In 1974, Professor Cecil Smith challenged his engineering students to build a concrete canoe and enter it in a national intercollegiate contest sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
“We did it, but we didn’t do so well,” recalls Bill Hanks ’75, one of the students participating in the San Antonio race. “It was truly a huge pain to build, but Dr. Smith knew we could finish, and we wanted to prove him right. He was the leader of the project for years at SMU and students always followed him.”
When Smith died at age 90 last May, Hanks and other SMU engineering alumni joined forces to complete another goal: to raise $100,000 to establish the Professor Cecil H. Smith Endowed Scholarship Fund in the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering.
This is an opportunity for alumni to have a lasting impact on today’s students in memory of their beloved professor.
“From my conversations with many Lyle alumni, I know we all feel Dr. Smith was ‘our’ professor,” says Hanks, who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from SMU. “To so many of us, he was much more than a teacher and mentor. He became a true friend.”
For more than 30 years, Smith and Bijan Mohraz, professor emeritus, presided over the “Engineering Lunch Bunch,” a group of former students meeting for freewheeling conversations over lunch. “These lunches developed out of a connection that started in classroom, labs and working on SMU’s first concrete canoe,” says Hanks, a veteran of the group.
A few years ago, before Smith moved away to be closer to family, the group met for the last time. Smith, a tennis ace, had broken his hip on the court and required surgery, but the group was undeterred. The hospital staff was so impressed by the alumni’s determination that they booked a conference room and delivered Smith, bed and all, to the celebration.
As they come together now to raise funds in honor of their beloved professor, alumni recall a few of the reasons he was so special:
- Smith enjoyed conjuring up nicknames for students, and they returned the favor. His snowy mane earned him “The Silver Fox” and “Snowman”, while “Coach” was a nod to his tennis prowess.
- He was the go-to professor for help with any engineering problem, even if you weren’t in his class. It wasn’t unusual to see a line of students waiting outside his office.
- Whether they needed advice about careers or relationships, alumni sought Smith’s counsel.
“Dr. Smith was a truly unique individual who made an IMPACT on many engineering students over such a long period of time,” Hanks says.
By creating the endowed scholarship, alumni and friends are recognizing Smith’s efforts and success in developing engineers and leaders during his time at SMU, Hanks says. “Please join us to complete our goal of raising enough funds to create the Endowed Scholarship Fund in Dr. Smith’s name, and his legacy will live on through future generations of students.”