Smith pioneered University’s engineering program

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Sheldon Phelps Smith Building honors an individual whose foresight helped to chart UNC Charlotte’s educational course.

Smith, vice president and general manager of the Douglas Aircraft Company’s Charlotte Division, served as a trustee of Charlotte College from 1958 to 1965. He is credited with bringing an engineering program to the institution. Through his generosity, Douglas Aircraft Co. engineers taught at Charlotte College on a released time basis; as many as nine part-time instructors from Douglas were in service at one time.

Bsmithorn in Redlands, Calif., on March 26, 1910, Smith graduated from Pomona College in 1932 with a bachelor’s degree in physics. During World War II, he served as a lieutenant with the Engineering Division of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics and was assigned to the missiles branch. Following the war, he was a missile project engineer with the Douglas Aircraft Co. Prior to moving to Charlotte, he was an assistant design engineer for missiles at the company’s Santa Monica facility.

In addition to starting the University’s engineering program, Smith is credited with bringing graduate courses in mathematics and physics to the-then Charlotte College through a cooperative agreement with N.C. State University.

As an advocate for the college, Smith once said, “If we marry the manpower development of this Charlotte College area of some 1 million people to the tremendous demand of technical industries for engineers and scientists, we will accomplish two ends: to help satisfy the great national requirements for engineers and scientists and to improve the usefulness and economic standards of the residents of North Carolina.”

Smith left Charlotte to become vice president of Douglas Aircraft and vice president of Douglas United Nuclear Corp. in Hanford, Wash. He died April 28, 1966.

The Smith Building, completed in 1966, was originally called the Engineering Building. The 71,000 square-foot, $1.6 million facility was the largest classroom and laboratory building on the campus at the time. When finished, it housed the Computer Center, Mathematics Department, the Geography and Geology Department (now Department of Geography and Earth Sciences) and the Engineering Program.

UNC Charlotte dedicated the building in honor of Smith on Dec. 15, 1968, in a ceremony held in the Cone University Center. The Smith family presented a portrait of the building’s namesake to be placed in the facility.

Atkins Library Special Collections contributed to this article.

Photos (inset) Sheldon Smith and the Smith Building, circa 1973.