2019 Honorees

Rex Bennett (B.S. ’74)

professional portrait of Rex BennettRex W. Bennett is President of Corporate Business Development for Phillips 66. Bennett graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 1974 and has more than 40 years of industry experience.

After joining ConocoPhillips in 1974, Bennett held multiple positions in the U.S. and Japan, including operating roles in gas plant, pipeline, and trucking operations in Port Arthur, Texas, Maljamar, New Mexico, and Denver. He also had multiple headquarters roles including corporate planning, international and domestic crude trading, and risk management. Bennett also served as president of Conoco Far East, a joint venture based in Tokyo.  In a variety of roles such as general management, commercial, gas and power, marketing, trading, strategy, integration, and specialty ventures, Bennett brought his chemical engineering experience to bear on decades of corporate projects, impacting critical areas such as lubricants, flow improvements, and polypropylene businesses.  Bennett joined Phillips 66 in May, 2012, when that company was spun off from Conoco. There, he continues to provide leadership for one of the world’s leading energy companies.

Throughout his career, Bennett has maintained a strong relationship with the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, serving as the executive sponsor from ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66 for a decade and serving on the department’s External Advisory Council. Bennett continues to be involved in supporting education in his local school district as a board member of the Spring Branch Education Foundation.


Dr. Hongming Chen (B.S. ’92)

Professional portrait of Dr. Hongming ChenDr. Hongming Chen is the Chief Scientific Officer at Kala Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company she helped to start in 2010.  Chen received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin in 1992, and her M.S. and Sc.D. in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 1995 and 1996, respectively

In her early career, Chen held various research positions at AstraZeneca and Merck. In 1999, she helped to start and build a biotech company, TransForm Pharmaceuticals, which was later acquired by Johnson & Johnson. At Kala, she successfully translated a novel nanoparticle technology from bench discovery through Phase III clinical trials and FDA approval, and has helped to attract more than $250 million in investment in the company.

Throughout her career, Dr. Hongming Chen has established herself as an innovative entrepreneur and prolific inventor, designing novel drug delivery technologies, translating them from discovery to the clinic, developing the associated manufacturing processes, and shepherding these therapies and technologies through regulatory approval. She has developed new therapies that represent significant potential impact for patients with debilitating diseases such as cystic fibrosis and age-related macular degeneration. Chen also pioneered the application of high-throughput screening technology for pharmaceutical development, an approach that has been adopted across the industry for its efficiency in optimizing drug formulations.

Chen is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and a Fellow of the Controlled Release Society.


James Miller (B.S. ’65)

portrait of James MillerJames (Jim) Miller credits his early experience with the first-generation computers in the engineering and business schools at The University of Texas at Austin with directing his future opportunities and success. After graduating with a Bachelor of Business Administration and completing all his Chemical Engineering Courses in 1965, Miller worked as a process engineer and plant process control engineer at Celanese and Sinclair, and then a computer system analyst and manager of computer systems development at Management Computer Services. In 1978, he joined his father, also an engineer, at White Rock Engineering, Inc. As an international professional engineering consultant in positive displacement reciprocating pump system troubleshooting, Miller was able to travel the planet, develop patents, establish and sell multiple companies, and build a proficiency in a mechanical system that has impacted numerous industries, from nuclear power plants, nuclear submarines, water desalination, to oil & gas (drilling, fracking and production), slurry pipelines, to manufacturing of automobile components, foods and pharmaceuticals.

Miller is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Pump Committee, the International Association for Testing Materials G02: Wear and Erosion Committee, and the International Freight Pipeline Society. He is an established expert and presenter on slurry wear and abrasivity, pump improvement technology, testing methods, and material response.

In 2013, Jim and his wife, Barbara, established the Jim and Barbara Miller Endowed Scholarship in Chemical Engineering at UT to show appreciation for the excellent education and experience they both received and to encourage future engineers.


Michael Piana (B.S. ’76)

portrait of Michael PianaMichael Piana is an entrepreneur and teacher, managing his private consulting firm in Houston for more than a decade and teaching an Entrepreneurship for Engineers course in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering. Piana received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 1976 and his MBA in Finance and Marketing from the University of Texas at Austin in 1978.

Piana started as a refinery process engineer at Exxon for several years before building a two decade career at Penzoil as a marketing manager, strategic planner, and brand manager. In 1997, he shifted to entrepreneurial and startup software and consulting firms and in 2008 founded his own consultancy, MRP Resources, where he provides business management services such as strategic planning, budget management, and legal and personnel issues for the oil and gas industry around the world.

Since 2016, Piana has leveraged his nearly 40 years of experience in Fortune 500 corporate, entrepreneurial and non-profit sectors to lead the very popular Entrepreneurship for Engineers course. This unique elective introduces upperclassmen and graduate students to the basic concepts of entrepreneurship, practical approaches to monetizing a business idea, and the team work inherent to business processes in innovative and fast-paced environments.


Dr. James Rawlings (B.S. ’79)

portrait of James RawlingsJames Rawlings is widely regarded as the leader in the field of Process Control. He received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin in 1979 and his Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1985. He spent one year at the University of Stuttgart as a NATO postdoctoral fellow and then taught chemical engineering as an assistant professor at UT from 1986 to 1995, then returned to Wisconsin to teach and run his world-renowned research group for the next 23 years. He joined the faculty at University of California-Santa Barbara in 2018 where he is currently the Mellichamp Process Control Chair and co-director of the Texas-Wisconsin-California Control Consortium (TWCCC).

Rawlings has made significant contributions in research areas of chemical process modeling, monitoring and control, nonlinear model predictive control (MPC), moving horizon state estimation, and molecular-scale chemical reaction engineering. He developed the theoretical foundations for MPC, creating a global impact on the fundamental understanding and industrial practice of process control and leading to innovations in many industrial applications. Rawlings has published numerous research articles and  co-authored three textbooks: Chemical Reactor Analysis and Design Fundamentals is in its 2nd edition and has been used at more than 40 universities around the world.

Rawlings is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and The Process Automation Hall of Fame. He has been awarded the William H. Walker Award for Excellence in Contributions to Chemical Engineering Literature from AIChE; a Doctor technices honoris causa from the Danish Technical University; the inaugural High Impact Paper Award from the International Federation of Automatic Control; and The Ragazzini Education Award from the American Automatic Control Council. He is a fellow of IFAC, IEEE, and AIChE.


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