Painted portrait of Ernest Cockrell Jr. and his wife Virginia

Cockrell family support and the additional funds that their gifts have generated have contributed greatly to the global prominence the school enjoys today. With a unanimous vote, the Board of Regents of The UT System renamed the College of Engineering the Cockrell School of Engineering in 2007. The school’s name now honors the late Ernest Cockrell Jr., his wife, Virginia, and their family — based in Houston — whose estate has developed the equivalent of a $220 million endowment for the school.

When Ernest Cockrell Jr. graduated from the university in 1936, he was already a pioneer. He was a member of the engineering school’s very first class of petroleum engineering students, earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas Engineering. A product of the depression, Ernest Cockrell Jr. was a self-made entrepreneur, as was his father before him. After working a short time for Texaco, Ernest Cockrell Jr. formed both an oil company, Producer’s Oil, and a drilling work-over company. When his father passed away in 1947, Ernest Cockrell Jr. also took over his father’s oil business. While he was a founding member of the school’s advisory board in 1957 and provided valuable insight and professional expertise as the school grew, it was upon Ernest Cockrell Jr.’s untimely death in 1972 at the age of 57 that his truly visionary leadership came to light. His bequest was that half of the income that accrued from the Cockrell Foundation — which he and his wife had established to support various causes — would go to the university’s engineering school to establish chairs for faculty and scholarships for students.

Over time, through the bequests of Ernest Cockrell Jr. and his wife, Virginia (B.S. 1936), the Cockrell Foundation has funded more than half of the school’s 53 endowed chairs and each year awards about 300 undergraduate scholarships and 10 graduate student fellowships. The measurable impact of more than 30 years of Cockrell giving on the school has been considerable. The endowed chairs established by the Cockrell Foundation have enabled the university to attract and keep over 30 engineering faculty who are members of the National Academy of Engineering.

What Ernest Cockrell Jr. would be most proud of, his son suggests, is not the grand sum of his own contributions or even the naming of the school in his honor but the gifts that others have given as a result of his inspiration. He had hoped that those who benefited from his giving would go on to be successful and would, in turn, feel the same debt of gratitude to the school that he had.