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Volume 52, Number 15   November 29, 2004         

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Miriam Smith: Television, clog dancing and dinosaurs (Oh my!)
Photo of Miriam SmithMiriam Smith, associate professor of broadcast and electronic communication arts (BECA), has plenty of fun facts and goodies to share with visitors to her office in the Humanities building.

She might offer guests some Swiss chocolate -- from a brand not sold in the United States, she notes -- or an official "Prehistoric Monster Hunting Permit" from a dinosaur museum in her hometown of Price, Utah.

Because one of her favorite television shows is "Jeopardy," it is no surprise that quirky trivia rolls off her tongue quicker than you can say Alex Trebek.

"The allosaurus is the state fossil for Utah," she says. "Utah also has a state snack food, which happens to be Jello."

Smith's bulletin board is filled with pictures of her with celebrities, including Trebek, Erik Estrada, Louie Anderson and William Shatner, at television industry trade shows.

Yes, Smith likes television. Although she is an avid fan of "Law and Order," "CSI" and "Monk," she is far from a couch potato. She is fascinated by the way in which the television industry works from business, legal and ethical standpoints, thus inspiring her research and teaching interests.

"It's a medium that we're all familiar with in some respects, although it's by and large a great mystery to a lot of people," she says. "We know it's supported by commercials … but rarely do we really understand the big picture or have any concept that there are very different systems of television in other countries."

This point leads to interesting tidbits from Smith about differences in media systems and regulations in other countries. For instance, in the Netherlands it is illegal to mention the horsepower and speed of automobiles in commercials.

Smith, inspired by Ralph Nader in his days as a consumer advocate and lawyer, decided to pursue a career in law after earning her bachelor's degree in European studies from Brigham Young University in 1980. She also worked as a freelance reporter for Utah newspapers.

In 1991, she entered graduate school at University of Southern California to study media management. At the same time, she worked at a law firm focusing on business transaction and litigation, bankruptcy, employment, entertainment, intellectual property and sports.

In 1998 Smith jumped at the chance to teach, landing a job at SFSU. She finds teaching more fun and fulfilling than practicing law.

"I like to help people," says Smith, who recently was named a distinguished alumna at the College of Eastern Utah, where she earned an associate's degree. "But practicing law is something you do on a small scale. You have your clients, you help them and then they're happy. The impact you can have with teaching is far greater."

Her warmth and energy extend to her work at SFSU.

Smith serves on two campus committees, is a member of the SFSU Handbell Choir, and is faculty adviser to the Latter Day Saint Students Association and College Republicans.

"I realized that being a Republican at San Francisco State might be similar to being a Democrat at Brigham Young University, which I had the direct experience of being," she says. "It's important for students to organize and to participate in campus life and to begin being politically active."

Phil Kipper, BECA professor and chair, describes Smith as an excellent teacher who has developed valuable contacts with Bay Area media executives.

"Miriam has opened doors for us, getting to know people on the business side and bringing them to classes for guest lectures," he says. "She has a very dry sense of humor, and she is certainly a great contributor to the department. She's a lot of fun."

In her spare time, Smith enjoys traveling, photography and folk dance. She is on the board of advisers for Clog America, a Utah-based folk dance, music and art group. She has traveled with Clog America to Germany, Thailand and, this past summer, China.

Smith's research interests involve comparing television management standards in China with those in the United States. She is also interested in studying Internet and media law in Europe. This past summer she took part in a Fulbright German Studies seminar titled "Visual Culture in Germany: Film, Television and the Internet."

-- Matt Itelson

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Last modified November 29, 2004, by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications