'Moonshots' to Malala: Five Facts About Commencement Speaker Megan Smith

This year’s Commencement speaker, Megan J. Smith, was drawn to innovation early on.

At age 4, she built a sticks-and-tinfoil scarecrow in her backyard in Buffalo, N.Y.  In eighth grade, she constructed a solar-powered house for a school science fair.

“It was the first time I understood that I could invent something myself,” Smith recalled.

An award-winning, MIT-trained engineer, Smith went on to be part of designing early smartphone technologies. At Google, which she joined in 2003, she led the division that created Google Glass and the driverless car.

In 2014, Smith was named the country’s Chief Technology Officer in the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House—the first woman to hold that position. Reporting directly to President Barack Obama, she is responsible for focusing on how technology policy, data and innovation can advance the nation’s future.

Smith will deliver this year’s Commencement address at graduation ceremonies at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 15, and will receive an honorary degree from the college.

Smith College will also award honorary degrees to

  • Cartoonist and memoirist Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home, Dykes to Watch Out For; MacArthur Genius Award winner;
  • Roslyn Brock, chairman of the NAACP board of directors;
  • Ruchira Gupta, a leader in the international fight against sex trafficking;
  • American soccer icon and Olympic and World Cup champion Abby Wambach; and
  • NASA astronaut and engineer Stephanie D. Wilson.

Here are five other interesting facts about Megan Smith.

1. She’s an inventor. Over the years, Smith has contributed to engineering projects ranging from an award-winning bicycle lock to a solar car that raced 2,000 miles across the Australian Outback. Recently, she hosted a brainstorming project at a maker space in suburban Virginia aimed at improving conditions for health workers battling the Ebola virus.

2. She’s a leader on STEM diversity. Smith is the former CEO of Planet Out, a pioneering LGBT online community. She has also been an active proponent of attracting more girls and women to STEM careers and increasing diversity in technology hiring.

3. She’s a philanthropist. Smith serves on the board of Vital Voices—a nonprofit that works with women leaders on economic empowerment and human rights. She is also a co-founder of the Malala Fund—named for Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai. “Those of us who love science and math should also do service through innovation and invention to make the world a better place,” Smith says.

4. She’s a corporate trendsetter. As vice president of new business development at Google, Smith helped set the stage for the development of Android, YouTube, Search and Chrome and directed acquisitions that created Google Earth and Google Maps. She also co-founded Google’s think tank, Solve for X, which gathers experts to launch technology “moonshot” projects.

5. She’s passionate about women’s history. Smith created a page on the White House website devoted to the history of women in science. “We need to know women have always done these jobs…even if they’ve been written out of the story,” she says.