For Houston businessman Thomas W. Powell, capitalizing on opportunity is all in a day's work.

After graduating with his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Texas A&M University in 1962 and working two years for Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Powell returned to his family's small Houston-based business. He founded two subsequent corporations, which he merged and then integrated into Powell Industries Inc., a modern-day provider of packaged electrical engineered-to-order solutions that manage complex, critical processes that control power, water, wastewater, transportation and petrochemicals all over the world.

Last month the now-chief executive officer and chairman of Powell Industries created two major opportunities for faculty at his alma mater, establishing $1 million endowed chairs in both mathematics and marine engineering technology in an ongoing effort to achieve another of his mid-life ambitions -- closer ties between the main university and its maritime campus in Galveston.

Powell's gifts, made through the Texas A&M Foundation, will create the Thomas W. Powell Chair in Mathematics at Texas A&M and the Thomas W. Powell '62 Chair in Engineering and Technology at Texas A&M University at Galveston. Funds generated by the chairs will be used to attract and retain high-quality faculty members and to support their teaching, research, service and professional development activities.

For Powell, the importance of mathematics is clear, given his 40-plus years spent in an engineered-to-order business.

"Mathematics is the common denominator and a vital tool for all science and engineering studies," he says. "Our country's technical expertise and future success depends heavily on strong research and teaching programs in the mathematical sciences.

"I have also always enjoyed the sea, and I have great memories of Galveston. As a youngster my family spent most weekends in Galveston on the beach fishing, crabbing and looking for seashells in the surf. Today I love Tiki Island and spending my free time fishing. I truly believe this campus is the window to the sea for College Station."

Powell, a Houston native, is a longtime friend and supporter of Texas A&M, particularly its seaside campus located in his backyard. He credits his 10-year stint as a member of the TAMUG Board of Visitors (1991-2001) with opening his eyes to the limitless potential of both the campus and the type of students it attracts.

"When I was on the Board of Visitors, I met really talented students who were exploring their options for working offshore," Powell explains. "Whether they were studying marine biology, marine transportation, marine engineering technology, aquaculture or maritime administration, they were engrossed in the learning process."

Powell's passionate support of TAMUG students and their causes got downright personal in the late 1990s when he loaned his own ranch pickup and cattle trailer to a group of students to transport their homemade submarine to a competition in California. Although they finished 12th out of 32 teams, they learned a valuable lesson in the depth of Aggie resolve, courtesy of Powell.

In addition to TAMUG, Powell makes time for a variety of community and civic causes, including service on a number of area boards and committees. He and his wife, Therese, split time between a home on Tiki Island and their exotic game ranch in Lee County.

"The generosity of individuals like Mr. Powell makes it possible for us to attract and retain the very best faculty members who conduct research critical to our region and provide education important to our students and community," says Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, vice president and chief executive officer of TAMUG.

Beyond unprecedented potential, the two chairs represent major milestones for each program. The Powell Chair in Mathematics marks only the second created in the Department of Mathematics, while the Powell Chair in Engineering and Technology is only the third campus-wide at TAMUG.

"This generous gift represents an excellent opportunity to recruit an outstanding mathematician to Texas A&M," says Dr. Albert Boggess, professor and head of mathematics. "Historically the mathematical sciences have been overlooked by many potential donors who have tended to favor other scientific and engineering disciplines. For this reason, Mr. Powell's chair is especially valuable to Texas A&M and to the research and teaching community in the mathematical sciences."

To learn more about either respective Texas A&M program, go to http://www.math.tamu.edu or http://www.tamug.edu/mare/.

For more information on the Texas A&M Foundation and related giving opportunities, visit http://giving.tamu.edu.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Karen Bigley, (409) 740-4830 or bigleyk@tamug.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Thomas W. Powell, Texas A&M Class of 1962

    Photographs courtesy of Powell Industries Inc.

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