James A. Smith, the Henry L. Kinnier Professor of Civil Engineering in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, has begun a three-year appointment as assistant dean for graduate education. Working with the Office of Graduate Programs team, Smith oversees strategic and operational aspects of graduate education, including postdoctoral researchers.
He also assists UVA Engineering’s associate dean for academic affairs, executive dean and dean in leadership and management of the school in matters associated with graduate education.
Smith joined the faculty at UVA Engineering in 1992, after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and master’s and doctoral degrees in civil engineering at Princeton University, and following seven years as a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Resources Division.
Since that time, Smith has earned international recognition for his innovations in household water treatment for citizens in developing countries. In 2015, he won an Edlich-Henderson Innovator of the Year award from the UVA Licensing & Ventures Group for founding PureMadi, a nonprofit organization, and for developing MadiDrop PBC, a public benefit company that disseminates a clay disk Smith invented making use of nano-silver particles to purify water. PureMadi’s ceramic water filters have provided clean water to more than 25,000 people in rural South Africa, and more than 40,000 MadiDrops have been sold. Smith was a Fulbright Research Fellow at the University of Venda in Limpopo Province, South Africa, in 2017-2018.
Under his leadership in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the then-Department of Civil Engineering’s graduate studies coordinator, Smith initiated significant improvements to graduate recruitment, which led to increases in applications and matriculations. He also created new opportunities to engage and provide professional development for the department’s existing graduate students.
“Next to faculty, I believe graduate students and postdoctoral researchers are among the school’s most valuable resources,” said Smith, who now advises eight Ph.D. students and a postdoc.
“I plan to help the School further refine graduate recruitment efforts, with particular attention to encouraging undergraduate research experiences and increasing diversity among our graduate student enrollment,” he said, noting he also will focus on enhancing graduate students’ academic development.
“Jim is an outstanding leader who will contribute to the excellent work of our graduate programs office working with Amy Clobes, director of graduate programs,” Associate Dean for Academic Affairs N. Scott Barker said. “He brings energy and experience to the position as we continue the phenomenal growth we’ve seen in our graduate enrollment in recent years, particularly the increase in truly exceptional students who are choosing UVA Engineering for their Ph.D. degrees.”
Since 2015, UVA Engineering has been No.1 in Ph.D. student enrollment growth among the U.S. News & World Report’s top-50 graduate engineering programs.
Smith’s colleague, materials science and engineering professor Sean R. Agnew, congratulated the search committee, chaired by Andreas Beling, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, for its selection. Committee members included Clobes, Will Guilford, professor of biomedical engineering and assistant dean for undergraduate education, and Sadegh Eghdami, president of the Graduate Engineering Student Council.
“Based on my personal experience, Jim has a keen eye for both outcomes (e.g., academic excellence) and process (including interpersonal relations). I think he embodies the University president’s call to be both good and great,” Agnew said.