He holds a master’s degree from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He is a tenured professor in the SUU communication department and served for nine years as department chair. He previously fulfilled a Fulbright Scholar position teaching at Catholic University in Porto, Portugal in 1994. He has won the SUU Distinguished Scholar Award and has presented the Distinguished Faculty Lecture. He has also been recognized as an SUU Service Learning Fellow. His video documentaries have won multiple national and international awards and have aired on regional PBS and commercial stations. When he is not in Swaziland, he lives in New Harmony, Utah with his wife and son.
Additional Information about the Fulbright Program:
Smith is one of approximately 1,100 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2011-2012. The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide direct and indirect support. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The Program operates in over 155 countries worldwide.
Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has given approximately 300,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.
The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program is administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, a division of the Institute of International Education. For further information about the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, visit fulbright.state.gov.