John Ekerdt

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a UT alum, and his wife Renda Tillerson donated $5 million to help fund the Cockrell School of Engineering’s new research center, which will centralize engineering student services and include new research laboratories.

The center is part of a $310 million project to replace the current Engineering-Science Building on San Jacinto Street with a new research center. The demolition is scheduled to begin in September, and the center is scheduled to open in August 2017. 

Cockrell school interim dean Sharon Wood said she believes having alumni who are willing to donate to better the education of future students shows the value of the education they received.

“It’s really inspiring to know that these alumni that are so successful … have chosen to invest in us,” Wood said.

John Ekerdt, associate dean of the engineering school, said he believes alumni understand how use their engineering degrees to become successful — allowing them to contribute to future students’ success.

“These alumni are making investments in the students of today and of the future so they can make contributions in their own careers,” Ekerdt said.

According to Ekerdt, the new research facility will allow for expanded learning, focusing on collaboration between students.

“This building is designed with a mission of new education, collaborative spaces and new forms of learning,” Ekerdt said. “It will be a site for the discovery of new knowledge.”

According to Wood, projects such as the research center would not be possible without generosity from alumni.

“We depend on our alumni to help us move forward, especially in these difficult financial times,” Wood said. “It would definitely not be possible without their generosity.”

Witnessing successful alumni give back to the school allows students to see their own abilities, according to Wood.

“It helps students understand and see the potential that they have as they grow and their careers continue,” Wood said.

Petroleum engineering sophomore Nick Lavigne said alumni like the Tillersons make him proud to be a part of the engineering school.

“It’s really cool to see successful engineers come out of UT,” Lavigne said. “I can say I’m getting the same education as some of the most successful people in the country.”

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Electrical engineering students, faculty and staff will face a disruptive transition period as their operations relocate from the Engineering-Science Building, set to be demolished this summer, to the new Engineering Education and Research Center.

John Ekerdt, associate dean at the Cockrell School of Engineering, said students and faculty have voiced concerns about the transition to the center, which is expected to be constructed by 2017. Ekerdt said his department is trying to make the transition as smooth as possible. 

“We’re working with all the different groups to try to minimize the impact, but there will be compromises and there will be sacrifices that a number of groups will be making during the construction,” Ekerdt said.

Even after the construction and movement process is finished, some student are worried that they won’t have a community setting in which to study and meet with classmates, according to electrical engineering sophomore Tyler Walker. While there has been an effort to maintain a lot of the department’s activities in the general engineering area, some of the study space will be lost as a result of the move.

“I’m worried about losing the [electrical engineering] community,” Walker said. “A lot of the times you build relationships with people you study with, and that comes from being in the same area. If you don’t have a support group of [other students] making it through this major will be very difficult — it’s not easy.”

During the transition, faculty will be relocated to the UT Administration Building, located at 16th and Guadalupe streets as well as the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Building, located at the corner of 24th and Speedway streets. As of now, faculty do not know who will be in which building, but faculty with research groups are more likely to be in the administrative building so their location is centralized, Ekerdt said.

Those involved with the project have begun meeting with the registrar to discuss where classes displaced by the transition will meet.

“We’re arranging to have many classes in the engineering precinct,” Ekerdt said.

Temporary offices will be located in the Academic Annex for professors and teaching assistants to have a place to meet with students, Ekerdt said.

Although the Engineering-Science Building is set to be torn down in the summer, administrative offices have had to temporarily relocate there from the first floor of the Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall so that those portions of the hall can be repurposed as lab space. Last week, the Engineering Student Life office was the last office to be relocated from the hall to the Engineering-Science Building. 

According to junior Miranda Pacheco there is excitement about the new building but some students will miss the Engineering-Science Building.

“It’s really sad because we won’t have the third floor to study in and everyone will be in random places,” Pacheco said. “I just think it will separate us as [a department] because we won’t see each other around a certain building. It’ll probably be OK, it will just be an inconvenience.”

British Petroleum announced Thursday that it will give $4 million to the University to fund research focused on industry projects in the oil and gas fields in various departments of the Cockrell School of Engineering. 

John Ekerdt, associate dean of the engineering school, said these projects will allow faculty and students to work with BP engineers to investigate solutions for real issues that BP encounters.

“We believe that addressing America’s energy challenges requires long-term partnerships between the private sector and leading educational and scientific institutions,” BP spokesman Brett Clanton said. “UT’s world-class strengths in engineering and geosciences made it a natural fit for this partnership.”

A joint governance board will select the projects that start off the partnership and any additional projects that are funded from BP’s commitment.

One of the initial projects called “Human in the Loop” will look at the human element in taking preventative measures as real-time signals are provided to a machine that a person monitors in case something were to go wrong, Ekerdt said. This specific project will involve analyzing and working with the control of processes that make sure the machine operates correctly.

“I think that this is an example of how universities and industry can work together to solve problems that are real and that people can watch and see the implementation of their solutions,” Ekerdt said. “It’s a very good example of use inspired research.