Led by a deep and personal understanding of the importance of education and a desire to help young students, Deanna and Ben Smith '65 established the first scholarship in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University in 1999. The Benjamin R. and Deanna J. Smith Scholarship in Aerospace Engineering is a two-year scholarship awarded to an undergraduate student.
Ben and Deanna grew up in military families and first met in high school on Eilson Air Force Base, just south of Fairbanks, Alaska, where their fathers were stationed. They met again in college when Ben was a junior at Texas A&M and Deanna was a sophomore at Texas Woman's University, Texas A&M's "sister school" at that time. The two were married on the afternoon of Deanna's graduation, and they returned to College Station where Ben finished his master's degree in aerospace engineering.
Upon this foundation, Ben and Deanna built a happy family life together. Their two sons are both Aggies, as are their daughters-in-law. Their older grandson will graduate from Texas A&M in December. Ben enjoyed a 38-year career with General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin. Now retired, he continues to fly light aircraft and maintains a lively interest in science and aerospace.
Deanna taught high school and junior college English for 30 years. During her career, she wrote almost innumerable letters of recommendation for her students. "I always wrote something unique and significant about each student, but I realized I wanted to be someone who not only gave the students recommendations, but also made a difference in funding their educations through a scholarship," Deanna said. She came to understand how much a scholarship—even a small one—can mean to a young person.
Deanna continues to mentor students in a sixth-grade reading program. From this background of engineering and education grew the Smiths' desire to help young people attain a college education and ultimately a career in aerospace engineering.
One of the first recipients of the Smith's scholarship was Darren Hartl '03. Darren, like Ben, is a first-generation college student. Hartl has gone on to complete a Ph.D. and is now an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Hartl says that the best gift from the Smiths was not the scholarship, but a graduation gift. The gift is a framed copy of a portion from John Donne's Meditation 17, which hangs in Hartl's office today. Below are its words:
No man is an iland intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy Friends or of Thine Owne were; any man’s death diminishes Me, because I am involved in Mankinde. And therefore never send to know for whom the Bell tolls; it tolls for Thee.
- John Donne—1573-1631
“The poem is a beautiful reminder from the Smiths that mankind is in everything together. Over time, that gift has impressed upon me the importance of humility and teamwork, and now I get to pass that lesson on to my students as well,” says Hartl.
For many years, Deanna gave a copy, rolled and tied in school colors, of this portion of Donne's work to all her graduating senior students. Her hope was that the words would hold greater meaning for them as they ventured into their life's work. The excerpt eloquently explains the impetus behind the Benjamin R. and Deanna J. Smith Scholarship in Aerospace Engineering. Ben and Deanna continue to be deeply gratified by the fine work and many accomplishments of "their students."