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.
Photo by Caleb Horn