Chemical Engineering department named for John McKetta


John McKetta, in burnt orange, with (from left) deparment chair Roger Bonnecaze, Bill Powers, and Dean Greg Fenves

John McKetta is surely one of the most beloved figures in University of Texas history. The three-time head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, and then dean of the now-Cockrell School of Engineering, had a career that spanned more than half a century. At 97 he continues to touch lives with his cheerful and generous spirit. Yesterday, it was my honor to rename our Department of Chemical Engineering for him. It is only our second department, after the Butler School of Music, to be named.

Dr. McKetta grew up in Pennsylvania and spoke only Ukrainian until the age of 6. He arrived on our faculty in 1946 as a young professor from the University of Michigan. Chairing his department three separate times between 1949 and 1963, he was appointed dean of engineering in 1963, the first dean to be selected from within the college’s own ranks. In 1965, the regents approved 113 new faculty positions, and John oversaw a near doubling of engineering faculty.

In 1995, a retired Dr. McKetta added up his total salary from the University and decided to give it all back — $1 million — if his former students would match it, which they did. In 2006, alumni and friends initiated the Challenge for McKetta campaign, an eight-year, $25 million fundraising opportunity for alumni, friends, and corporate partners to help support students, faculty, facilities and excellence within the Department of Chemical Engineering for decades to come in Dr. McKetta’s honor. The campaign recently surpassed the $11 million mark which triggered the formal renaming by the Board of Regents, who determined the naming should be realized within John’s lifetime so that he could witness the impact of his legacy.

I’m honored by John McKetta’s friendship and heartened to know that students for decades to come will see his name on the department he had such a big hand in building. Congratulations, John, and thank you for all you’ve done for UT.

Hook ’em Horns,



Photo by Caleb Horn

Nanotechnology center is a historic milestone for UT Austin


Nanotechnology like this plastic substrate roll will make flexible electronics commonplace

Any day UT Austin receives an $18.5 million grant is a good day. But the announcement that a grant in that amount from the National Science Foundation over the next five years was to create an NSF nanosystems engineering research center was much more significant than simply the receipt of even that impressive an amount.

When engineering dean Greg Fenves was new to his job, one of his earliest observations to me was that, unlike other top universities, UT Austin was not home to an NSF research center. These centers complement America’s system of national labs, and the fact that this particular center will be at UT speaks volumes about our leadership in the engineering sphere.

Nanotechnology is one of the most important frontiers there is. Nanoscale breakthroughs will usher in inventions and solutions we can only dream of today, and thanks to the National Science Foundation and our academic and corporate partners, The University of Texas at Austin will be right at the cutting edge. Those academic partners include the University of New Mexico and UC-Berkeley, and our corporate partners include Texas Instruments, 3M, Lockheed Martin, Applied Materials, and Corning Inc., among others.

The Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Computing and Mobile Energy Technologies (to be known as NASCENT) will develop innovative nanomanufacturing, nanosculpting, and nanometrology systems that could lead to versatile mobile computing devices such as wearable sensors, foldable laptops, and rollable batteries.

Not only is this the first time UT Austin has been selected to lead a prestigious and highly competitive engineering research center (ERC), but it is the first time since 1986 that a Texas university has been selected to lead an ERC. As of November 2011, there were 17 active ERCs across the United States.

Cockrell School of Engineering professors Roger Bonnecaze and S.V. Sreenivasan will lead the center. My congratulations to Dean Fenves on turning his observation from a goal to a reality.

What starts here changes the world.

Thank you, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

From left, me with UT deans Greg Fenves of Engineering,
Tom Gilligan of Business, and David Laude of Natural Sciences

Many of you, especially in the Houston area, know how much fun the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is.

But you might not realize that it’s also a huge supporter of The University of Texas. Over the years, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has awarded scholarships enabling 1,289 students to attend UT Austin. These scholarships total more than $15.5 million. Currently, there are 390 students on campus receiving $785,000 because of the generosity of this organization.

In addition, I was surprised Tuesday night, during their annual UT Day reception, to receive $285,000 worth of donations to UT from five past chairmen of the livestock show and rodeo: Louis Pearce, Don Jordan, Mike Wells, John O. Smith, and Paul Somerville.

In addition to them, I want to thank the current chairman, Steve Stevens, for his support and for hosting many of us Tuesday night.

For 80 years, this has been far more than just a rodeo and livestock show. It’s an event that really makes a difference, and not just in Houston but across the state and around the world.

Thank you again, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Hook ’em Horns!