Kathleen Smits, Ph.D, P.E.

Kate Smits headshot

Kate Smits, Ph.D, P.E.

Chair, Civil & Environmental Engineering


Solomon Professor for Global Development


Office Location: Embrey 203G

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  • Ph.D. Environmental Science & Engineering, Colorado School of Mines
  • M.S. Civil Engineering, University of Texas at Austin
  • B.S. Environmental Engineering, United States Air Force Academy


Kathleen (Kate) Smits is a professor at SMU Lyle, serving as chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Solomon Professor for Global Development. Prior to SMU, Kate was a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, and associate professor at Colorado School of Mines and the U.S. Air Force Academy. She’s served as a civil and environmental engineering project manager in the U.S. Air Force, including various deployments and is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. Kate’s research interests are focused on energy and the environment with applications to natural gas leakage, the cleanup of contaminated soils and waterways, and the storage of renewable energy. Much of her research looks toward the development of tools and models to better understand such systems. Kate teaches courses in environmental clean-up in developing communities, contaminant transport modeling, and water resources and other topics that align with furthering research in these areas. As the Solomon Professor for Global Development, she is affiliated as a Senior Fellow with the Hunter and Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity at SMU Lyle.

Over her career, Smits has published more than 80 peer-reviewed technical publications and served in a number of editorship roles, most notably as co-editor and science communication editor of Vadose Zone Journal and associate editor of the Journal of Hydrology. She has been invited to speak at more than 150 engagements, including industry and regulatory workshops on oil and gas leak detection and international engineering education symposiums.

Honors and Awards

  • Top cited paper, Vadose Zone Journal, 2021, 2022
  • Service Based Learning Faculty Fellow, University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), 2020
  • Vadose Zone Journal Associate Editor Excellence Award, 2017, 2018
  • Top cited & downloaded paper, Groundwater Monitoring and Remediation, 2018
  • National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Career (CAREER) Award
  • Shultz Humanitarian Engineering Fellow, Colorado School of Mines, 2016-2018
  • ASTM Geotechnical Testing Journal paper of the year award, 2014
  • CH2MHill Graduate Student of the Year Award, 2010, 2011
  • Outstanding Student Paper Award in Hydrology, American Geophysical Union, 2008
  • Outstanding Academy Educator Award, U.S Air Force Academy, 2007


  • Energy and the Environment
  • Land-atmosphere interactions
  • Shallow subsurface multiphase flow processes
  • Contaminant transport
  • Hydrology

Recent Publications

  • Gibson, C.A., J. M. Smith, K. M. Smits, J. Lucena, O. J. Restrepo Baena, 2023, Rapid Assessment Procedure as a Tool for Front-End Stakeholder Needs Analysis in Engineering Projects, IEEE Open Journal of System Eng., DOI: 10.1109/OJSE.2023.3275379
  • Schwartz, M., K.M. Smits, T. Phelan, 2022, Estimating mercury emissions from artisanal and small-scale gold mining for Minamata Convention on Mercury’s National Action Plans: Comparison of approaches and implications, Env. Sci. Policy, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2022.12.002
  • Tian, S., S.N. Riddick, Y. Cho, C.S. Bell, D.J. Zimmerle, K.M Smits. 2022. Investigating detection probability of mobile survey solutions for natural gas pipeline leaks under different atmospheric conditions. Environmental Pollution. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2022.120027
  • Cho, Y., K.M. Smits, N.L. Steadman, B.A.Ulrich, C.S.Bell, D.J. Zimmerle, 2022,  A closer look at underground natural gas pipeline leaks across the United States, Elementa: Sci. Anthropocene, https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.2021.00095
  • Cho, Y., K.M.Smits, S.N. Riddick, D.J. Zimmerle, 2022, Calibration and field deployment of low-cost sensor network to monitor underground pipeline leakage. Sensors Actuators B: Chemical, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.snb.2021.131276.

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