McKetta Honored At AIChE Spring Meeting

L to R: AIChE President Phil Westmoreland, AIChE Executive Director June Wispelwey, and John McKetta Jr.

AIChE President Phil Westmoreland, AIChE Executive Director June Wispelwey, and John McKetta Jr.

Numerous academic and industry members of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) gathered Monday evening at the Spring Meeting in San Antonio, Texas to honor the lifelong achievements and contributions of Professor John J. McKetta Jr., whose career has touched the lives of thousands of engineers.

McKetta served as AIChE president in 1962, is a lifetime trustee and supporter of the AIChE mission, both philanthropically and professionally. He was introduced by Dr. Peter B. Lederman, a longtime friend and a chemical and environmental engineering consultant in Providence, NJ.

McKetta briefly shared highlights of his life story with great wit, recounting his fascinating journey from the Pennsylvania coal mines in the height of the Great Depression to a highly accomplished career in chemical engineering research and education.

Motivated by his dislike of the dangerous conditions of mining and inspired by the knowledge that coal could be used to produce chemicals, he sought out a chemical engineering program to attend. He was warmly welcomed at Tri-State University in Anglola, Indiana, which is now Trine University and is home to its own Dr. John J. McKetta Department of Chemical & Bioprocess Engineering. This warm welcome and its life-changing effects were formative in his strong views on education and building meaningful mentoring relationships with students.

After attending Trine University, McKetta went to Michigan to complete a Ph.D. before joining the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin in 1946. Throughout his 65-year career, he became an international authority on thermodynamic properties of hydrocarbons, predicted the first accurate method for determining the temperature profile of a flowing oil or gas well and served as energy advisor to presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush, Sr. He served as vice chancellor of the UT System and dean of the College of Engineering, and has published more than 400 papers and written or edited 87 books. Despite his high-profile success, McKetta has always put students first.

“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.”

In November 2012, UT Austin formally named the John J. McKetta Jr. Department of Chemical Engineering on campus.  As part of the Challenge for McKetta campaign, the naming reflects the admiration and affection of hundreds of alumni, friends and corporate partners who wanted to honor 97-year-old McKetta for devoting his career, and in many ways his life, to students.

There to celebrate his career at the spring meeting were dozens of AIChE colleagues and a handful of former UT Austin chemical engineering students from the San Antonio area.  Also in attendance were the department chairs for both the UT Austin McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, Tom Truskett, and the Trine University McKetta Department of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering, John Wagner.  McKetta’s efforts have had a huge impact on chemical engineering and on AIChE and his contributions will continue to serve chemical engineering well into the future.


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