“I’ve been on the campuses of many other larger institutions and the fact is that I, even in my position, can feel lost at an institution like a state school,” said Smoak. “Being in a smaller university that’s also founded in Baptist tradition gives me the security that I need to speak my faith openly and to be an example on campus to my students, family, and peers. That freedom in this atmosphere is probably the ultimate reason why I stay at Cumberlands.”
Smoak is a professor of music with an emphasis in voice and in 1998 he became the department chair. He also teaches music education courses and voice lessons and directs Cumberlands Singers and the Chamber Choir.
On Friday mornings on the UC radio station WCCR 94.5 LPFM, Smoak hosts a show called “The Doctor J Show” with music from the 70s, 80s and today. His musical tastes are very eclectic so he enjoys this outlet to express it.
In music appreciation classes, he likes to be able to explore all kinds of music. Smoak has also been a guest judge on Spotlight as well as a regular judge on the previously known Cumberland Idol, which were hosted by UC’s Campus Activities Board as a talent show for UC students. Smoak also is a teacher of the freshman orientation Insights class.
“One of the things that I like about doing Insights is also the reason that I like teaching Cumberland Singers, both of those particular groups are primarily not music majors,” said Smoak. “I’m a people person. I like being involved with students from all over campus. I like the interactive involvement with students who are from different majors and different backgrounds.”
Not only is Smoak involved at UC, he is also the worship leader at Main Street Baptist Church in Williamsburg. He enjoys meeting new people in this aspect of his life as well. Although, when he and his family first moved to Williamsburg, they didn’t plan to do church work while he taught fulltime.
After serving nine years at Greenland Baptist Church in Corbin, where he started out to just lead a revival and then soon became their music minister, he began serving at Main Street Baptist Church. He was willing to learn something new as he took on the challenge of a worship service that blended traditional hymns with contemporary praise songs. Smoak emphasizes that he and the praise team lead worship and are not performing.
“(With) the church location being so close to the college, we needed to be more open to changing worship styles,” he said.
The music department also wants to find what is best for UC students. Smoak and the other staff are updating the church music degree to a church music and worship degree. After approval, the updated program should be ready this fall. Smoak enjoys the administrative part of the job, but his favorite part is interacting with students.
“If I can impart a little bit of knowledge, guidance and mentorship, then I’m doing my job,” said Smoak. “The fact that a student can say, “Hey, Dr. Smoak, this is what we’re doing now” and it’s what they’ve always wanted to do. To be able to lead students to find their calling and achieve their goals in life is what I think most of this is all about.”
From the very first day for a new student, Smoak wants to ensure trust between the students, parents and teachers. He wants them to know that it’s not only about teaching, but also about mentorship. He also understands that the students can teach the professors just as well as the professors teach the students.
“In a place like Cumberlands it’s not all about teaching,” said Smoak. “It’s about nurturing and being a counselor, psychologist and a good listener. That helps to establish the foundation for becoming a good teacher and eventually becoming a mentor, someone that can guide the student not just in what courses they need to take, but in helping them make some decisions about their future. I like Cumberlands and the atmosphere of family that the faculty and students have with each other.”
Smoak, originally from Savannah, Ga, was raised in Hardeeville, South Carolina. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education from Charleston Southern University, he taught high school. During his masters and doctoral work at Southern Theological Baptist Seminary in Louisville, he was involved in church work.
In 1988, he married his wife Cheryl and they have a son, Cameron, who is in his junior year at UC. (UC)