UB alumnus honors father with engineering scholarship

Published August 10, 2018

An annual scholarship a UB graduate and his wife established in 2005 already has changed the lives of 18 students in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Now, Mary and James Smist have pledged a major gift through a bequest expectancy to ensure the Felix Smist Scholarship continues in perpetuity.

The scholarship, which each year pays the full tuition for a part-time engineering student, is named for Smist’s father, who spent 16 years in night classes to earn a BS in mechanical engineering from UB. It took that long because Felix was a full-time worker with a wife and children to support.

James Smist remembers the pride he and his siblings felt when his father graduated.   

“His example made me realize that education is a precious thing,” said James Smist, who later graduated summa cum laude with a BS in chemical engineering from UB in 1980. Smist is president of Dean & Company in Vienna, Virginia.

“The goal of the gift is to allow the example of Felix Smist’s commitment to education, as represented by this scholarship, to go on forever,” said Smist, who received the UB Alumni Association’s Samuel P. Capen Award in 2017.

Liesl Folks, dean of the engineering school, thanked the Smists for their longtime generosity, and for the recent bequest gift that will maintain an important scholarship opportunity for SEAS students.

“The Felix Smist Scholarship is, without a doubt, one of the most inspirational awards in the history of UB. As a loving tribute to Felix’s life and memory, it reminds us every day that anything is possible with determination and perseverance,” Folks said.

“Jim and Mary recognize that our students — like Jim’s father — arrive from a variety of circumstances, and many can’t be here full time. Their gift offers hope to hardworking people who want to improve their skills and careers through a degree, but can’t do so by traditional means.”

Charles Wiechec, a Smist Scholarship recipient, said the award has helped him complete a BS in computer science and engineering, which he is scheduled to receive later this year.

“The scholarship helped my family by alleviating the stress of having to find the funds to cover my education,” said Wiechec, who worked full time off campus when he was first at UB. In the past several years, he has worked as a research and teaching assistant in the engineering school, in addition to doing community outreach for the university.    

Wiechec hopes to work in computer research and networking and “to use the experience I gain professionally to give back to the community.”

The Smists’ bequest gift was made during Boldly Buffalo: The Campaign for UB, the largest fundraising campaign by a SUNY school and the largest in UB's history. It will raise $650 million to transform student experiences, empower faculty research and discovery, and improve local and global communities.