Gettysburg College alum endows applied physics professorship

Gift from former Intel exec honors Gettysburg College faculty.

A $1.5 million gift from The Ronald J. Smith & Diane W. Smith Charitable Fund will create an endowed professorship in the Gettysburg College Department of Physics.

The announcement was a surprise ending to a physics colloquium presented on Sept. 21.

The gift is part of Gettysburg Great, A Campaign for Our College, a comprehensive effort to increase support for student scholarships, active learning opportunities like research and internships, faculty and teaching, a renovation of Plank Gymnasium, and the Gettysburg Fund.

At the colloquium, 1972 Gettysburg grad Ron Smith shared insights from his 26-year career with Intel. At the close of the program, College President Janet Morgan Riggs ’77 thanked Smith for his presentation and announced that he had funded the professorship. College faculty, students, and guests greeted the news with cheers and applause.

“It was an emotional moment for all of us,” said President Riggs. “This is the first gift of this campaign to endow a faculty position, so it has tremendous symbolic significance, as well as financial impact. We are so very grateful for Ron and Diane’s continued commitment to Gettysburg College.”

The College will award the Dr. Ronald J. Smith ’72 Professorship of Applied Physics to a faculty member engaged in applied physics research and teaching. This professorship does not create a new faculty position in physics but will be used to recognize the outstanding work of a current professor. Smith’s particular interest is in encouraging faculty to prepare students for careers where the application of physics principles will create technology to “improve the human condition and/or preserve the planet.”

“Our students and society will be the ultimate beneficiaries,” said Riggs. Smith also sees the gift as an investment.

“I fully expect to see a return from our gift in the Gettysburg College physics graduates who we hope will make a difference by addressing world problems through technological advancement,” Smith said. “That’s what I had a chance to do, and I want to encourage faculty and students to also apply the principles of physics to real-world solutions.”

Ron met Diane Werley, a 1973 Gettysburg grad, while they were students. They have been generous benefactors of the College. Both were first-generation college students and both received financial aid from the College. Previously, they have established endowments for a scholarship and for a library internship and provided the climbing wall in the John F. Jaeger Center for Athletics, Recreation, and Fitness. They also provide annual support through the Gettysburg Fund.

Smith was a physics major at Gettysburg and graduated magna cum laude. He earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Minnesota. In 1978 Smith joined the small, relatively unknown company named Intel. He was Intel’s first full-time device physicist and held several senior positions during his career. Intel was an early developer of semiconductors, memory chips, microprocessors, and other devices that revolutionized communications and computing.

“I believe in the importance of education and that science and technology education is critical to the advancement of mankind,” Smith said, noting that he and Diane were students during the turbulent late ’60s and early ’70s, which “helped make us problem-solvers in our careers, as parents, and as citizens.” Together they organized the first Earth Day activities on campus.

“While we were students there were fewer than 3 billion people on the planet and predictions that the Earth’s population could not pass 5 billion without massive famine, pestilence, war, and epidemic diseases. Today we have 7 billion people who are living longer and healthier, many with a higher standard of living and cleaner air and water than 40 years ago,” Smith said. “The technology of the information age has had a great influence on making this happen. Computers and communications technology are the foundation for solving other science and technology problems. I want to give back so that a new generation can take the momentum and move forward to solve other issues standing in the way of human progress.”

Endowed professorships are considered among the highest honors in higher education. The funds support the college in perpetuity by guaranteeing critical support to outstanding faculty, offsetting the faculty member’s salary and research-related expenses.

“This very generous gift reflects Ron’s confidence in our physics program and faculty, and his desire to assure the program’s excellence into the future,” said Gettysburg College Provost Christopher Zappe.


A First-Class Faculty
Support truly excellent educators who are making connections among disciplines.


Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Sue Baldwin-Way, director of development communications, 717.337.6832

Posted: Mon, 24 Sep 2012

Next on your reading list

Discovering her resilience: World traveler to future Marine

Celebrating the Class of 2018

Cultivating a first-class faculty: Prof. Allen Guelzo receives prestigious award

Share this story: