Bioengineering faculty member to go distance to honor wife's memory

For Andrew Webb, professor of bioengineering, establishing a scholarship to encourage women in engineering was only the start of his effort to honor his late wife's memory. To promote awareness of the scholarship, Webb plans to run the local Tussey Mountainback 50-mile ultramarathon on Oct. 16.

After his wife, Nadine Barrie Smith, a professor of acoustics and bioengineering, died suddenly in April, Webb created a scholarship in her name to encourage women in engineering.

"She was an incredibly positive and passionate person who energized people around her. I needed to do something to keep this energy alive. In addition to being great researcher with more collaborative projects than the rest of our department combined, she also remembered what it was like to be a female engineering student in a male-dominated environment, and the struggles she had to go through herself to succeed. I talked with a number of students and Jean Pytel, assistant dean of student services. They all felt very strongly that it should be an undergraduate award to be established," he recalled.

Webb said Smith spent a great deal of time encouraging women to consider pursuing careers in engineering, including participating actively in camps for high school students.

But simply establishing the Nadine Barrie Smith Mentor Award this summer wasn't enough for the British native. Webb began seeking a way to not only promote the new award, but also to try to deal with the grief of losing his 48-year-old wife.

Running the Tussey Mountainback 50-Mile Relay and Ultramarathon seemed liked the perfect solution. "The running community in State College is very socially aware," he said, "with several events organized by people such as John Domico in computer science and engineering, Mike Casper at the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, Marty Mazur and Tom Cali to support local charities."

Webb said he and Smith enjoyed running primarily to stay fit, but also ran the occasional race.

"We would always run a Thanksgiving race at her sister's in Indiana," he said. "The pressure was on to win our age groups and provide pumpkin pies for dinner later that day!"

Webb said he's run about 15 marathons over the past two decades and doesn't consider himself a great runner. "Running 50 miles is a real challenge. There are three local runners doing this for the first time -- and probably the last time!"

The bioengineer said his main goal isn't to raise a specified amount of money for the award -- it's to keep Smith's efforts to encourage women in engineering alive.

"This is to try to get as many people aware of what we're trying to do," Webb said. "To make people aware of what Nadine has done in the past, and to keep going what she was so passionate about. There's no way to lessen the intense personal pain and loss, but I hope that this scholarship is what she what she would have wanted."

Donations to the Nadine Barrie Smith Mentor Award can be made at: Please remember to note that your gift is for the Nadine Barrie Smith Mentor Award (SCDSZ) in the College of Engineering. For information about the Nadine Barrie Smith Mentor Award, contact John Dietz, director of development, at 814-863-3848.

Andrew Webb, professor of bioengineering, plans to run a 50-mile ultramarathon solo to honor the memory of his wife and fellow engineering faculty member, Nadine Barrie Smith, pictured here. Smith died suddenly this past April. Credit: Andrew WebbAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated November 19, 2010