English Professor Lisa Smith promotes students’ spiritual well-being

Lisa Smith, visiting assistant professor of English, provides mentorship to students who desire to deepen their relationship with God (Photo courtesy Ron Hall).

Many students know Lisa Smith as an English professor, but her influence at Pepperdine goes far beyond the walls of the classroom.

Smith is a visiting assistant professor of English, currently teaching courses in early American literature, early American women writers, the first-year-seminar on spiritual autobiography and English 101. But what separates Smith from the rest of the visiting professors here at Pepperdine is her deep involvement in her students’ lives and care for their spiritual well-being.

Currently, Smith is a spiritual mentor for four Pepperdine students, and she previously mentored three others since becoming full-time in 2015. During their weekly meetings, students said Smith expresses a profound concern for their spiritual growth and character development. Smith also leads a Club Convo every spring for her first-year-seminar students on creating intimacy with God.

“[Smith] is both caring and passionate,” first-year biology major David Kim said. “She has influenced me with her wisdom about life and the Holy Spirit, guiding me through the hard times with the application of her wisdom. She is a strong leader for the Club Convo and understands the topic she is teaching us.”

During mentorship meetings, Smith said she focuses on discipleship and helping her mentees develop certain skills to strengthen their relationship with God, including practical things like how to create a Bible study or quiet time, understanding theological issues and how to share one’s faith.

“My approach is more to get to know the student, to see what is on their heart, what God is telling them,” Smith said. “My goal is really to see where they are, come alongside them, and just tell them that wherever they are trying to get to spiritually, I am willing to help them get there.”

Jennifer Lau, junior physics and sports medicine double major, has had great success in deepening her faith because of Smith’s mentorship.

“Dr. Smith is by far one of the best things that has happened to me at Pepperdine,” Lau said. “When I came to Pepperdine, I was feeling this deep longing for a deeper relationship with the Lord, but I did not know how to get there. Dr. Smith sought me out and prayerfully joined with me to show me ways to deepen my relationship with the Lord. Through her Club Convo and being mentored by her for over a year now, I look at my faith and relationship with the Lord in such a different way. I would be so lost without Dr. Smith’s kind words, prayers and wisdom.”

Smith attends Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village and is traditionally evangelical and non-denominational. She characterized her own personal spirituality as mystical, stemming from her background studying early Christian mystics. She has found this to be beneficial to her mentoring relationships.

“As far as my own spirituality connecting with that, I do better with students who I think are growing and focused on the areas that I am stronger in,” Smith said. “This includes intimacy with God, prayer and deepening the relationship with God. I would characterize my spirituality as mystical in the sense that I try to connect to God in a very relational way. I focus on the interior spiritual life.”

Smith focuses on deepening relationship her with God and finds that students often come to her in this aspect.

“Most of my mentees aren’t drawn to mystics, per say, but they are drawn to something deeper,” Smith said. “There are students who come to me and say ‘I need more in my relationship with God, I need to stop just doing things, I need to stop just thinking or believing things, I need to really connect with him, I need to feel him, I need to experience him, I need to get more intimate with him.’ And that is mystical language, even if they don’t think of it that way.”

First-year religion major Priscilla Wesely has grown closer to Smith after being in her first-year-seminar and eventually becoming a part of her Club Convo this spring.

“I feel very close with her due to the fact that I opened up to her about many personal things relating to my life and spirituality,” Wesely said. “She has never judged and has had open arms to me and what I have gone through. I have loved having a Convo with her because I’ve been able to get to know her more personally. She is such a funny and caring person who I am realizing I look up to.”

Throughout her experience being a mentor and leader in students’ lives, Smith said she finds the ability to better understand who God is for herself.

“Being a mentor has forced me to reflect on the practices that I actually do,” Smith said. “It has also made me realize how personal God is, because each mentee has such a different path. Even though I will usually have several who are working for the same thing, they all have different paths to getting there. It has been so encouraging to see God working in their lives.”

Lindsey Sullivan completed this profile under the supervision of Dr. Christina Littlefield in Jour 241 in spring 2018.