$15 million accelerates aerospace research, education at CU Boulder


Private support totaling $15 million from a notable Colorado family names the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences and further boosts the campus’s reputation as a national and now global leader in aerospace research, education and industry collaboration.

Ann Smead and her husband Michael Byram, community leaders in the Vail Valley, have made a new gift to support, in perpetuity, the Smead Program. The Smead Program was established in 2006 to attract and support the nation’s top aerospace engineering doctoral students and rising faculty stars. It was created to honor H. J. “Joe” Smead, a CU Boulder engineering college alumnus, doctor of electrical engineering, noted industry executive and Ann Smead’s husband prior to his passing in 2003.

“By attracting the best and brightest aerospace engineering students to a nationally renowned program, we expect that our students, faculty and alumni will continue to shape and change the world for the better,” Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano said. “We thank Ann and Michael for generous and visionary gifts that will propel CU Boulder engineering to new heights.”

“CU’s Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department is already one of the finest engineering programs in the country,” Ann Smead said. “The significance of this gift amount is that it will help guarantee aerospace engineering sciences continues its extraordinary growth and also continues to retain and attract some of the world’s most exceptional faculty and students.”

Smead further stated that having a top aerospace engineering program in Colorado is vital to Colorado’s economy and the state’s quality of life. According to Smead, the opportunities are boundless.

“Research in aerospace engineering is a very broad subject area,” she said. “It’s not just about putting someone on Mars. There are also byproducts from these research efforts which support our Colorado economy. Hopefully by supporting these many enterprises we can and will keep the finest students and experts in our state.”

Newly appointed College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Robert Braun, former NASA chief technologist and a nationally known leader in aerospace, described the gifts as “transformational” for the college, the university and the state.

“Ann and Michael's support will ensure that aerospace at CU Boulder remains a global leader in tackling the grand challenges of the 21st century while raising the bar of research and educational excellence across the engineering college,” Braun said. “This gift will also enable the department to collaborate more extensively with our industry partners across the state and the nation.”

The newest donation continues to support two doctoral candidate Smead Scholars annually as they explore their research interests while receiving support and mentorship from world-class faculty. The program also ensures students receive professional development in leadership, project management, grant writing and ethics. They are given resources to attend and present their research at prestigious workshops, seminars and lectures around the world. Expanding the scope of their studies provides Smead Scholars with the skills they need to compete and excel in their careers, whether in academia, industry or government.

“Being a Smead Scholar is a great honor and privilege,” said JoAnna Fulton, who models space structures that fold up inside small containers to meet launch requirements and then expand and deploy after reaching orbit. “The Smead community has given me a supportive place in the department, provided invaluable opportunities to grow and challenged me to be a better researcher and member of the community.”

Within the aerospace department, the most recent gift also establishes the Smead Endowed Chair of Space Technology, a position to be held by a National Academy of Engineering faculty member, and the Michael M. Byram Distinguished Visiting Professorship, and endows two Smead Faculty Fellowships for promising faculty. The A. Richard Seebass Endowed Chair, funded by gifts from Joe Smead and named in honor of a former engineering dean, was the first position established within the prestigious Smead Program. The chair is held by CU Boulder Distinguished Professor Daniel Scheeres, who joined CU Boulder in 2008.

CU Boulder’s aerospace engineering sciences department has a strong national and international reputation. In 2016, U.S. News & World Report ranked the campus’s aerospace graduate program No. 5 nationally among public institutions.