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CEE Office Manager Sue Smith Endows Departmental Scholarship

For almost 27 years, department secretary Sue Smith has been a constant in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).

Need help with planning an event? Ask Sue. Are you a young faculty member figuring out the new department? Sue will show you the ropes. A student totally overwhelmed by university life? Sue will do what she can to help.

"She's the face of the department for so many students, so many Old Dominion alumni, so many friends of the department. Sue's been a constant for 26 years," said CEE chair Gary Schafran, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

With more than 31 years in all at ODU, it would be completely understandable if Smith was giving serious thought to a quiet exit from her longtime workplace.

But not only is she nowhere near planning her retirement, she recently donated the equivalent of a year's salary to the CEE department, endowing a scholarship and providing the first donation to the ODU/Hampton University Solar Decathlon 2011 team.

"It's probably unprecedented in the college that somebody who's worked in the department for all these years has endowed a scholarship," Schafran said. "She's giving financially back to the department and the students when it should maybe be the other way around."

Smith said she's fortunate to be in a position to make the donation, and can think of no better place to invest her charitable dollars than in education.

"These students have been there for me. They've helped me want to get to work in the morning," she said. "It's just a great place to come to work."

And work she does. In the past week, Smith put in a number of extra hours helping with preparations for a seminar hosted by the CEE Advisory Board and gathering materials around Kaufman Hall that were needed to put together multi-chapter, printed programs.

Schafran said that's typical of Smith. She was pivotal in the creation of the advisory board more than 20 years ago, he noted, and many of the original board members rely on her still.

"They always have fond stories of things that Sue helped them with, or did for them," Schafran said. "That's just what she does for people, from the freshmen to the Ph.D. students, from the new faculty, to the faculty member who's been here for 30-40 years, to the dean's office, to anybody who needs help - particularly the chair of the department."

Smith said Schafran is the fifth department chair she's worked under in CEE, noting that she has had a great relationship with all of them.

According to Schafran, Smith has helped engineering students in ways that go far beyond the ordinary. She has frequently hired students who need the money to do work around her house. She's even provided room and board for a handful of students, starting with a female engineering student who desperately needed to escape an abusive relationship.

"She came here crying. She needed a place that was safe. I had not even rented rooms before," Smith said. "Now, I've had civil engineering students, grad students, a business scholar, foreign students. It's always lively."

Raised in Portsmouth, Smith moved back to her hometown and in with her elderly parents a few years ago. Both of her children now live in the area as well.

Smith said the CEE department is like a family, too. Frequently, faculty members have come out to fix things at her house, applying their engineering know-how. It's a favor she's returned many times throughout the years.

"We all help each other," she said.

"The faculty, the staff, the people, the environment - it's like a family. It's better than a family; they don't know our hot buttons to get us upset."

This article was posted on: November 23, 2010

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