Seniors Start A Legacy

Give Online button graphic with a picture of the six chemical engineering students in front of the Chemical & Petroleum Engineering BuildingOn the heels of The University of Texas at Austin’s Thanks Day, six chemical engineering seniors have each pledged $5,000 over five years to seed an endowment that will allow funds for undergraduate research opportunities and teaching incentives in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering within the Cockrell School of Engineering. Thanks Day is a day designated to thank everyone who contributes to keep the university running. If UT Austin operated on tuition and fees alone, classes would end by mid-November.

Seniors Daniel Horne, Colin Gentry, Matthew Ferris, John Wilbur, Camila Bastidas and Dan Dietz have been working together for the last several months to create an endowment funded by and to support undergraduate chemical engineering students.

“That’s one of the coolest things about this endowment fund – it’s by students,” Bastidas said. “We’re not waiting until 30 years down the road when we’re experienced alumni and feel like we’re in a great place [financially]. This endowment speaks to what the department has done for us, and how we feel toward the department.”

The group’s main goal is for others to continue adding to the fund with each graduating class contributing what they can.

“Chemical engineering is a community,” Wilbur said. “It’s probably due to the intensity of the work, but it really is a family of sorts, and we have a lot of people to thank for getting us through it all. We saw a cool opportunity to spark a grassroots movement among undergrads for fundraising.”

In addition to the group’s total donation of $30,000 spread over five years, two alumni have agreed to match their donations up front. Horne is asking his classmates and alumni to make a gift in honor of their senior class to help the fund grow.

An endowment works as a principal amount of money that remains in an investment account and continues to grow through interest returns. About 5 percent of the endowment is distributed each year in perpetuity. This endowment will initially benefit undergraduate students who want to gain valuable experience working alongside faculty in research labs.

Horne, who had the initial idea for the endowment, was inspired by the Challenge For McKetta, proposed at former Cockrell School dean John J. McKetta’s 95th birthday celebration in 2011. The challenge was a $25 million fundraising campaign to name the department after McKetta. After the campaign passed the $10 million mark in 2012, the department celebrated with a formal dedication ceremony. The fundraising has currently reached around $15 million.

The Challenge for McKetta is reminiscent of the McKetta Challenge from the 1990s, when McKetta added up every paycheck he had received from the university – around $1 million – and pledged to donate that amount to the department if alumni would match it. The result was a $1.3 million matched donation from excited students and alumni.

Horne had planned to donate $1,000 by the time he graduated, but under the guidance of Michael Barasch, assistant director for development at the Cockrell School, Horne decided to reach out to friends and work out a way that he and other undergraduates could continue giving back, rather than just giving a one-time donation.

“The six of us really want to stay involved,” Horne said. “We really love the department and want to be involved for the rest of our lives. This is a way for us to do that.”

It will be up to each chemical engineering graduating class to continue encouraging classmates to give back sooner, rather than later on in life. As the fund gets bigger, the group plans to expand the fund’s reach, eventually providing teaching incentives for undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants.

“It has been thrilling to see the enthusiasm and leadership of this group as they organize and join others in creating a legacy that will benefit future generations of chemical engineering students in our program,” said McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering Chair Thomas Truskett.

Join these seniors in supporting the McKetta of Department of Chemical Engineering and make a gift online through the UT giving site where all you have to do is enter your gift amount in the first box, everything else is pre-populated for you, and hit continue. Questions? Contact Michael Barasch at 512-471-0469.

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