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Bringing experiences from India to rural students

Ryan Smith believes that opening his students to a wider worldview is a crucial part of his job as a science teacher, and he says he is always looking for new ways to do that. It is not just a professional objective — it is, in part, a reflection of his upbringing in Western North Carolina, where life outside the mountain region can seem strange and far away.

Smith was born and raised in Asheville and went to Reynolds High School, and then studied at North Carolina State University before transferring to UNC Asheville, where he completed a degree in biology and his teaching licensure in 2010.

After teaching at North Buncombe Middle School for three and half years, he taught high school science in Georgia while his wife attended graduate school there. He has been teaching physics and science at Owen High School in Buncombe County since last December.

Smith’s interest in teaching was sparked in high school, when he participated in ROTC. As a senior commander, he mentored freshmen in the program. “That was my first real taste of it, and I liked it,” he says. He had planned to go into engineering in college but lost interest in it, and recalling his ROTC role, he opted for education.

Smith sees India as fertile ground for both personal and professional development. “I’ve taught in almost entirely rural schools my whole career, and a lot of what you see is kids who never been outside the boundaries of their town, county, or state,” he says. “That gives them a bit of a skewed perspective on what the world is really like.”

“Sometimes, teaching science, it’s kind of hard to get across how different people approach different things, because your students have never met these people or approached things in a different way, and they’ve never met anybody who was different enough from them that it changed some of their viewpoint,” he adds.

“So I’m hoping that I can experience something very different than I have seen in my life so far. It’s a really different culture, and I’m hoping that I’m able to open my eyes to that and share that with my students. It will help me think about the things I can do to get them in touch with different parts of the world.”

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is an Asheville-based writer and the senior editor at WNC magazine. He has authored two books, including, with co-author Kent Priestley, North Carolina Curiosities. He has contributed to Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, U.S. News & World Report and Popular Communications, among other publications.