The University of Texas at Austin

Department Named After John J. McKetta Jr.

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The Chemical Engineering Department has been named after former dean of the College of Engineering and chemical engineering Professor Emeritus John J. McKetta Jr. A naming ceremony, commemorative dinner and recognition of McKetta during the Longhorn football game took place Nov. 8-10.

The naming of the John J. McKetta Jr. Department of Chemical Engineering reflects the admiration and affection of hundreds of alumni, friends and corporate partners who wanted to honor McKetta for devoting his career, and in many ways his life, to students.

"There is no human being on earth that could evoke the type of loyalty and commitment that John has cultivated in his 65-plus years at the university," said Roger T. Bonnecaze, department chair, William and Bettye Nowlin Chair and Bill L. Stanley Leadership Chair in chemical engineering. "He is a one-of-a-kind character who makes everyone feel special. His infectious warmth has generated a unique sense of community here, creating a chemical engineering family."

The renaming is part of the $25 million Challenge for McKetta campaign to support students, faculty, facilities and programmatic excellence. The fundraiser recently surpassed the $11 million mark, prompting approval for the formal renaming by the Board of Regents who wanted to ensure the recognition would be realized within McKetta’s lifetime. The campaign aims to raise the remaining $14 million by 2014.

"I'm so proud to have my name associated with this department and the university," McKetta said. "The department has grown and excelled tremendously over the years thanks to world-class faculty and dedicated staff, but none of this would have been possible without the students — they're the reason we're here."

McKetta joined the faculty in 1946 where he became an international authority on thermodynamic properties of hydrocarbons, and served as energy adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr. He also served as vice chancellor of the UT System, has published more than 400 papers and written or edited 87 books.

As dean of the College of Engineering, he started a Teaching Effectiveness Committee to provide professors guidance on improving teaching techniques, resulting in a 13 percent increase of honor roll students. In 1995, a retired McKetta added up his total salary from the university and agreed to donate it back to support students if his alumni would match it, which they did.

"The highlights of my career were all with my students in the classroom," McKetta said. "I've always said to never, ever forget the students. I felt that if our responsibilities to, and concern for, the students ever became secondary, we would be violating the trust we accepted as a faculty member."