Midland Community Rallies to Support the Vision of the EERC

May 14, 2013

Midland, Texas, started out as the historic “midway” stop between El Paso and Fort Worth on the Texas and Pacific Railway. Today it is the center of 25 percent of the nation’s oil reserves found in the Permian Basin. Surrounding Midland are millions of acres of university land serviced for generations by the hard working people of West Texas. The oil and gas produced from these lands has helped build The University of Texas at Austin into the great institution that it is. But the people of Midland realize there is more support needed.

Not only are Midlanders funding UT Austin through their hard work and innovation in the oil fields, but they are also making personal gifts to help develop a new engineering facility, which will mirror their dedication to technology innovation.

Midland is known for its philanthropy. And it is now home to the largest number of donors for the Cockrell School’s Engineering Education and Research Center (EERC), a planned 430,000-square-foot facility to provide urgently needed space for interdisciplinary teaching, research and hands-on student projects. Considering that there are 27 cities* in Texas with greater populations than Midland, their generosity is an impressive show of support.

“The U.S. has been the world’s leading economic power because of our strengths in engineering, science, and math,” says S. Javaid Anwar, founder and CEO of Midland Energy and Petroplex Energy. “But we are falling behind. That is why I chose to invest $4 million in the EERC. Singapore, about the size of New York City, has pledged $35 billion to their university research and science alone. If a country of that size can do that, surely we can do more in Texas.”

The promise of a university education is what brought Anwar to the U.S. from Pakistan right after high school and led to his American dream coming true. He and his wife, Vicky, are the parents of twins Ryan Anwar, BSPE ’12, and Leslie Anwar, BBA ’12, who graduated from the Cockrell School and McCombs School of Business, respectively. Their children’s UT experience inspired their gift, along with the EERC’s benefits to our state and country.

“In the cycle of education, workforce development, technology creation and energy production, none of these elements can exist without the other, and none is possible without the higher education offered at great universities like UT Austin,” Anwar said.

For another Midland family, an EERC gift has ties to three generations of Longhorn engineers. Jeff Sparks, BSPE ’83, COO at Discovery Operating, a family-owned oil and gas business founded by his father Don Sparks, BSPE ’62, said the “biggest part of what I was taught at UT was how to learn, and that made all the difference in my life.”

Two of Jeff’s sons are graduates from the Cockrell School – Jarrod in 2008 from petroleum engineering and Josh in 2011 from chemical engineering. In addition to the EERC pledge by Jeff Sparks and his wife Val, the family also supported the renovation and naming of the Ben H. Caudle Student Learning Excellence Center in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering. Professor Caudle taught all three generations of the Sparks family.

Once called wildcatters, the entrepreneurs, engineers and business leaders of Midland are using science and technology to drive the current energy revolution. Many of our alumni wear all three hats.

Tom McKnight, BSAsE ’70, is a fighter-pilot-turned-successful-Midland-oilman. After flying F-106s in the Air Force, he worked for Schlumberger before venturing out on his own and founding Eagle Rock Drilling. He and his wife Mimi made a gift to the EERC and have also donated 25 percent of the patent royalties from their Aggressor drilling rig technology that was sold to Cameron.

“The success that I have enjoyed can be traced directly back to the engineering education I received at UT Austin,” said McKnight, who worked his way through school teaching flying lessons.

Today, he is flying gliders and competed in the 2013 FAI World Gliding Championship in Argentina. Through their generosity, the McKnights want to ensure the next generation has the same opportunities to pursue their professional and personal passions.

Steve Pruett, BSPE ’84, is president and CEO of Elevation Resources LLC. While launching this new company, he made an EERC gift in honor of where he got his start and set the trajectory for his career in the oil and gas business.

“The EERC has been designed to facilitate collaboration between different disciplines (sciences, business, law, etc.) and across all engineering departments, and it gives the students the opportunity to work in team settings like we do in the business world and in advanced research and development,” Pruett said. “It is an honor and privilege to be associated with this well-designed project that is a credit to Dean Greg Fenves’ vision and leadership.”

Alumnus and Midland icon Arlen Edgar, BSPE ’57, had this to say about his EERC gift: “It is my turn to show gratitude and repay what was given to me as a student. People worked hard to provide me an opportunity to have a great education, and now I want to give back for those who come after me.”

These are just a few of the stories of many Midland alumni and friends from multiple generations who have joined forces to help make the Engineering and Education Research Center a reality. Learn more about how you can be a part of this transformative facility.

(*2011 Census)