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Davis, California

Monday, April 15, 2024

Tom Smith to become new dean of UC Davis School of Education

Smith hopes to recruit and educate a diverse set of future K-12 educators


By VINCE BASADA — campus@theaggie.org 


UC Davis announced on Feb. 2 that Tom Smith, professor of public policy and education in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, will become the new dean of the School of Education starting June 1, 2024.

Smith has a B.A. in economics from UCLA and a M.A. in the same field from Columbia.

He then pursued an M.A. in sociology of education from the Catholic University of America, and later obtained a Ph.D. in educational theory and policy from Pennsylvania State University. 

After completing his M.A. in economics, he worked for the federal government within the National Center for Education Statistics, and later the National Science Foundation. He also worked in Paris at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Through his time with the federal government, he garnered an interest in education and later pursued a doctorate in the field.

Smith taught at Vanderbilt for 13 years before moving to UC Riverside in 2014 to become Dean of their School of Education. He left that post in 2019, and later returned to Vanderbilt in 2022 to continue his research.

Smith’s work in education has focused on improving mathematics curriculum, as well as improving diversity within the teaching force, partnering with local school districts and teachers.

Still, the job at UC Davis was something Smith said he wasn’t going to pass on. As dean, he will lead the School of Educations’ faculty who will help train future K-12 educators.

The UC Davis School of Education offers masters and doctorates in the field, and also currently has a minor in education for undergraduate students.

“This opportunity at Davis came along, and if it had come along earlier, I would have jumped at it,” Smith said. “I grew up in Dixon just down the road, so this is a return to the neighborhood and a real opportunity to have an impact on the broader community that I come from.”

Smith has also expressed interest in working with local community leaders and policymakers, noting Davis’ close location to the state capitol in Sacramento.

In the initial announcement of Smith’s hiring, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Mary Croughan said that Smith offers a lot of experience as a leader in higher education. 

“Throughout his career, he has focused on data-driven research that leads to better education policies, an incredible asset given our proximity to the state’s capitol,” the announcement read. “He is deeply committed to furthering our values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice, and brings proven practices that have supported the success of diverse faculty and students.”

Smith will be taking over from current Interim Dean and Professor of Education Cynthia Carter Ching who has served in the role since July 2023. 

While optimistic for the future of education, Smith acknowledges that there are significant issues facing the profession and the field at large. His concerns include, “the continuing teacher shortage, and coming out of COVID, concerns about whether or not more and more teachers are also leaving teaching as a profession.”

He also acknowledged the growing role and developments of new technologies, specifically artificial intelligence, and stated his belief that, if used responsibly, it can help educators rather than hurt them.

“I think all of those technologies really need to be invested in; not to replace teachers, but to kind of augment and allow them to do what they have more expertise in,” Smith said. “Whether or not that’s helping individuals, struggling learners, teaching big concepts or having more time to deal with the associated emotional needs of students.”

He hopes to recruit more teachers from diverse backgrounds, noting that most teachers in the state of California are white.

“Growing the size of teacher education is a clear priority that I want to support,” Smith said. “I think the School of Education has an excellent faculty and staff and probably doesn’t have as much statewide or national recognition as it should for how good a set of scholars and teachers [it has].”

While Smith hopes to find spare time to further his own educational research, he is clear that his main commitment is aiding and recruiting the K-12 educators of tomorrow.

“There needs to be quite a bit of an effort to try to find people who might be interested [in], [and] might be committed to student learning,” Smith said. “[They need to] embody some of the goals that the School of Education has around social justice and equity, and be interested in helping the next generation learn.”


Written by: Vince Basadacampus@theaggie.org



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