IST professor lands role as assistant director of academic affairs

Hal Smith has three degrees from the University of Albany, State University of New York. He now has three titles from Penn State New Kensington.

Smith, associate professor of information sciences and technology, and co-coordinator of the Honors program, was recently appointed assistant director of academic affairs. He replaces Donald Bruckner, assistant professor of philosophy, who relinquished the post after 10 years to return to teaching full-time.

"Hal has a strong history of faculty leadership in roles that provide him with an overall understanding of the curriculum and course schedule, which are critical pieces of the Academic Affairs office,” said Andrea Adolph, director of academic affairs. “Most importantly, he has a steady personality and a good sense of humor, both of which are also very much needed in our day-to-day functions.”

Smith’s crossing over to the administrative side of academia is not akin to Julius Caesar “crossing the Rubicon” and passing the point of no return. His work in the assistant’s office will complement his work in the classroom, where he is still a full-time professor, but teaching one fewer class.

”The move provides me an opportunity to see the campus from a new perspective," said Smith, who holds a doctorate in mathematics. “I can help maintain and shape the academic environment in a different way.”

As assistant director, Smith’s primary duty is managing adjunct faculty. A staple of most colleges and universities, adjunct faculty supplement the teaching loads of full-time faculty. Smith’s responsibilities include reviewing the teaching and effectiveness of adjuncts and handling student-adjunct issues. He views his new commitment as a means to enhance his skills as an educator.

“Teaching at the college level is about establishing learning opportunities for the students and for me,” said Smith, a native of Newfield, N.Y. “The new position will require me to interact with faculty in numerous disciplines, exposing me to different domains and practices.”

Smith joined the Information Sciences and Technology (IST) faculty in 2002. He teaches upper-level IST courses and lower-level computer science courses. Sharing the discovery process and getting the students involved in the discussion are the fundamental principles of his teaching style.

“I like to engage students in ideas that I haven’t thoroughly explored and in problems that I don’t necessarily have an answer for at the onset,” said Smith, whose research interests include big data, software architecture, distributed systems and programming languages. “This can be hard for students when they first encounter the approach, but I like to think they appreciate it when the course is over.”

New Kensington’s IST program gives students a background in the core technical areas of networking, databases, programming and system integration. Graduates are trained in key business areas, such as project management and organization theory. The capstone course, Information Sciences and Technology Integration and Problem Solving, provides students with real-life problems faced by organizations. Each semester, nationally-known corporations bring campus students on-board as interns for special projects. At the end of the semester, the students present their results to the company, usually in front of its top management. It is one of Smith’s favorite courses because he serves more as a manager and mentor, and less as a professor.

“I oversee what the students do, but the outcome is totally in their hands,” Smith said. “These are live projects in the sense that it is something the company wants to actively pursue but due to resource constraints have not been able to start. So, the results of the project tend to be incorporated into a solution the company uses.”

Besides gaining “real-world” experience, students often gain a “real-world” job offer. Many graduating seniors are hired by the companies that they intern with during the semester. According to Smith, the achievements of the students can be traced back to the size of the New Kensington campus and the size of the classes, which allow for more student-faculty interaction.

“The benefit of a small campus is being able to work closely with students and to develop a solid rapport,” Smith said. “I still keep in touch with a number of alumni, and when I visit one of our company partners, it can be like a small alumni event.”

When he is not on campus, Smith’s leisure time is spent on the saddle of his bicycle. He has a bike for each of the sport’s three riding styles: mountain, touring and road racing.

Smith and his wife, Katie, are residents of Murrysville, Pa. They have three children: Brenden, Willow and Quade. Brenden recently earned her master’s degree in special education from Penn State.

For more on the IST program, visit

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Last Updated January 22, 2014