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Coming full circle

Mike Smith is no stranger to award podiums. During his 35-year tenure in the Division of Animal Sciences of the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Smith has accumulated a mass of hardware for his achievements in the field of reproductive physiology – but his most recent honor, the L.E. Casida Award, stands out from them all.

At the American Society of Animal Science/American Dairy Science Association Joint Annual Meeting earlier this month in Orlando, Fla., Smith accepted the award, which recognizes excellence in the mentoring of graduate and/or postdoctoral students, while a former graduate student of his, Ky Pohler, received the Agri-King Outstanding Animal Science Graduate Student Award at the same meeting.

“It was sort of a composite of two awards that really were linked,” Pohler said. “Out of all the awards that I’ve seen Mike get, which is really an extensive list, I could tell that that award meant the most to him, so it was just unique for me to get my award at the same time he was getting his.”

Smith  agreed with his pupil’s assessment. “Training graduate students has been the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my career,” he said. “It’s certainly the most meaningful award I’ve received.”

During his acceptance speech, Smith mentioned his philosophy on graduate education, which really boils down to viewing any students who work with him as partners in research and teaching, who Smith tries to guide along the way.

“The important thing about graduate school, that I like, is that it is very individualized. The students identify a set of goals and then they try to find a mentor who can help them accomplish those goals,” said Smith, noting that the approach stands in contrast to that taken at a professional school.

“I don’t look as grad students as my employees who work for me or anything like that. I feel like we’re working as a team. Ky really embraced that concept. Our personalities were such that we were able to communicate and work really well together.”

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