For the recent LovEMU Day festivities, outgoing vice president and undergraduate academic dean Deirdre Longacher Smeltzer chose a t-shirt that said, “EMU changed my life” – because it’s “definitely true,” she said.
It was, after all, while she was an undergraduate student at Eastern Mennonite University that she met her husband, went on cross-cultural to China, and committed herself to following Jesus – “all of which have been tremendously life-changing,” she said.
But those were only her first of many years on campus, and during her additional two decades here, which come to a close when she steps down on July 1, she has also had a positive impact on EMU.
In 1998, after earning a master’s degree and PhD at the University of Virginia and teaching for four years at the University of St. Thomas, Smeltzer returned to EMU to serve as a faculty member and administrator. She has held her current academic dean’s position since 2013.
“Deirdre has been an incredibly capable and effective dean,” said vice president for enrollment Jim Smucker. “She has managed a very large portfolio for EMU with integrity and boundless energy. She brought a sharp intellect, a positive outlook on life, deep personal integrity, and a strong commitment to serve the mission of EMU. She has the unique gift of being a strategist as well as an implementer.”
Smeltzer has overseen the launch of new psychology and counseling bachelor’s and master’s degree tracks and majors and minors such as engineering, political science, global studies and marketing, plus a new sociology program in collaboration with Goshen College. She introduced a new daily class schedule, supported faculty professional development, co-led a cross-cultural to China – and much more.
She also played a central role in helping to architect a new, soon-to-be-implemented academic structure, said Provost Fred Kniss. “I am deeply grateful that Deirdre remained in her role longer than she had originally planned in order to facilitate a smooth transition to the new structure,” he said. “Deirdre has been a wonderful and wise colleague, and we will miss her thoughtful presence next year as we begin realizing what she helped to envision.”
Her six years as dean taught Smeltzer “a lot about relying on God,” she said. “It was very obvious to me that this role, in particular, was too big for me – so I had no choice but to lean on God.”
Prior to assuming the role of dean, she taught approximately two dozen different courses, co-led a summer research experience for undergraduates at the University of Richmond, served on numerous committees, and was the mathematical sciences department chair 2006-12 and the director of cross-cultural programs 2012-13.
“It’s hard to imagine a place where I could have better people to work with,” Smeltzer said. “They served as role models, supportive friends and creative collaborators.” Her various leadership roles each “developed new skills and built my confidence, sometimes through the experience of learning that I could fail and move on,” she said.
Smeltzer had an “ultra-high sense of responsibility,” said Professor Owen Byer, with whom Smeltzer co-authored three articles and two mathematics textbooks, Journey into Discrete Mathematics (Mathematical Association of America Press, 2018) and Methods for Euclidean Geometry (MAA, 2010).
Her work ethic and logical mind, too, made her an effective administrator, he said: “She has a rare combination of being an excellent strategic thinker but also being organized and good with details. She also highly valued participatory decision-making, rarely making important decisions without seeking input from others.”
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