Texas Engineering alumni lead industries, launch companies and help develop solutions that improve lives around the world. We’re proud to share just a few of their accomplishments from the past year.


James Truchard (Ph.D. ECE 1974), co-founder, president and CEO of National Instruments (NI), celebrated his company’s 40th anniversary. Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared May 14, 2016 “NI Day” to recognize the Austin-born company’s success, and NI held a free day of hands-on learning at the Thinkery, the Austin children’s museum. Truchard plans to retire from his position in January.

Scott Sheffield (B.S. PE 1975) is retiring from his position as CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources. He plans to remain board chairman through 2017 and will stay on as a director after that.

Michael Piana (B.S. ChE 1976) is leading a new entrepreneurship elective course in the Cockrell School’s McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering. Piana manages a private consulting firm in Houston, focused on the oil and gas industry.

Rudolph Bonaparte (B.S. CE 1977) recently joined Georgia Institute of Technology as a faculty member in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He also received the 2016 American Society of Civil Engineers Outstanding Projects and Leaders award. As president, CEO and senior principal for Geosyntec Consultants in Atlanta, he oversees more than 1,000 employees and is currently developing cleanup strategies for polluted waterways in New York City.

Jim Rawlings (B.S. ChE 1979) was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Rawlings is a chemical and biomedical engineering professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include chemical process control, state estimation and monitoring, chemical reaction engineering and virus modeling. He has authored two textbooks and helped create the Octave computational software tool used in chemical engineering education and research.


Jack Broodo (B.S. ChE 1980) was promoted to global president for feedstocks and energy at Dow Chemical Co.

Sara Ortwein (B.S. CE 1980) has been promoted to president of XTO Energy, an ExxonMobil subsidiary. Over her more than 25 years with ExxonMobil, she has held a variety of roles and previously led the development of high-impact technologies as president of ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company.

Alan Stern (M.S. ASE 1980) was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.” He also received the American Astronautical Society’s 2016 Carl Sagan Memorial Award in recognition of his contributions to space exploration. As leader of the New Horizons mission, Stern helped launch NASA’s fastest spacecraft to gather data and images of Pluto.

Sudhakar Yalamanchili (M.S. ECE 1980; Ph.D. ECE 1984) was promoted to regents’ professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

J.J. Roger Cheng (M.S. CE 1981; Ph.D. CE 1984) was recognized by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta with the 2016 Centennial Leadership Award for his work as chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Alberta.

C. Susan Howes (B.S. PE 1982), vice president of engineering at Subsurface Consultants & Associates LLC, won the DeGolyer Distinguished Service Medal from the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Jim Patek (M.S. Environmental Health Engineering 1983) has been promoted to senior project manager at RPS Klotz Associates. Patek has more than 30 years of experience in environmental engineering, chemistry, aquatic biology and surface water hydrology.

Michael Watkins (B.S. ASE 1983; M.S. ASE 1985; Ph.D. ASE 1990), a former faculty member in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and director of UT Austin’s Center for Space Research, was appointed director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and vice president of the California Institute of Technology.

Dan Crowley (B.S. ME 1985; M.S. Manufacturing Systems Engineering 1991) was named CEO of Triumph Group Inc, an international supplier of aerospace components and systems.

Gary L. Priest (B.S. EE 1986) was awarded NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal for his exceptional leadership and achievements in his role as a technical assistant in the Johnson Space Center’s International Space Station Division, Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate. He currently serves on the Human Systems Risk Board and the Flight Activities Control Board, which are involved in the advancement of human space flight.


Thomas Schuessler (B.S. CE 1991) has been promoted to president of ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company.

Wade Benton (B.S. CE 1994) has been promoted to senior project manager at RPS Klotz Associates. Benton has worked to develop solutions in municipal transportation, drainage and infrastructure for more than 20 years.

Jennifer West (M.S. BME 1994) was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. She is a professor of biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science, and cell biology at Duke University and is using biomaterials and tissue engineering to address a wide array of biological problems, from glaucoma to cancer.

Sara Brand (B.S. ME 1996) launched True Wealth Innovations, a venture capital fund that invests in women-led companies that design and develop consumer health and sustainable products and technologies.


Kristel Franklin (B.S. ME 2003) left her position as senior vice president of resources at Jones Energy and is now special projects consultant at Three Rivers Operating Co.

Vincent LaCourt (B.S. ASE 2003) is one of five new flight directors selected by NASA to manage International Space Station operations.

Haiqing Lin (Ph.D. ChE 2005) received the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award. Lin is an assistant professor in the University of Buffalo’s Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering.

Maria Portillo (M.S. PE 2005) recently assumed the role of technology coordinator on Chevron’s Applied Reservoir Management Team in Luanda, Angola. Previously, Portillo was the manager of Resources to Reserves to Production (R2R2P) and Technology in Chevron’s Southern Africa Strategic Business Unit in Houston, as well as leader of the core team of the Reservoir Engineering Community of Practice.

Blair Brettmann (B.S. ChE 2007) joined the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology as an assistant professor.

Natalie Weiershausen (B.S. CE 2008) has been promoted to project manager in the public works department at RPS Klotz Associates. She has nearly 10 years of experience managing projects in water and wastewater planning, utility relocation and design, flood plain analysis, roadway design and other areas.

Jason Stith (Ph.D. CE 2010) was named Young Engineer of the Year by the National Society of Professional Engineers. Stith is a structural engineer for Michael Baker International and has led a number of landmark bridge repair and construction projects throughout Kentucky, including the Kentucky Lake Bridge, which replaced the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge that was struck by a cargo ship in 2012.

Karolyn Williams (B.S. ME 2010) joined Walt Disney as an engineering manager in Anaheim, CA. In this role, she tests all theme park rides in Disneyland and California Disney Adventure and manages crews to resolve any issues before the parks open.

Sergio Martinez (M.S. CE 2014) became director of transportation and infrastructure in the Office of the Secretary of Mobility in Bogota, Colombia.

Dimitris S. Papailiopoulos (Ph.D. ECE 2014) received a Signal Processing Society Young Author Best Paper Award for a paper co-authored with Cockrell School electrical engineering associate professor Alex Dimakis. Papailiopoulos is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.

Zach Smith (Ph.D. ChE 2014) is joining the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT as an assistant professor.

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