One engineering alumnus’ 36-year giving streak helps transform a university department — and an industry
Bryan Smith stands at the edge of the high ground at mining company Luck Stone’s flagship location just outside Richmond, Virginia. He’s looking out at a massive quarry — one that’s about 37 stories deep and more than a half-mile wide.
“So this is our Boscobel Plant. It was begun about 1879,” Smith begins, sweeping his arm across the panoramic view. He explains the history of the quarry Luck Stone acquired in 1930, points to the treeline where it ends, and mentions the equipment they use — giant, heavy loaders and haul trucks that, from the vantage point above, don’t look so big.
As he talks, Smith’s pride in the family-run mining company where he works as mine development and blasting manager is evident. It’s the company he’s worked for since he graduated from Virginia Tech in 1979 with his bachelor’s degree in mining engineering.
But when Smith came to the company nearly 40 years ago, he didn’t forget about Virginia Tech. Early into his career with Luck Stone, Smith saw the intersection of the company and the university from which his father, he, and his son graduated.
Smith was the first graduate of Virginia Tech’s mining and minerals engineering department to go into aggregate mining. At the time, the up-and-coming field — focused on mining coarse- to medium-grained material such as that used in sand, gravel, concrete, and other construction — was not a priority in the department.
As Smith’s career in aggregate mining took off, he saw an opportunity to bring Virginia Tech along.
“I’ve always been proud of what Luck Stone does and their perspective of being a responsible operator in a community to provide the needed aggregate that’s used to build roads, and build houses, and build schools; for asphalt and concrete and stuff that everybody needs everyday that many people don’t give a lot of thought to,” Smith said.
“I was able to take some of that passion back to Virginia Tech, fairly early in my career, where I realized that the Virginia Tech mining engineering department did not focus on aggregates like I saw an opportunity to focus. So I went back to Tech to have those conversations with Dr. [Michael] Karmis, who was the department head for many years.”
Smith says Karmis also understood the potential career opportunities for students in the aggregates industry and had the vision to transform some of the focus of the curriculum.
With Karmis’ help, Smith brought his industry insight to the department by meeting with professors, speaking in classes, and joining the department’s advisory board. The insight continues to allow more Virginia Tech students to move into the aggregates industry and to be recruited to companies like Luck Stone.
“Bryan has embodied Virginia Tech's motto of Ut Prosim by enthusiastically championing Luck Stone, the aggregates industry, and our department,” said Erik Westman, department head of the Virginia Tech Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering. “We're grateful that he's been such an engaged, faithful, and supportive alumnus.”
Smith also began giving back philanthropically, though he notes that his contributions are not what he would consider “a significant monetary amount,” but rather “a consistent monetary amount.” To date, Smith has given for 36 consecutive years.
It’s this consistency in donating both his time and resources that has paved a new direction for the Virginia Tech Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering. And in doing so, Smith has directly witnessed a butterfly effect on the entire mining industry.
“The result of that over the last 30 years is that Virginia Tech has graduated the most mining engineers in the past 10 years in America, with many graduates that go into aggregates. And Luck Stone and some of our peer companies are benefactors of that education,” Smith said. “We need those mining engineers that have a passion or an interest in aggregates to make us successful in the future.”
Back at Luck Stone, Smith has continued to deepen the ties between the company and the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. He’s helped launch a 15-month co-op program at Luck Stone that, so far, 27 Virginia Tech students have participated in, giving them hands-on, industry experience. He helped to advocate for $6,000 in scholarship funding from Luck Stone to mining and minerals engineering students each year.
Additionally, students in the mining and minerals senior design course are given access to leadership tools and training as well as a seminar led by an InnerWill facilitator. The values-based leadership program is focused on self-awareness and how to be a conscious, effective leader.
He extends his ambassadorship for the university while conducting outreach for Luck Stone, which prides itself on engaging with the communities where they work. Smith‘s outreach often connects him with young people he encourages to attend Virginia Tech.
His dedication to Virginia Tech is so second nature to him that at Luck Stone and in the communities he visits he’s sometimes referred to as “Mr. Hokie.”
“I feel very fortunate to be recognized as someone who’s passionate about Virginia Tech, passionate about mining, passionate about the aggregate industry, and passionate about Luck Stone,” Smith said.
Smith sees the same passion for Virginia Tech in other alumni. Through his story, he hopes to ignite other alumni to give back, however they can.
“Over time, if you have a passion for Virginia Tech — which I do, and I know a lot of other alumni do — you can find those opportunities to really make a difference for the Virginia Tech community and give back,” Smith said. “That means a lot to me that I have found the opportunity to give back to Virginia Tech.”
By finding his opportunity to remain engaged starting nearly 40 years ago, Smith has been able to watch the department grow into its national prominence in the mining industry. He says it’s made him “a part of something bigger or more longer lasting than myself.” And he wants to challenge other Hokies to see that they can do it, too.
“Find your way,” Smith said. “Find a way that’s meaningful to you. Find a way that is comfortable for you. When you give back, you will get something back in return: you will get a connection with other people. There is true appreciation from Virginia Tech.”
Written by Erica Corder