Robert L. (Bob) Smith, associate dean for engagement in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and head of the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, was recently named president of the Society of Wood Science and Technology.
The society is one of the largest internationally recognized professional organizations of wood scientists, engineers, marketing specialists, and other professionals concerned with biomaterials such as wood, with over 500 members from around the world.
“The society brings together academics, researchers, and government scientists in disciplines ranging from chemistry to business who are applying their disciplines to natural resources,” Smith said.
Smith has been a member of the society for 27 years and has served on the organization’s board of directors, helping past presidents set yearly goals and make decisions for the organization. He began serving his one-year term as president on June 15.
“The society is committed to protecting our forests through the development of new ideas, procedures, policies, and products for the forest products industry,” he said. “This organization establishes a forum for the exchange of ideas, the communication of knowledge, and the development of high standards, policies, and ethics for biomaterial research and the wood industry.”
Smith has already begun to work on goals for the year and hopes to focus on developing ways to bring more students into professions relating to sustainable biomaterials.
“High school students aren’t necessarily aware that this field of study is even an option,” he explained. “They may come into college thinking they want to be an architect or an engineer and only later discover that they can blend that interest into what we do in sustainable biomaterials.”
“I want to work on recruitment strategies and ways to bring students into our programs from the very beginning by raising awareness of fields like natural chemistry, natural engineering, and natural business,” he continued.
Smith also hopes to examine, and possibly revise, the society’s accreditation standards to account for a growing focus on sustainability. Currently, the society accredits 10 programs in the United States, including Virginia Tech’s Department of Sustainable Biomaterials. Programs are evaluated based on their course offerings, program administration and organization, achievements by faculty in teaching and research, support from parent institutions, and student recruitment and retention.
“This field is really about the sustainable utilization and creation of materials from natural resources,” Smith said. “Everything from the paper we use to the food we eat is a natural resource, so placing a greater focus on sustainability and resource management more accurately reflects what we do.”
He also hopes that a greater focus on sustainability will help attract more students to the field.
“This generation of students is very sensitive to environmental issues and wants to make a difference in these areas. This is a great profession for students to do that in a setting with just as much demand for jobs as engineering or business,” he said.
Smith holds a doctorate in forest products marketing from Virginia Tech, a master of business administration from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, and a bachelor’s degree in wood science from Michigan Tech University. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of wood science, business management, and forest products marketing. In his current role as department head, he oversees 15 faculty members in one of the leading departments of sustainable biomaterials science in North America.
Prior to completing his doctorate, Smith worked for a major U.S. manufacturer of wood products for more than decade as a production manager and sales representative in the Midwest. As a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist for 14 years before becoming department head, his work focused on assisting companies with business and marketing issues to help increase their competitiveness.