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Notre Dame College is pleased to announce that John J. Smetanka, Ph.D., who has served as vice president of academic affairs and academic dean at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., will become the College’s provost and dean of faculty beginning June 1, 2022.

In addition to his leadership position, Smetanka holds the faculty rank of associate professor in the Department of Physics at St. Vincent. He has served as department chair, director of the honors program and director of the liberal arts program since joining that college as a full-time faculty member in 1997.

“What impressed me most about John was his absolute dedication to students,” said Notre Dame President J. Michael Pressimone, Ed.D. “His references shared many stories about how he went above and beyond to serve the students of St. Vincent. This is central to the mission of Notre Dame, and we know that he will be a mission champion.”

Student and Global Service

Smetanka teaches a variety of courses in physics, astronomy, geology and chemistry. He studies science pedagogy and supervises student research in physics, liberal arts and environmental science.

At St. Vincent, he led numerous study and service trips, including traveling with a dozen students to work for Habitat for Humanity in Slidell, La., after Hurricane Katrina. For nearly 15 years, he has guided international credit-bearing student study trips to Ireland, China and Iceland.

“Community service, particularly providing educational opportunities to the underserved is critically important to me,” he said.

Smetanka has partnered with organizations to work with middle school and high school students to promote STEM education. He has developed educational partnerships with Taiwan, Turkey and Morocco.  

Executive and Faculty Leadership

As a member of the executive leadership team at St. Vincent, Smetanka has been responsible for coordinating the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Directors; overseeing the curriculum, academic administration and faculty of the college; ensuring the accreditation of the college and its programs; strategic planning implementation and assessment of those plans; recruiting faculty, staff and students; supporting fundraising, including grant-seeking; and overseeing the budget for the academic activities of the college.

“As a leader, I prioritize team building. My leadership style relies on the ability to work with teams to solve complex problems and establish effective communication characterized by open and inclusive dialog to develop a shared vision in a culture of mutual respect,” he said. “Creativity fueled by innovative thinking requires trust, freedom, encouragement and well-timed guidance. Developing that culture has been a key to my success.”

“I lead teams that develop applications, curriculum and other resources to advance understanding, learning and decision-making,” he added.

Industry Experience

Before his time in higher education, Smetanka worked as vice president of research and development and chief technical officer at On Target Mapping, a software company specializing in Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, in Pittsburgh.

“In both the software development and higher education sectors, I have led organizations in strategic initiatives that have transformed them in challenging times,” he said.

Research Interests

His scientific research interests are high-energy particle physics and a variety of areas of astrophysics especially observational cosmology and galaxy evolution. His work has been published in major journals and numerous conference proceedings.

“My professional career is characterized by combining scientific problem-solving skills; passion for effective communication of complex ideas; and desire to integrate new, emerging technologies,” Smetanka said.

In addition, he has developed and provided regular public planetarium shows and observatory open houses, including monthly offerings that are free and open to the public, at the Angelo J. Taini Planetarium and Astronaut Exhibit on the St. Vincent College campus.

Additional Accomplishments

At St. Vincent, Smetanka has established new undergraduate programs of study, like criminology, data science and digital humanities, among others. He created the first doctoral program, nurse anesthesia, there.

Smetanka helped oversee construction and renovation projects there the $40 million Dupre Science Pavilion, $20 million Latimer Library, and $5 million Will Biomedical Engineering Wing. He also served as chair of the COVID-19 Advisory Committee at St. Vincent.

“I strive to not just lead but also contribute, hands-on, to aspects of a project where my skills are useful,” he said. “In some cases, that may include developing code; outlining critical paths; writing copy; speaking with stakeholders such as clients, customers, or the media; providing technical support; and analyzing data.”

Academic Credentials

Smetanka earned a Bachelor of Science in physics from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and completed a Master of Science and doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics both from the University of Chicago.

January 2022

About Notre Dame College

Notre Dame College is a private, Catholic, liberal arts college in South Euclid, Ohio, committed to teaching students how to make a good living and live a good life. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master’s degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. For more information, visit NotreDameCollege.edu.