Alum who’s developing smart, sustainable community is back to discuss the challenges

Brock Smethills is COO of Sterling Ranch. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

A recent alumnus who distinguished himself in the aerospace field returns this week to talk about his latest big challenge — launching a 20-year, 12,050-unit sustainable community just south of Denver.

Brock Smethills (BE’13) is chief operating officer of Sterling Ranch, a development so state-of-the-art that it prompted changes to Colorado law to accommodate its environmentally sound practices. In a partnership with Vanderbilt University School of Engineering, it’s also providing years of internship and Senior Design opportunities across the disciplines, including creating a grid that can support mass back-and-forth switches from solar to electric power and making Sterling Ranch the first all fiber gigabit and integrated community in Colorado.

Smethills will speak at 4:10 p.m. Wednesday in Stevenson Center Room 4309. The event is for the Senior Design Seminar and is open to the public, and a reception will follow.

Smethills’ parents, Harold and Diane Smethills, worked on Sterling Ranch for more than a decade before breaking ground on it, eventually asking their engineer son to first serve as chief technology officer before he became COO. Brock Smethills had grown up sitting in hours-long public hearings about land use and soaking in dinnertime conversations about what it would take to make the community happen. He said he took away a big lesson that will shape everything he does for the rest of his life.

A team from Vanderbilt University visited Sterling Ranch in July.

“No matter how great an idea you have is, no matter how great the engineering, not everybody is going to like it,” he said. “You have to stay true to the original vision and create something the majority is going to like, even if the minority can be louder.

“In the end, you’re going to see an incredible juxtaposition of natural beauty and technology out there.”

Smethills graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of engineering in mechanical engineering and formerly worked for Lockheed Martin and United Launch Alliance. During his time at Vanderbilt, Brock was president of the American Society for Mechanical Engineers and the team captain for Vanderbilt’s NASA University Student Launch Initiative team. Under his leadership, the Vanderbilt team beat out 42 other universities, marking the first time Vanderbilt won after competing in the USLI for six years.

Sterling Ranch also is providing learning opportunities for education majors in Peabody College, because they will be helping design new schools and learning methods that incorporate the next-gen community around them.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
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