|Geosciences alum named a top global thinker|
COLLEGE STATION—Texas A&M University figures prominently in Foreign Policy Magazine's just-announced list of the "Top 100 Global Thinkers " for 2011, with George Mitchell, a 1940 graduate, and Terry Engelder, who earned a Ph.D. in geology at Texas A&M in 1973, prominently included "for upending the geopolitics of energy." They were specifically cited for their key roles that led to the process of fracking—breaking up shale containing natural gas deposits, a development that led to releasing vast reserves of natural gas and "reordered the global balance of energy and the political power that comes with it," according to the editors of the magazine.
Mitchell is a legendary independent oil-and-gas operator based in Houston, and Engelder now serves as a professor of geosciences at Penn State. They were joined in sharing the 36thplace among the "Top 100 Global Thinkers" by Gary Lash , professor of geosciences at State University of New York, Fredonia.
Mitchell has for decades been widely viewed as an idealist and visionary. In addition to parlaying his Texas A&M studies in petroleum engineering and geology into highly successful oil and gas operations, he developed The Woodlands, the highly acclaimed planned community north of Houston. His business and financial successes also paved the way for him and his late wife, Cynthia Mitchell, to become major philanthropists whose gifts have benefitted numerous endeavors and organizations, including Texas A&M. In recognition of their multi-million-dollar gifts made over several decades in support of a variety of academic and other programs , two state-of-the-art physics/astronomy buildings and the tennis complex bear the Mitchell name. Mitchell's most recent financial support has been in the form of multi-million-dollar funding on Texas A&M's behalf in the quest to build the Giant Megellan Telescope, for which the world's physics and astronomy communities hold great hope for more fully understanding the outer reaches of the universe—underscoring Mitchell's long-standing reputation as an idealist and global-thinker.
By Texas A&M News and Information Services
Dr. Engelder's perspective on his time in the College of Geosciences
My days as a graduate student in Aggieland have their roots in a question that John B. Connally asked shortly after becoming governor of Texas almost a half century ago (1963). Why did Texas lose a larger fraction of its high school merit scholars to out-of-state universities than any other state in the union? A committee of state legislators was constituted to study the question. The chair of the committee was Charlie Wilson who became famous in Mike Nichols' 2007 movie, "Charlie Wilson's War." The committee report pointed out that one factor driving good students out of state was the poor quality of graduate schools throughout the Texas university system.
In 1965 Rep. Wilson (D-Texas) sponsored HB-1, which led to the creation of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. One effect of HB-1 was immediate funding for enhancing graduate education at both Texas A&M and the University of Texas. About the time HB-1 was signed by Gov. Connally, management at the Shell Bellaire Research Laboratory in Houston decided to defund much of its basic geological research including a world-class rock mechanics laboratory that Dr. M. King Hubbert (of Hubbert's Peak fame) had laboriously assembled in the 1950s. Rock mechanics at the Bellaire Labs was overseen by Dr. John Handin, a protégé of Prof. David Griggs at UCLA.
With the arrival of the first tranche of HB-1 money, Dr. Earle Cook, dean in the College of Geosciences at the time, saw an opportunity in the scaling back of rock-mechanics research at the Bellaire Lab and convinced then A&M president, Major General James Earl Rudder, that a first-class rock mechanics lab at Texas A&M would be one sure path to academic prominence at the graduate level. A deal was rapidly struck among Rudder, Cook and Handin to move a core group of five newly minted faculty members from Houston to College Station in 1967.
After setting up shop in the 1967–68 academic year, recruiting graduate students became a top priority. I was among the early students at the Center for Tectonophysics as Handin's group became known. Long after I left A&M with a Ph.D., Handin wrote to me, "You must know that we (the five Bellaire faculty) are most grateful to you and other early students for risking your professional lives on the bet that A&M degrees would be worthy." This was a risk that I have never regretted taking, not for one second. The fact is that no other state-related university in the nation climbed so far in academic reputation as A&M did in the 20 or so years following Gov. Connally's signature on HB-1 in 1965. It is with exceeding pride that, whenever I give a talk in Texas, I remind the audience that I am an Aggie. For talks outside of Texas, A&M is treated on par with Yale and Penn State, my two other alma maters.
Terry Engelder, Professor of Geosciences, The Pennsylvania State University, Co-recipient of Foreign Policy Magazine's 2011 Top Global Thinkers recognition for "Upending the Geopolitics of Energy"