Eric Kaufman looks forward to bringing a faculty perspective to university governance and using that experience to teach students about leadership. Tamarah J. Smith wants to serve Virginia Tech staff in advocating for them, especially as the pandemic brings monumental changes to the way they work.

Kaufman and Smith, as the elected presidents of faculty and staff senates, respectively, will serve as the faculty and staff representatives to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors (BOV) over the next year.

Kaufman, a professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education, is president of the Faculty Senate and starting his first year on the BOV. Smith, who has been at Tech since 1988 and is business operations specialist with the Office of Summer and Winter Sessions, is president of the Staff Senate and beginning her second year on the board.

“On the BOV, I am responsible for conveying the staff needs, issues, concerns, and triumphs,” Smith said. “It’s an honor working at Virginia Tech and being an advocate for staff. We have come a long way since my beginning and I'm so excited to see where this year takes us.”

“It’s a daunting challenge to serve as president of Faculty Senate, as well as faculty representative to the Board of Visitors,” Kaufman said. “It is an important role and really much bigger than one person can fulfill, so I am grateful for the guidance and example set by prior faculty who have served in this capacity. I also feel fortunate that many more faculty are working to fulfill other roles in the process. I firmly believe the entire university community benefits from broad faculty involvement in shared governance. ”

To ensure a channel for more direct communication, the Board of Visitors established the faculty representative position in 1988, 14 years before the General Assembly required it. When the board added a staff representative in 2006, it was believed that Virginia Tech was the first public university in the state to do so.

Eric Kaufman, Faculty BOV representative
Eric Kaufman

Kaufman grew up in rural Ohio, obtained his undergraduate degree in agricultural education from The Ohio State University, and his his master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Florida, where he studied leadership in community and volunteer settings. He began at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2007.

“My work is in the area of applied social sciences and likely a little more interdisciplinary than some people expect,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman coordinates Virginia Tech’s graduate certificate in Collaborative Community Leadership, as well as the leadership studies concentration within CALS’ online master’s program and the Leadership and Social Change minor. He served as faculty principal for the Honors Residential Commons from 2014 to 2017, and was president of the Association of Leadership Educators from 2013 to 2014.

“I really enjoy helping others realize their goals, and that passion translates into some of the work I have done as an Extension specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension.,” Kaufman said. “Virginia Tech has been a wonderful place to establish my career in academia. I’ve received outstanding support along the way as I developed new courses and programs, as well as support for sharing my expertise with others.”

“My priority for the coming year is to share stories of faculty experiences that can help inform university-level decisions, including ongoing investments in teaching, research, and outreach—the three areas of the land-grant university mission,” said Kaufman. “I look forward to learning from BOV members, and I believe the experience will help inform my teaching, giving students further insight on leadership in practice and how it affects their experience at Virginia Tech.”

Smith was first hired by Virginia Tech in 1988, after she was laid off from a mining equipment plant. For more than 30 years, she commuted from Peterstown, West Virginia, until finally moving to Virginia in 2019.

Tamarah Smith
Tamarah Smith

“When I first started at Virginia Tech, I was young and excited to be a part of a large university,” Smith said. “I'm not so young now and still love the excitement and joy that comes from working at a major university.  There have been tremendous changes that have taken place since my beginning, and it's an honor to have been around long enough to see the impacts and to have been a part of it.”

Smith will begin her second year on the Board of Visitors after a year of getting to know other members and learning more about how the university functions. The appointment comes with her role as president of the Staff Senate.

“I’m teaming with our staff to make our working conditions stronger, facilitate better communication between administration and staff, address child care, and advocate for more competitive salaries,” Smith said. “In the midst of this pandemic, I’m also working with supervisors and administrators to encourage flexible work hours for our at-risk employees and their families.”

— Written by Mason Adams