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Tech industry leader honors UGA mentor with scholarship

Wednesday, May 5, 2021 - 11:46am
By:
Alan Flurry

Inspired by a mentor's wisdom and guidance when he was a computer science major 40 years ago, Greg Lavender (BS ’83), established an endowed undergraduate scholarship  named for Jeffrey W. Smith, associate professor in the department of computer science, as part of the Georgia Commitment Scholarship Program to pay tribute to the impact he made in his life and the lives of other UGA students. Our colleagues in the Alumni Association share some wonderful details of the full-circle story of success, giving back, and paying forward:

Smith made his mark at UGA as one of the first faculty members to teach computer science. Even in those early days, it wasn’t an easy program of study. Enrollment ranged from a couple of hundred students in the first years to over a thousand in subsequent years. The fledgling department’s work was made even more challenging due to an evolving curriculum as the field of computer science rapidly expanded. However, after several years, the program stabilized and the faculty members were able to steadily expand the rate of computer science graduates at UGA. Today, computer science is one of the most popular majors on campus.

Lavender considers himself lucky to have been in the first graduating class of computer science majors to have studied under Smith. For Lavender, Smith was a role-model professor who demonstrated excellent teaching ability combined with advanced research.

Smith saw research as his obligation—understanding it was important to add to the burgeoning field of computer science—but teaching was his priority. He wanted students to learn what was useful and memorable. For example, seeing the evolving field of computer science and the rapidly growing interest in game programming, Smith developed a course to be taught around video game programming. He is a firm believer that during the short period of time students are at the university, faculty should strive to make an impact in their lives and teach what is meaningful.

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Image: Greg Lavender

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