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University of Sunderland Graduations: University honours local education hero

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Published on 13 July 2022

Professor Peter Smith
Professor Peter Smith

For more than four decades Professor Peter Smith has had a profound impact on hundreds of students at the University of Sunderland through his lectures in mathematics and computing, academic papers, alongside supervising PhD researchers.

Despite a life-changing fall at his home in 2016 leaving him paralysed from the neck down, and in need of 24-care, as well as losing his wife Marie to cancer three years later, Peter continues to support PhD students from across the world, teaching online and supervising with the help of technology.

This week, the University will award him with an Honorary Doctorate of Technology, recognising his academic achievements alongside his substantial contribution to the development and positive reputation of Sunderland, particularly within the field of computer science.

He collects his award alongside hundreds of graduating students at the Stadium of Light.

Peter, 65, said: “I am honoured and touched by the award of the honorary higher doctorate that the University is bestowing upon me. I’m so grateful for the opportunities that the University has given me to connect with students all over the world throughout my career.”

Born and raised in Sunderland, Peter’s roots are embedded in the City and the University.

His mother, Joyce, now 94 years old, trained as a pharmacist when the University was Sunderland Technical College and his father, Thomas, was a teacher at Farringdon School.

After finishing A-Levels at the Grammar School in Ryhope, excelling in mathematics, Peter chose to study at the University (then Sunderland Polytechnic) a Combined Studies degree in Science, majoring in Computing and Mathematics. He graduated in 1978 and stayed on to undertake a PhD in Mathematical Modelling, which he was awarded in 1981.

This then led to Peter joining the staff of the former Department of Mathematics and Computer Studies as a lecturer, where he quickly rose through the ranks. In 1992, he was made a Professor of Computing at the same time as the Polytechnic became the University of Sunderland.

The father of three, then became Dean of Computing and Engineering, a post he held for some 10 years until he resumed his role as Professor.

In 2013, Peter was made an Emeritus Professor, after retiring from the University to care for his wife Marie, who bravely battled cancer for eight years.

It was during this time that Peter fell down his stairs at home, and was left permanently paralysed from the neck down and in need of 24-hour care.

Yet, despite all the incredible challenges he’s faced since that accident – learning to eat, speak and breath again unaided, as well as coping with the loss of Marie - Peter has refused to give up.

He has continued his academic work with the help of technology, teaching online and supervising PhD students from across the world.

The impact Peter’s career has on others’ lives continues to astound. He has supervised over 60 PhD and Professional Doctorate students and examined over 50 PhD students at Universities in the UK, Spain, Ireland, India and Hong Kong.

Many of those students have gone on to senior positions themselves as Professors, Deans and Pro Vice Chancellors thanks to his guidance.

As well as his teaching work, Peter is a Fellow of the British Computer Society, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Arts, the Chartered Management Institute and several other societies. He is also a Chartered Engineer, Chartered Scientist, Chartered Mathematician, Chartered Manager and Chartered Statistician.

He has published over 300 books, papers and articles across a range of topics including computer science, management and his other great passion - music.

Live music has played an influential part in Peter’s life. From his early teens, packing a sleeping bag and heading across the length and breadth of the country to watch some of the world’s biggest artists, from Abba, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, T-Rex and Pink Floyd to Barbara Streisand and even the Spice Girls.

He was in the crowd for the celebrated Live Aid concert in 1985 and even left a Sex Pistols concert unscathed, despite being the only fan in the crowd with long hair.

To date, he’s attended more than 2,000 concerts, documenting and cataloguing every gig he’s attended, producing a music blog and writing a book about those experiences.  

University of Sunderland Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) Professor John MacIntyre said: “Peter’s long-standing connection to our University has kept him grounded to his home town of Sunderland, a place he is so passionate and proud of. It’s where he works, it’s where he met his life-long friends, it’s where he met Marie, the love of his life, back in 1975 and they raised their three children Ashleigh, David and Laura.

“Peter is fiercely proud of this University and its history, and fiercely proud of all those members of staff and students who luckily found themselves under his wing over the last four decades – including myself.”

He added: “We are delighted to be honouring Peter’s outstanding commitment to technology and education with this Honorary Doctorate of Technology award.”