Prof. Ripley Smith: ‘Students who have Christ in their studies’ have an edge

By Muduku Derrick Brian
During his sabbatical from his duties at Bethel University in Minnesota in the United States, Prof. Ripley Lawrence Smith became part of the Uganda Christian University (UCU) community. Coming from a University that shares similar Christian virtues and beliefs, Prof. Ripley Smith was at home at UCU.

Prof. Ripley Lawrence Smith, a visiting professor at UCU ‘s School of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMC), had multiple messages during his visit with one advising journalism students  to stick to the elements of good story telling in the wake of changing technology and journalism practices.

“When you go out in the field,  the software will change but what will still remain  are the elements of good story telling no matter what channel you are talking to,” he said.

Prof. Ripley Lawrence Smith narrating about discourse analysis while at the School of Journalism, Media and Communication at Uganda Christian University.
Prof. Ripley Lawrence Smith narrating about discourse analysis while at the School of Journalism, Media and Communication at Uganda Christian University.

In a UCU podcast, Smith emphasized that journalism students should embrace new technological and audience trends and get acquainted with audio production skills as are their peers in the United States where many students prefer listening to podcasts over radio.

Smith, who is the Department Chair of Media Communication at Bethel University, explained more about why he is interested in UCU and why he came.

“I have a close relationship with Prof. Monica Chibita, and she invited me to come and do some seminars with the students here,” he said. “Also, I wanted to explore partnerships between my University (Bethel University) and the School of Journalism, Media and Communication here.”

Smith says that Bethel University has had a long-standing partnership with UCU, primarily with the nursing faculty where students and faculty members have been involved in an exchange program.

Smith, who has been teaching at Bethel since 2008, says he hopes  to do the same for journalism students. This exchange would engage students in writing and telling stories that can be documented as well as boosting research among students in the two institutions.

A renowned scholar, Smith who is familiar with discourse analysis, explains: “Here we are not interested in why people are saying what they are saying but what they do as they are saying it. It is a deeper-rooted form of research.”

He urges universities and other learning institutions to embrace discourse analysis that gives students a unique angle to understand what is taking place. He says that discourse analysis offers another lens in what is happening which one may not get without using this methodology.

He also hopes to produce a magazine with the help of students as one application of story telling programs. This would involve faculty and students of his university travelling out to various countries such as Morocco,  and working  with the local community to  co-produce a magazine and create stories. He believes this will enrich cooperation between the students of the two universities (Bethel and UCU) while building student resumes.

“This is one of the areas in which students can come and work with each other,” he said.

Smith acknowledges the challenges of media students in the United States. ”Our students in the United States are so used to short form story telling,” he said. “You find that a student wants to tell an entire story in a 90-second TikTok clip. They are narrowing their field of view of storytelling.”

He urges media students at UCU and in Uganda to embrace online journalism and to blend Christianity further into their education.

” If we study the world and keep God out of it, we are missing the motivation,” he said. “We are missing a whole slice of reality. Students who have Christ in their studies work hard and are trustworthy and such virtues give them an edge even in the job market.”

Prof. Monica Chibita, the Dean of the School of JMC at UCU, says that Smith is a committed journalist.

“I met him in 1993 together with my husband as we were teaching in North Western College,” she said. “He used to play football with my husband and he is passionate about integrating faith in his teaching.”

Chibita says that the School of JMC intends to work with Smith in such areas as qualitative research under discourse analysis.

“We are more than ready to work with him and tap into his vast tank of knowledge,” she said.

Prof. Smith  has research interests in social networks and socio-cultural adjustment, trust development in partnerships across cultures and organizations, international crisis intervention processes, and prophetic rhetoric.

A father of four daughters and a husband, Smith is an enthusiast of the classical guitar and has been involved in playing and coaching competitive soccer. A strong reader, one of his favorite books is The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas.