A Life of Service to Engineering Education and Research

Dean Emeritus


A Life of Service to Engineering Education and Research
Ernie Smerdon's distinguished career left an indelible legacy on engineering education and research.

Dean Emeritus of the UA College of Engineering, Ernest “Ernie” Thomas Smerdon, died Aug. 11, 2014, at age 84. He was dean of the College from 1988 to 1997, after which he spent three years directing engineering education programs at the National Science Foundation. He served as vice provost at UA and retired from the University in 2003.

“In addition to having a distinguished reputation in research,” said current UA Engineering dean Jeff Goldberg, “Ernie was a strong advocate for engineering education.”

Smerdon dedicated his life to improving engineering higher education while making significant contributions to research in water resources and global environmental issues. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1986 and served as president of the American Society for Engineering Education.

During his term at ASEE, Smerdon emphasized international programs for engineering students, the inclusion of business and social science content in engineering programs, and the notion that the first professional engineering degree should be a master’s degree.

“All of these eventually became part of the national debate on how to educate engineers,” Goldberg said.

Smerdon graduated from the University of Missouri with a BS in engineering in 1951 and served four years in the U.S. Air Force, then returned to his alma mater for his MS and PhD. He went on to hold the Janet S. Cockrell Centennial Chair in the civil engineering department at the University of Texas, Austin, and the Bess Harris Jones Centennial Professorship in Natural Resource Policy Studies at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. He was vice chancellor for academic affairs for the University of Texas system from 1976 to 1982.

His numerous honors include the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Royce J. Tipton Award, the 2006 Golden Vector Award from the Pan-American Union of Engineering Associations, the 2005 John C. Park Outstanding Civil Engineer Award from ASCE’s Arizona section, and the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award by the ASCE Environmental and Water Resources Institute. The Arizona Society of Professional Engineers named him Engineer of the Year in Education. 

Smerdon credited his Missouri Ozarks upbringing for his strong work ethic and family values, and has been quoted as saying: “I was surrounded by dairy cattle and crops. I learned early on that hard work was good for you, and I learned that I didn’t want to be a farmer.”

His wife of 63 years, Joanne Duck Smerdon, survives him, as do their three children, 10 grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and his sister and brother.

Smerdon’s life will be celebrated Nov. 24 at a memorial at the UA College of Engineering. Donations can be made in his memory to the Ernest and Joanne Smerdon Endowed Scholarship to support outstanding undergraduate students at the University of Arizona College of Engineering.

Celebration of life and endowed scholarship details at engineering.arizona.edu/ernest-smerdon

Calling UA Engineering Alumni!

Where has life taken you since graduation? We’d like to know and so would your former engineering classmates.
Please email us and include the following information:
• Name and year you graduated
Major and degree (BS, MS, PhD, etc.)
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Don’t forget to include a digital picture of your family, latest project at work, or that boat or hot rod you just finished building in your garage. Vacation photos are great, too. We’ll publish your news and photos online and in the next print edition.
Please send your e-mail to pnb@email.arizona.edu


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