Posted: August 15, 2022

Julie Smiley has made a $1 million gift from her future estate to endow the Smiley Family Excellence Fund in the Department of Animal Science and the Thomas Miller Graduate Fellowship in the Department of Entomology.

Julie and Scott Smiley

Julie and Scott Smiley

Having someone give her the opportunity to be part of a research team as an undergraduate opened doors for Julie Smiley that she had not previously imagined. Now, she’d like to provide that same opportunity to others. Smiley has made a $1 million gift from her future estate to endow the Smiley Family Excellence Fund in the Department of Animal Science and the Thomas Miller Graduate Fellowship in the Department of Entomology.

The Smiley Family Excellence Fund will provide support for undergraduate research, departmental programs and new initiatives with a preference given to undergraduate research support and student scholarships. The Thomas Miller Graduate Fellowship will be available to full-time graduate students exhibiting academic excellence and can be renewed each year of a student’s studies.

Smiley, a native of Warren, Pa. and a 1994 graduate of the University, came to Penn State to pursue a degree in animal bioscience, a program she believed worked well with her interests. While she was initially unsure of her future career path, an advisor, support from others in the college and her family encouraged her to pursue veterinary school, which she did at Kansas State.

As an undergraduate though, Smiley found it hard to find a job on campus that would provide her practical experience for her degree.

“I didn’t qualify for a lot of the options that were available, especially when it came to lab jobs or exposure to research as an undergraduate,” said Smiley. “I was lucky enough to find someone who could write me into a research grant where I gained valuable experience working in a lab. I really want to help give someone else those opportunities, particularly in Animal Science.”

“Thankfully, things have changed since Julie was a student,” said Adele Turzillo, head of the Department of Animal Science. “We now have many opportunities for undergraduates to gain laboratory experience. Our faculty value undergraduate research to enrich students’ appreciation for scientific discovery and enhance their skills in problem-solving and critical thinking. This future fund will ensure these opportunities continue to grow.”

The graduate fellowship will honor the ambitions of Smiley’s father, Thomas Miller, who initially began his education at Penn State but ended up transferring to another college to complete his degree. He went on to become a biology teacher where he was able to share his interest in entomology.

“My dad always hoped to be able to come back to Penn State to do something with entomology,” said Smiley. “While that didn’t happen, creating a graduate fellowship was a great opportunity to put his name on something that he felt strongly about and to help others.”

“Graduate students are the life and the energy of an academic department,” said Gary Felton, head of the Department of Entomology. “Investing in their support will ensure we can recruit the very best to our department and provide opportunities to students who otherwise would not be able to attend graduate school. The long-term impacts of estate gifts such as this are immeasurable.”

Smiley, and her husband, Scott, who is an alumnus of Kansas State and the KU School of Medicine-Wichita, ultimately want to eliminate barriers and create opportunity for students.

“There were people who helped my husband and I along the line with opportunities, and we want to pass that help along, especially to those who may not benefit from other forms of support and financial aid,” said Smiley, who is a practicing veterinarian.

“We also know funding can be hard to find in certain areas. There’s a lot of competition for the funding that does exist. I hope through the fund and the fellowship that they will be able to pursue research they might not otherwise have the chance to do.”

In addition to her commitment to Penn State, Julie and Scott, an internal medicine doctor, have made estate commitments to both Kansas State and the University of Kansas.

“All of these gifts are a way to help students at our alma maters have opportunities to get to where we are,” said Smiley. “It’s also a way for us to give back to these schools for their help in getting us through.”

With the record-breaking success of “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” which raised $2.2 billion from 2016 to 2022, philanthropy is helping to sustain the University’s tradition of education, research and service to communities across the Commonwealth and around the globe. Scholarships enable our institution to open doors and welcome students from every background, support for transformative experiences allows our students and faculty to fulfill their vast potential for leadership, and gifts toward discovery and excellence help us to serve and impact the world we share. To learn more about the impact of giving and the continuing need for support, please visit

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