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UT Austin Chemical Engineering Raises $28 Million to Complete Historic Campaign

John J. McKetta, Jr. celebrates with students.

Students celebrate with John J. McKetta Jr. in front of the chemical engineering building.

 

The John J. McKetta Jr. Department of Chemical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin has successfully completed its “Challenge for McKetta,” an ambitious fundraising campaign to advance the department and honor one of its beloved teachers and leaders.

The campaign raised $28 million from UT Austin engineering alumni, friends and corporate partners, far exceeding the goal of $25 million. It marks the largest department fundraising campaign in the Cockrell School’s history.

The campaign's success culminates two centennial celebrations for the department in the current academic year: Professor Emeritus John McKetta Jr.’s 100th birthday, which occurred Oct. 17, 2015, and 100 years of chemical engineering education and innovation at UT Austin. The department’s centennial celebrations included a series of lectures, symposia, alumni gatherings and special events throughout the year.

Campaign funds will support student scholarships and academic initiatives, upgrade chemical engineering facilities and provide critical resources to advance research projects — strengthening every part of the department and ensuring its continued success.

“Completing this campaign is an extraordinary accomplishment for our department and for the Cockrell School,” said Thomas Truskett, chair of the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering. “I am extremely proud of how our chemical engineering community — from new undergraduate students to the most accomplished alumni — came together in an effort to honor Dr. McKetta, who has helped shape this department for decades.”

The Challenge for McKetta was launched in 2010 at an event celebrating McKetta’s 95th birthday. The campaign galvanized generations of supporters who were inspired by McKetta’s leadership, passion for teaching, innovation in the field of chemical engineering and commitment to the university. When the campaign hit the $10 million mark in 2012, the department was officially renamed in his honor.

“I’m so grateful to everyone who contributed to the Challenge for McKetta and helped recognize the department’s centennial,” McKetta said. “I’ve always considered students and members of this department family, and it means the world to me that we’ve come together to ensure the continued success of the department — and, more importantly, the future success of its students.”

McKetta was born in 1915 to Ukrainian immigrant parents and grew up in Wyano, a small coal-mining town in western Pennsylvania. After graduating from high school, he went to work digging coal alongside his father and brother. He soon decided that he wanted to learn how to make chemicals from coal rather than dig it in the mines. He attended Tri-State College, now Trine University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1944 and 1946, respectively.

In 1946, McKetta joined UT Austin’s chemical engineering faculty. Throughout his 70-year affiliation with the university, McKetta served as department chair of chemical engineering, dean of the Cockrell School and vice chancellor of The University of Texas System. Regarded by former students as a caring, effective teacher, McKetta was voted one of UT Austin’s 10 most inspiring professors by the Texas Exes and was featured in Alcalde magazine in 2013.

McKetta is recognized as a global authority on the thermodynamic properties of hydrocarbons and has served as an energy adviser to five U.S. presidents. He authored 87 books, including the 69-volume Encyclopedia for Chemical Processing and Design. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and, in 2009, was named one of the “50 Chemical Engineers of the Foundation Age” by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.