Member Spotlight: Clay Smith

AACTE’s Member Spotlight features an individual from a member institution, highlighting how their work makes a difference in classrooms across the country. Nominate yourself or another member by providing a response to the following questions and sending to

Get to know Clay Smith …

Position/Institution: I am in my 6th year as the Special Populations Coordinator in the College of Education at East Carolina University (ECU). Prior to that, I served for nearly 3 years as the South Central Consortium Coordinator for ECU’s Partnership Teach degree-completion model.

Number of years in your position: Two years

Alma Mater(s): B.S. in history education, East Carolina University; MAEd in history education, East Carolina University; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Hometown: Mebane, NC

  1. How long have you been a member of AACTE?
    I have been a member of AACTE since 2013, benefitting from my employment with the East Carolina University College of Education and the institutional membership. My first Annual Meeting was in 2015 (Atlanta, GA), and my first presentation was in 2017 (Tampa, FL).

  2. Why did you join AACTE?
    I joined AACTE at the encouragement of my previous supervisor with the intention of learning from, presenting to, and networking with colleagues from educator preparation programs across the country. I am continuously amazed by the dynamic educational leaders in the AACTE space and honored to be considered as contributory.

  3. Why did you decide to enter the field of educator preparation?
    Like many in our field, I was trained as an educator in the K-12 setting—high school social studies to be specific. Though the impact I had on those students was palpable and profound, I realized the indirect impact of cultivating teachers through educator preparation would be far greater. I am thankful that I still get to build relationships with students at the K-12 and postsecondary levels, but to think about the thousands of K-12 students that are taught, led, and inspired by the educators we train at ECU is powerful.

  4. What’s been your favorite or most memorable moment of your career so far?
    In 2016, Allen Guidry—a mentor, colleague, and friend—included me in an incredible service effort that has charted my professional course ever since. Allen innovatively focused resource efforts within our College of Education to serve military veterans, not just leveraging their status as “veteran” but also parlaying their professional interest in becoming a teacher. In the Spring of 2018, I was honored to work with ECU Athletics and stand by as SSgt. (ret.) Isaiah Ybarra who represented our student veteran group by throwing out the first pitch at ECU Baseball’s “Salute to Service” series (read the full story).

  5. What’s one thingeducator preparation-related or not—you learned in the last month?
    It is less something I “learned” and more something I “realized,” but children are far happier than adults. Owen, my older son who turns two this summer, can cultivate joy in nearly any situation. Cameron, my younger son at just three-months old, smiles more in one hour than I do in one week. To be clear, this is not a slight at adults (I am one of you), but maybe it is a gentle reminder to find our “inner kid” when all of the “adults” around seem to exude negativity.

  6. What has been the greatest challenge in your career?
    The greatest challenge of my career has been balancing it with everything else in life. Like many, I put far too much pressure on myself to “be everything to everybody,” though I am encouraged to know that I have conducted impactful work while also prioritizing my family as of late. If you are allowed to point out benefits of a global pandemic, the last 15 months have uncovered a level of grace and understanding from my institution (ECU) and our partners that speaks directly to work-life balance. For that, I am endlessly thankful.
  1. What advice would you give someone who is interested in working in this field?
    I would encourage someone interested in educator preparation to immerse themselves in the field as broadly as they can. Network with educator preparation faculty and administrators at local universities. Identify community partnerships and stakeholder groups that may support volunteerism or internships. Ask questions with the intent to take action based on the answers you receive. Most importantly, be passionate about the field of education, the role of teachers, and the impact potential that lies within our work.

  2. Who or what inspires you?
    I am inspired each and every day by my wife, Jordan, and my sons, Owen and Cameron. They encourage me to take on challenges and pursue dreams that will have an impact on the world around us. Additionally, I am continuously inspired by the preservice and in-service teachers from ECU, in North Carolina, and across our nation. They serve in noble and impactful fashion during the most challenging of times, specifically Corps Members from the Teach For America program who holistically focus on their students as children and emerging leaders. Finally, I am inspired by the men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces. They bear a burden of service that most civilians cannot possibly understand, and I have committed my career to serving the military-connected community within my professional space.

  3. What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
    I have kayaked over 500 miles of river across 3 states (North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia), and I make it a habit to sleep outside at least a few times each year (not always at a dramatic riverside camp—sometimes just in the backyard!).
  1. What is your favorite part about being a member of AACTE?
    Aside from the natural camaraderie, passionate advocacy, and general knowledge-sharing afforded by the Annual Meetings, I have been especially impacted by AACTE’s Topical Action Groups (TAGs). I served as the secretary for the Co-Teaching in Clinical Practice TAG from 2019-21, and I am currently in the process of starting a new TAG—Military Affiliation and Educator Preparation—which should be finalized in the new few weeks.  Please connect with me to engage with our new Military Affiliation TAG or discover an AACTE TAG that interests you at org/professional-development-events/topical-action-groups/.


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Meghan Grenda

Director of Membership, AACTE