Co-Lin’s Smith honored as a Chamber Educator of the Year

Published 1:00 pm Sunday, April 24, 2022

Janet Campbell Smith will soon hang up her apron as art instructor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College when she retires in May, but first she had a new certificate to hang. Smith was recently honored by the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce as Educator of the Year at Co-Lin. 

Smith has been an art instructor at for 35 years. But she’s been an artist pretty much all of her life. Her grandfather was born in Germany where he worked as an artist until after World War II, when he emigrated to Australia.
“So I guess you could say art is in my blood,” Smith said.

The Brookhaven artist’s first love is ceramics, and she has her degree in ceramic art. She got a taste of teaching as an assistant while studying at Mississippi State University and Mississippi College, then took a part-time teaching job at Co-Lin “right out of college.”

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Instructor Tom Ross asked her to teach a ceramics class.

“I did it mainly to get the studio space,” she said. “I actually never intended to teach. I was just going to be this famous artist. I was young and idealistic [but] then reality sets in and you realize you have to pay the bills.”

Smith taught five years before transitioning to full-time, and continued for another three decades. 

“When I started teaching, I was kind of naïve, but it just felt wonderful to share what I knew with someone else. Over the years, I have learned as much from my students as they have from me,” Smith said. “I tell my students I don’t teach for them. I teach to make me happy. What makes me happy is when you guys do well. My goal is for you guys to do well so that I’m happy.”

Though she has taught about 6,000 students over her career and a lot of her students have gone on to be successful artists in their own right, Smith was “pretty surprised and shocked” that she was named as an Educator of the Year by the Chamber. It comes as a nod of appreciation from the community she has served that she has made a positive impact in a job she has loved.

“I like that I don’t sit at a desk. I move around and teach several classes. I like that it’s not a sedentary job. It’s always changing, never boring,” she said. “And I love to see that spark that gets something going.”

She’s taught every art discipline Co-Lin offers — drawing, painting, 2-D and 3-D design, art history and art appreciation — except computer art. One of her favorites to teach has been the one class that is intended for non-artists — art appreciation. 

“Most of the art appreciation students are not art majors. This class is so they have some exposure into a general art course,” Smith said. “It’s actually one of my favorite classes to teach because I know I’m showing art to people who don’t want to be there. It challenges me to help them appreciate something. They don’t have to like it, they just need to appreciate it. It’s always been a challenge to me. It’s so fun (and) it’s nice at the end of the semester when someone comes up to me and tells me it was a hard class but they enjoyed it.”

As she wraps up her “official” teaching career, Smith is looking forward to concentrating on her own art. 

“I’m in the process of setting up my own private studio where I’m going to try to work,” she said. “I’m looking very forward to being more of an artist than a teacher. If you put everything into teaching, you lose yourself — you don’t get to just be an artist.”

She plans to become more productive with pottery and other mediums, but first to just take a break and travel with her husband. Carissa Mitchell of Union Church will step in as art instructor after Smith retires at the end of May.

“But I’m really going to miss the students, these faces that come in there and I get to interact with and create through, and the other faculty members,” Smith said. “I’m leaving happy. It’s very bittersweet, but I’m ready to move on. I’m going to go on and start a whole other career on my own.”