“Education is key.” Neuroscientist Nathan A. Smith, Ph.D. ('13), returns in leadership role

Jan. 12, 2022

Nathan A. Smith, M.S. (’10), Ph.D. (’13), is returning to the University of Rochester as an associate professor of Neuroscience and associate dean for Equity and Inclusion in Research and Research Education in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, pending approval of the provost.

Nathan A. Smith Ph.D.

The first Black graduate of the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Rochester, Smith sees his return to campus as a way to make sure the bright minds in underserved communities have equal education opportunities. He is eager to begin working closely with current learners and being a role model for them, and finding ways to enhance the recruitment of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and faculty of color, as well as women.

“I believe in the mission at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience,” Smith said. “I think that by putting the right people at the table, we can make a substantial change in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I want to be a part of that and make sure we get it right. Rochester has the potential to be the blueprint for other organizations. To set an example and change the future of science for all.”

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Smith back in Rochester. In his role as associate dean, he will be integral in assuring our scientific training is an inclusive environment, supportive for all of our learners,” says Rick Libby, Ph.D., senior associate dean for Graduate Education and Post-Doctoral Affairs. “Dr. Smith will be critical in making sure SMD is held accountable to our commitments to our current and future learners.”

Smith comes to Rochester from Washington, where he served as principal investigator and the director of Basic Neuroscience Research in the Center for Neuroscience Research at The Children's National Hospital and Research Institute and assistant professor of Pediatrics and Pharmacology and Physiology at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. His research program is supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and Department of Defense awards.

As a student, Smith worked in the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and was a co-first author on a study published in Science Signaling in 2012. He has been honored for his research that aims to define the mechanisms of how astrocytes, an important support cell in the brain, and norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays an integral role in attention and focus, work together. In 2018, he received the President’s Award for Innovation in Research from the Children’s National Research Institute. Smith was also named one of the 1,000 inspiring Black scientists in America in Cell Mentor.

“My mother and my grandmother always said, ‘If you want to beat them at their own game, education is key,’” said Smith. “I was taught to never to give up. Roadblocks will come, and it will be very difficult, but don’t ever give up. I was the first, but that was just because no one paved the way before me.”

“Nathan is an inspiration. His work at the bench is significant to furthering our understanding of the brain and has the potential to shape how diseases, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and epilepsy, are treated,” said John Foxe, Ph.D., director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience. “That coupled with his dedication to creating a more diverse and robust scientific community will help transform the field of neuroscience and whom we are as an institute by helping to bring the best and brightest to the bench – no matter their background.”

Smith has been a part of equity and inclusion efforts at the University of Rochester for more than a year. He is one of the original members of the Neuroscience Diversity Commission at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, formed in August 2020. He chairs the Cultural Transformation action group for the committee and is also a member of the other action groups – Pipelines and Community Connections. 

“Dr. Smith’s dedication and drive are exactly what we need to continue to move the mission of equity and inclusion in science forward,” said Adrienne Morgan, Ph.D., vice president for Equity and Inclusion, University of Rochester Medical Center and senior associate dean for Equity and Inclusion, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Having someone who already knows Rochester and who has already been hands-on in helping remove barriers to giving access to the best and the brightest is remarkable, and I am looking forward to having him on our team.”

Smith, who will rejoin the Rochester community in the spring, believes, “Diversity powers innovation. We must work to continue to make academia more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. This will move science to new frontiers.”