Senior Spotlight: Nathaniel Smith '23

Neuroscience major Nathaniel Smith never expected to have 'a fascination with light shows'. Today, the inaugural programmer of the Class of 2020 Gateway lighting displays reflects on four years of four-story designs.
three images featuring lighting displays and a student
Nathaniel Smith '23, the inaugural programmer of the Class of 2020 Gateway lighting displays, reflects on four years of four-story designs. At left, the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 lighting. At right, the annual Christmas tree.

By: Gabriella Petti ’24, student correspondent 

Prior to beginning his neuroscience studies at the University, Nathaniel Smith '23, from Jenkins Township, Pennsylvania, did not expect to have "a fascination with light shows". A providential training opportunity  through the Office of Sustainability inspired Smith, then an incoming freshman, to share his creativity as the inaugural programmer of the four-story Class of 2020 Gateway lighting displays.

Countless intricately designed light shows later, Smith offers a glimpse into the process, from programming to pattern selection. He shares insider tips, reflects on favorite Gateway moments and hints at his plans for a memorable May finale.

Q: How did you become the operator of the Class of 2020 Gateway?

"I began working for Mark Murphy in the Office of Sustainability in the summer before my freshman year. Mark had recently installed lights to light up the Estate and I had been trained to work on them. We learned about that system over the next few months and Mark told me that when the Gateway was finished, there would be a similar lighting system. He officially asked me to be the operator and programmer over winter break."

Q: What made you want to do this job?

"Coming into college I did not expect to have a fascination with light shows. However, after working with the Estate’s light program I became enthralled with the intricacies of the way lights work and the nuances of the program. The Estate was very limited, so when Mark told me that we would be able to do more intricate light shows on the Gateway, I was hooked in. In an instant, I had a hundred thoughts and ideas. I was very happy to be given the opportunity to have the job."

Q: What do you use to input the light patterns?

"We use Pharos Designer 2.0. It has a great user interface and makes programming the light show very fun and exciting."

Q: Have you ever done anything like this before?

"Never. However, in high school I was in the marching band, which gave me an appreciation for timing (more important than you may think with the Gateway) and showmanship. I have really enjoyed learning how to program the Gateway."

Q: What has been a highlight of your role?

"My favorite part is when I am standing by the Gateway and I hear people saying how cool it looks. I have a very fond memory from the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 show. I watched multiple groups taking pictures in front of the Gateway because the light show was displaying the American Flag, the Towers, and 9 1 1 in block letters. I get a great sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that Mark and I aren’t the only ones who appreciate the light shows we create."

Q: How do you select and plan lighting displays?

"This was a very big problem when we first started planning for the Gateway. Which holidays do we pick? Which holidays do we leave out? An easy way to choose the holidays: If the event is on the calendar, I am creating a show for it. I like to include fun holidays such as La Festa, the Super Bowl, and Parade Day. Significant University events such as the inauguration of Father Marina, 50 years of Coeducation, Shamrockin' Eve, graduation, and Welcome Weekend always get a light show. Finally, significant national/international events such as Election Night, Presidential Inaugurations, the death of Queen Elizabeth, COVID pandemic, and the invasion of Ukraine (shown, below) have all had their own special show."


Q: Favorite light display you have created so far?

"The first show I ever did is my favorite, because it holds a special place in my heart. The only time it was on the Gateway was at 5 a.m. on a freezing February morning. We played it to test out the capabilities of the Gateway before the first Grand Lighting. The show used every single effect, including some that did not look good. Whenever I need inspiration, I watch that show to get ideas and see what the Gateway could do."

My favorite show seen by the public is the New Year’s display. ...I have to get creative including every holiday/special event that happened in the year. Each holiday gets one second on the Gateway and it moves quickly. I assure you, every holiday is included in that show."

Q: Which can the University community expect this semester?

"April will mainly feature Easter and Earth Day. Holy Week will feature a cross to remember Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection. We will also be having a green tree to celebrate Earth Week from April 17-22. I want to go out with a bang when I graduate, so I am planning something big for my final show."


Shown, above, a white cross on gold background honored the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Jan. 3, 4 and 5, 2023.

Man with a (Gateway) Plan 

Nathaniel Smith '23 is a neuroscience major and member of the University’s Undergraduate Honors Program and its Magis Honors Program in STEM. He will be completing his Honor’s Thesis in the Seid Ant Lab. Smith, who aspires to be a neurosurgeon, has been accepted to the MD class of 2027 at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine and plans to attend classes there for four years.

He received the University’s O’Hara Award medal for outstanding academic achievement during his freshman year. On campus, he is a work study student for the Office of Sustainability.

Last year, Smith was one of five University of Scranton students selected as 2022 Sanofi US Excellence in STEM Scholars, which provided support for the students’ summer independent research projects.

He is a member of Beta Beta Beta Biology Honor Society, Nu Rho Psi Neuroscience Honor Society, Phi Lambda Upsilon Chemistry Honor Society, and Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit Honor Society.


Four-story glory: Class of 2020 Gateway


Did you know?
At a virtual ceremony celebrating the University’s undergraduate Class of 2020 the facade of St. Thomas Hall, recently-renovated at that time, was named the Class of 2020 Gateway in honor of the character shown by members of the class throughout the pandemic. The renovation of the façade was completed in Feb. 2020 and originally called the St. Thomas Gateway.

The Class of 2020 Gateway features includes:

* a lit glass wall etched with the seal of The University of Scranton that spans the center of the four-story west façade of St. Thomas Hall;

* layers the region’s distinctive West Mountain stone with granite quarried from the same site as the stone used in 1867 to construct the Scranton Estate on campus;

* a wood trellis;

* a wall carved with The University of Scranton’s name;

* a stone bench for seating; and

* an iconic cross that rises above the left side of the building. 

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