Penn State Altoona alumna's $300,000 gift supports new RTE program

Penn State Altoona received a $300,000 estate commitment from Penn State alumna and Altoona resident Barbara J. Smith to support the college's new Rail Transportation Engineering (RTE) program, a groundbreaking academic initiative designed to prepare students for placement and career advancement within the railroad industry.

"On behalf of our faculty, staff and students, I am proud to accept a gift that will impact the quality of education at our college and fund a program that possesses the potential to dramatically impact the future of the rail industry," said Chancellor Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry. "This generous act of philanthropy will enable Penn State Altoona to advance the Rail Transportation Engineering program in many areas, including the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment used by students and faculty in collaborative research. Major gifts like the one presented by Barbara enhance the stature of our program and will help distinguish Penn State Altoona as a leader in Rail Transportation Engineering."

Penn State Altoona’s baccalaureate degree program in Rail Transportation Engineering is the first of its kind in the nation. Scheduled for launch this fall, the program will provide students with a unique multi-disciplinary experience. Created in direct response to demographic shifts that have resulted in the loss of highly trained senior railroad engineers in recent years, the program will emphasize the study, development, and application of new and emerging technologies impacting the railroad industry.

Barbara Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Penn State, master's degrees in teaching and library science from State University of New York at Oswego and the University of Pittsburgh, respectively, and a doctorate in education from Penn State. She served Penn State's University Libraries as a staff member and administrator for nearly two decades. Smith was the assistant dean for the Commonwealth Campus Libraries when she accepted the position of director of libraries with the Smithsonian Institution in 1989. Her team in Washington was responsible for managing 18 libraries located in Smithsonian museums and research institutes throughout the country and in Panama. Credited with the establishment of the Smithsonian’s fundraising program, Smith directed a staff of 140 nationwide. After retiring in 1998, she returned to State College where she remained active in University life until relocating to Altoona in 2009.

"Railroads will play an ever-expanding role in bringing growth and prosperity to our country, and I am pleased that Penn State Altoona’s program will be making a major contribution to this ever-more efficient means of transportation while furthering the historic role the area has played in railroading," said Smith. "This is an effort I feel duty-bound to support."

In 2008, Smith was inducted into the Platinum category of Penn State Altoona’s Ivyside Society -- the honorary society’s highest level of recognition -- after committing to an estate gift that will support the libraries at the Penn State Altoona and University Park campuses. The gift will provide funding for library material acquisition at Penn State Altoona and the purchase of materials relating to mining and agriculture by Rare Books and Special Collections at University Park.

Smith's support for the Rail Transportation Engineering degree program will help Penn State Altoona to play a vital role in training engineers for placement within the expanding railroad industry. Penn State’s Civil Engineering four-year degree program will provide a strong technical foundation for the new degree program with existing civil engineering courses, coupled with new customized courses in rail business, mechanical systems, track, operations and safety, communications and signals, and industry regulation. Students also will gain an invaluable perspective on the industry’s history, culture, and financial, regulatory and labor environment. The program's impact may expand beyond the baccalaureate degree with research support for the industry and additional educational offerings, such as degree completion via distance learning.

Last Updated April 26, 2011