Two Gifts to UW Support Statewide Literacy and First-Generation Students

woman and man posing on a large chair
Ann Pickard and Dan Smith

Two major gifts totaling $4 million from philanthropist couple Ann Pickard and Dan Smith to the University of Wyoming will support literacy across the state and first-generation students.

“The most important thing in life is education,” Pickard says. “It is the one thing that enables you to break out of whatever class or whatever background you are and progress.”

“Education is the key to unlocking endless possibilities in life,” UW President Ed Seidel says. “Ann Pickard and Dan Smith’s commitment to making a difference through their support of literacy and first-generation students is inspiring. On behalf of UW, I want to thank them for believing in our mission and joining us in investing in the future of our students.”

The first, a planned gift of $2 million, supports the endowment Nathan’s Gift -- A Literacy and Special Education Excellence Fund. The fund was established in 2018 to honor Pickard and Smith’s son, Nathan.

Nathan’s Gift fosters excellence and provides financial support to the UW College of Education’s Literacy Research Center and Clinic (LRCC) and the Special Education Program. This support is focused on developing and implementing a statewide initiative for those with learning differences, especially dyslexia.

“Nathan struggled all the way through his life,” Smith says. “The first bit was figuring out he had some learning difficulty.”

And that’s the goal of Nathan’s Gift: early detection and intervention for Wyoming students with learning challenges, especially dyslexia.

The second, also a planned gift of $2 million, supports the endowment Ann Pickard and Dan Smith President’s Endowed Scholarship for First-Generation Students. This fund was established in 2019 to honor Pickard and Smith’s journey as first-generation students themselves.

The Pickard and Smith Scholarship supports those who are first-generation students from Wyoming. It provides a generous amount of support to each recipient and can be renewed up to three years. It is an important part of the UW President’s Endowed Scholarship Program, which provides opportunities to Wyoming’s top-performing high school and transfer students.

“Neither of us had any help from our parents (for college),” Pickard says. “They just couldn’t afford it.”

“We are profoundly grateful for Ann Pickard and Dan Smith’s trust in our institution and their vision for a brighter educational future in Wyoming,” says Jenna Shim, the John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Dean of the College of Education. “Their generous gift will leave a lasting legacy within the College of Education and University of Wyoming, and it will be a symbol of hope for those who aspire to overcome educational barriers.”

“Nathan’s Gift has allowed the UW College of Education’s Literacy Research Center and Clinic to provide Wyoming educators with resources and professional development to better understand the complexities of dyslexia and struggling readers,” says Kimberly Gustafson, interim executive director of the LRCC. “In collaboration with leading literacy scholars, the LRCC developed a series of modules on WyoLearn that are free to anyone interested in learning more about dyslexia. Thanks to the generous donation from Ann Pickard and Dan Smith, the LRCC is able to provide Wyoming educators with content grounded in research and evidence-based practices in an effort to help all Wyoming students become successful readers.”

Americans overwhelmingly graduate with huge amounts of student loan debt, but Wyoming has a long tradition of fostering student success without undue burden. “Residents of Wyoming are significantly less likely to have student loan debt than their peers nationwide, and the average unpaid debt also is much lower,” states

For example, two-thirds of the nation’s students graduate owing student loans -- but only one-third of Wyoming’s students owe such debt. This is due to UW’s low cost of tuition and to the support UW students receive -- support such as the Pickard and Smith Scholarship.

“We are so grateful to Ann and Dan for their incredible generosity,” says John Stark, UW Foundation president and CEO. “It’s a privilege to partner with them as we pave the way for brighter futures for our students. Their transformative gift will change lives, giving our students more opportunities to reach their highest potential -- the reason we’re here.”

Pickard and Smith are both self-described “military brats” who believe in the power of education to change lives. “Both of us have always put an emphasis on education,” Pickard says.

Pickard has been described by Fortune magazine as “the bravest woman in oil” and “one of the 50 most powerful women in business.” She retired as executive vice president for Shell in 2016.

Pickard was born in Wyoming but then moved around the country a lot while growing up. She returned to the state and graduated from Cheyenne East High School. She attended UW for two years before earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of California and a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania. Her long career as an executive with Mobil, and then Shell, includes overseeing development in the Arctic, Africa, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, South America and the United States.

Pickard’s mom was born on a farm on the Wyoming/Colorado border and, tragically, her mom died seven days after she was born. As a result, Pickard’s mother was raised by her aunt and uncle who lived in Cheyenne.

Retired Capt. Dan Smith graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, earning a degree in electrical engineering. He went on to earn a master’s and an engineer’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School. He served on surface ships, alternating tours on land and sea as a naval officer. He managed major acquisitions, and he served on five ships. He was the captain of the last ship, the USS Underwood. It had been his lifelong dream to command a ship.

Smith’s connection to Wyoming is through his grandmother, who lived on the South Fork outside of Cody for many decades. He has great memories of spending summers with her when he was growing up. “Fishing and time spent in Yellowstone were the highlights,” he says.

“We both have had pretty amazing careers,” Pickard says. “Again, it was thanks to our education.”

Pickard and Smith first met when they were both 15 at Edwards Air Force Base, where both of their fathers were stationed. They met again when Smith was attending the Naval Academy but visiting his sister in California. “The rest is history,” Smith says.

Pickard connected back to her Wyoming roots as she talked with two of her colleagues at Shell, Tom Botts and Greg Hill. Botts is a UW civil engineering alumnus who worked at Shell for 36 years, and Hill is a UW mechanical engineering alumnus who worked at Shell for 25 years. Both served the state on the Wyoming Governor’s Energy, Engineering, STEM Integration Task Force and are members of the UW Foundation Board, along with Pickard.

“We were good friends,” Pickard says. “I had some tough jobs, and they provided a lot of help when I needed it.”

When Pickard retired, Botts and Hill reconnected the couple to Wyoming.

Smith and Pickard decided to have children later in life and ended up adopting brother and sister Nathan and Rebecca. At that point, Pickard moved from Mobil to Shell, which took them to South America. Smith retired and took care of the kids.

“I was Captain Mom,” he says with a big smile.

With Pickard’s career promotions, they lived in seven countries on five continents over 14 years, ending with a stop in Houston, Texas.

They were in Nigeria when Nathan, a kindergartner at an international school, was diagnosed with dyslexia. There were no programs to help him, so Smith and Pickard helped create some.

“We figured out right away that that is one of the best ways to help a child -- to figure it out early,” Smith says.

“So many kids with dyslexia -- it’s not recognized until they’re in the sixth or seventh grade,” Pickard adds. “By this time, they’re in lots of trouble, and a lot of them don’t graduate. And, so, the more we can get them help to be recognized earlier with some good reading support, the more likely they can be successful, too.”

Nathan went on to earn his degree as an auto mechanic and now lives in Los Angeles. Daughter Rebecca is currently a student at UW.

Pickard and Smith retired to Coronado, Calif., to a beautiful house on the ocean.

“We always had this dream that, if we did well enough in life, we would be able to retire in Coronado, California, and buy a house on the beach,” Smith says.

“With our philanthropy, we want to make the world a better place,” Pickard says. “Education is critically important, and the single best thing you can do for somebody is to help them move up in the world and have good opportunities.”

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