A woman in a black shirt smiling for the camera.

Jenny Smith

Interview with Jenny Smith

by Mary Williams

Mary:  For those who don’t know you well, tell us about your family and how you got started in music. 

Jenny: I grew up in Irving as an only child, and since the earliest time I can remember, music has been all around me, whether it was the antique piano at home that I’d run up to and play, or at church listening to our a capella choir. When I started 1st grade, my parents gave me two options for extracurricular activities: music, or music (I preferred sports). I chose music, and began piano lessons (which I admittedly didn’t like). I joined band in junior high and poured much of my energy into playing French Horn. However, that instrument was not my first choice, and I soon convinced my band director to allow me to switch (after I auditioned for chair placement on Trumpet, after learning the instrument on my own). I fell in love with it and with playing in wind symphonies and orchestras, of which I had many opportunities, including Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra and All-State appearances through high school. 

Mary:  You have an interesting combination of interests: music and science. How did that come about? How did you decide which to pursue professionally?

Jenny: I decided to major in trumpet performance in college, but by the time the end of the first semester came around, I found myself very burned out, not enjoying my craft anymore, and dreading time spent in a practice room. I asked myself if music was what I wanted to pursue as a career, and I was consistently answering no.  

Throughout my childhood I had always been fascinated by science and especially by biology. For every music lesson or competition I entered, there was always a science fair project, a crystal growing set, or a small specimen I could study on my microscope kit. I knew I had an innate interest in medicine, but didn’t know if I wanted to pursue medical school or not. So I changed majors, and decided I would pursue the field that ignited my passion the most: biology.

Mary:  Where did you go to college and what was the best part of it? Worst part of it? 

Jenny: I attended Baylor University, and it’s honestly difficult pinpointing the best part of my experience there. I found my passion for teaching through teaching biology labs. I met professors and mentors who have become life-long friends, who guided and encouraged me to do my best, be myself, and always search for the truth. I was involved with a few organizations that allowed me to meet fantastic people (including Mu Phi Epsilon). 

Mostly though, Baylor allowed me to find myself, what drove me, and figure out what aspects of life were most important to me. This is also tied to the worst part – while all my professors were extremely supportive of me, as were my friends, the school itself was not supportive of gay students. I came to accept this part of myself while in college, but had a very difficult time understanding it and integrating it with my values and religious beliefs (something that I have since resolved). Baylor could do more to reach out to these students. 

Mary:  Tell us about your collegiate experience with Mu Phi. How did you come to continue your involvement in an alumni chapter and as a District Director?

Jenny: I loved my time with Phi Xi! I’ll always remember fondly our Circle up, where we shared concerns with one another, and the team spirit we all had to be exceptional representatives of the School of Music. When I hear of success that Phi Xi has with traditions that were started while I was there (Welcome Fest or Coffee Fridays come to mind), I still feel warmness in my heart for each and every member I’ve shared that bond with. It really was about the people, and supporting each other, every day. 

After my undergrad was complete I dearly missed Phi Xi and wanted to see if I could find the same camaraderie in an Alumni group. While I was a bit overwhelmed at the first meeting, I decided to attend more, and was soon asked to be the delegate for the Convention that year, an experience that truly changed my life. 

       With MPE President Rosemary Ames

It also allowed me to be present when Sandra McMillen needed someone to fill the District Director position, something that has richly blessed my life. Being able to work with collegiates to solve their problems and guide them to success has been one of the highlights of my young life. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without this experience.

Mary:  Tell us what you have been doing since your collegiate days (research and teaching included). What would be your dream job?

Jenny: After earning my Ph.D. in late 2011, I continued research on a breast cancer treatment that uses the immune system to fight cancer, much the same way a vaccine can educate the immune system against other deadly diseases. I sought after teaching positions, and in 2012 I was hired as an Adjunct Professor at TWU. Since then I have been or am employed by three other area colleges, teaching a variety of biology courses, ranging from introductory to senior level.

My goal is to be hired as a full time professor at a four-year university with mostly teaching responsibilities, but I hope to incorporate research as a teaching tool for undergraduates and graduates who have an interest in molecular biology or immunology. I also want to be able to either advise or mentor students in this role, and would like to contribute my time to a campus student organization (maybe Mu Phi Epsilon?) as a sponsor or advisor. 

Mary:  When did you join the Dallas Alumni Chapter and what has this association been for you?

Jenny: I joined the Alumni chapter my second year in graduate school (2007). Since I’ve been a member, I’ve been able to see and experience what Mu Phi means to people regardless of age or profession, and how beneficial the networks and friendships are of members here and everywhere. The conventions I attended stirred my passion for this fraternity in a way that nothing else could, and showed me that the bonds built aren’t just local or fleeting. They cross time and distance, much the same way music can speak to people regardless of their language or culture. 

Mary:  What was your experience like as President of the Dallas Alum chapter?

Jenny: I thought that being President and District Director at the same time would be difficult, but the two complemented each other quite well.

Jenny as SC2 District Director

However, it was always awkward for me to be the youngest member and yet hold the position with the most authority. I didn’t like having to stop people’s conversations during meetings or redirect attention to finishing business. Every time that happened, I had to suppress an urge to apologize! I am actually a very introverted person, so speaking to new people was also hard. 

I wanted to be President because I could see areas where our chapter was struggling and I wanted to help. I can’t say that I accomplished all the goals I had, but I hope I was at least able to strengthen the chapter over those two years. I was lucky to be President in a chapter that has so many members that are willing to put in as much, or even more work, than the president does. The flexibility, loyalty, and dedication of all our executives really did make my job easy. The best part was watching everyone come together to make our meetings and events happen. I am thankful I was given the opportunity.

Mary:  What other interests do you have? How do you spend your time?

Jenny: I have a huge interest in science fiction, which extends to literature, film, and all things in between. I also love video games quite a bit, and have since I was young, and enjoy action/adventure, RPGs, and MMOs the most. I love watching football, baseball, and basketball whenever I have the chance, and secretly still want to play them too. I have quite a few more academic interests as well (psychology, medieval literature, philosophy), but precious little time to pursue them. I also regularly read educational journals and articles, and am actively trying to build my professional learning network through various platforms of social media, but it’s a work in progress. Whenever time allows, I’ve also been known to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, doing any kind of construction project on their houses.

Mary:  Anything else we should know about you?

Jenny: It has been a very rough transition from graduate school to career, as it is for many leaving graduate school these days, so I am grateful to everyone who has supported me through it, including many of you reading this. With both of my parents in failing health, any positive thoughts or prayers are welcome for my family. 

I have a fiancée, Alicia, who is getting degrees from UNT in Psychology and Physics, and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in Neuroscience. We have a miniature beagle (Zelda), and two cats, a boy (Link, aka ‘Little Dude’), and a girl (Navi). They provide most of our daily entertainment and keep us warm on cold winter nights.

Mary:  Thanks, Jenny, for your taking your time for this interview and for your insightful answers. Best wishes in your career.