Sac State appoints new dean of college of engineering and computer sciences

Matthew Malone

The recently appointed Sacramento State Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science makes no secret of his goal to improve people’s lives.

For Lorenzo Smith, 46, engineering and computer science are not just about a promise of good pay and a solid job – they fulfill a basic human desire to help others.

“That’s what really makes us feel good,” Smith said.

After a month at his new position, Smith is still moving into his Riverside Hall office. The bookcases are bare, and on the wall is a signature-covered board; a welcome gift for the new dean.

Provost Frederika Harmsen said in an email that Smith has begun to engage his college in a strategic planning initiative and has also formed relationships with the outside community.

“I see in Dean Smith an optimist,” Harmsen said. “Optimism is one of the greatest resources for making visions and dreams into realities.”

Smith has deep roots in education and engineering. He previously worked as the associate dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.

Smith said his father, the grandson of a slave, worked his way up in an openly racist society and graduated with a civil engineering degree from Seattle University. He then worked with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Smith gives his father credit for encouraging him to strive for academic excellence.

“My father was just a bulldog when it came to making sure that I took the right classes,” Smith said. “And not just the easy classes in high school but the tough classes, making sure that I was prepared for college.”

His mother, an Italian immigrant, worked as a teacher in Italy and continued to teach after coming to the United States. She earned a master’s degree in comparative Spanish literature and speaks seven languages.

It was she, he said, who instilled in him an “appreciation for knowledge and learning.”

With his father pushing him to succeed and his mother helping with homework and showing him the value of education, Smith said they prepared his siblings and him very well.

When Smith’s mixed-race family could not get the home they wanted in the city of Rock Island, Ill., they moved to the country town of Viola, Ill.

After high school, Smith earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Wayne State University. He then earned his doctorate in engineering mechanics from Michigan State University.

When he saw a professor teaching a large physics class at the University of Illinois, he realized he wanted to teach rather than become an industry engineer.

He worked for four years at General Motors where he assessed car designs and reconciled the ideas of the designers with the limits of sheet metal. Smith said his time with GM made him a better professor.

“I was able to bring a wealth of insight into the classroom because of my experience in industry,” Smith said.

He identified service to the student body as an area to concentrate on in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“I’m trying to focus very hard on trying to find ways to improve how we serve the students,” he said.

At Oakland University, he helped create and maintain a program called CLIC-form, a series of internships and other learning opportunities that “allowed students at a very early age – freshman and sophomore – to get connected to industry, directly with industry professionals,” according to Smith.

He said he wanted to develop similar internship programs at Sac State.

Smith doesn’t just see industry and job opportunities when he looks at his field.

“If you really like to help people,” he said, “That’s what engineering, computer science and construction management is all about.”