Engineering graduate Ernest Cockrell receives Distinguished Alumnus Award

Ernest H. Cockrell

Ernest H. Cockrell

Ernest H. Cockrell, chairman of Cockrell Interests Inc., president and director of The Cockrell Foundation, and a Houston native, was recognized by The University of Texas at Austin Texas Exes at its Distinguished Alumnus Awards ceremony Friday, Oct. 22, in Austin. The award, created in 1958, recognizes annually up to six graduates or former students who have distinguished themselves professionally and through service to the university. The Distinguished Alumnus Award is the highest award given by the Texas Exes.

Cockrell earned his bachelor's degree in engineering science in 1967. He has fond memories of the time he spent in the Taylor Hall basement, library and classrooms, and at the former petroleum building, though "the 8 a.m. extended labs on Saturday mornings were a little rough," said Cockrell. "And a complete absence of women in our programs was unfortunate. Thank goodness there is much better diversity these days."

Big changes were afoot at the university when Cockrell was a student. "The university doubled its enrollment during that time to around 40,000 students," he said. Another memorable change was the arrival of the engineering school's first digital computer, replacing the school's one analog computer. "It took up an entire room. We used punch cards and wrote simple programs in Fortran," he said.

Directly following his undergraduate degree, Cockrell pursued a master's degree at the university in business administration, which he completed in 1970. After graduation, he joined Cockrell Oil Corp. as a field and drilling engineer. He went on to become the company's executive vice president, with responsibility for all oil and gas operations, and in 1979 he was named chairman and CEO of Cockrell Oil and president of The Cockrell Foundation.

The Cockrell Foundation makes generous gifts for charitable organizations that support education, health care and medical research, youth activities and cultural institutions. Each year, portions of available funds are given to The University of Texas at Austin Cockrell School of Engineering, which now carries the family name. Ernest H. Cockrell's father, Ernest Cockrell Jr., was a petroleum graduate from the university in 1936.

Ernest H. Cockrell was honored by the Texas Exes as an Outstanding Young Texas Ex in 1980. He also has been named a distinguished graduate of The University of Texas at Austin's School of Engineering. In recognition of his remarkable business success, Cockrell also was inducted into the university's McCombs School of Business Hall of Fame in 2003.

In looking back on his memories as an engineering student at the university, "I am deeply indebted to the school for the way that I learned to think logically and analyze situations. I gained discipline and the ability to address challenges using rational thinking. It was a terrific undergraduate degree for me," Cockrell said.

The Cockrell School of Engineering is very proud to have Ernest Cockrell selected as a Distinguished Alumnus by Texas Exes. Congratulations to the entire Cockrell family for being honored with this award. Your dedication and service to the university and the Cockrell School are appreciated in so many ways.

Watch Videos of Cockrell

A portrait of Ernest Cockrell

A Tribute to Ernest H. Cockrell: The Texas Exes pay tribute to Cockrell's contributions to The University of Texas at Austin. Watch the full video on the Cockrell School of Engineering's YouTube channel.

Ernest Cockrell receives his award.

Distinguished Alumnus Award Ceremony: Ernest H. Cockrell reflects on his connections to the Cockrell School of Engineering at the Distinguished Alumus Awards dinner. Watch the full video on the Cockrell School of Engineering's YouTube channel.