A Lesson in Perseverance

February 14, 2020

Alumnus Dan Deans (B.S. ASE 1990) recalls having a crisis in college.

“I ended my freshman year as a pre-med biology major on scholastic probation, which is when my dad suggested I try engineering. You know, another easy major,” he said jokingly as he reminisced on his early years at UT Austin. “I always loved airplanes, and my dad was a pilot. So, I decided to switch to aerospace engineering. He did me a huge favor that day.”

Now the executive vice president and chief operating officer at Millennium Engineering and Integration, his persistence after heeding his father’s advice has served him well. But, he says, his professional and personal successes didn’t come without a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication.

“Since my grades were so low, my dad wouldn’t pay for my tuition. It turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise,” he said. “It fueled me to work even harder. I worked my tail off paying for tuition. In the end, I managed to graduate — on the last day of my last class I received the confirmation that I was getting a degree.”

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Dan Deans and his wife, Cathy, hope Dan’s “comeback story” and his perseverance will speak to current engineering students who are facing their own challenges in the midst of their rigorous coursework. Deans was recently included in the inaugural class of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Academy of Distinguished Alumni, an honor and accomplishment he would have never dreamed possible given his academic performance. 

“He struggled when he got to UT,” Cathy Deans said. “And when he talks to students, he’s honest about that struggle. He’s done so much with his degree from UT, and he wants students to know that their hard work will pay off, too. You have to keep going.”

The Deans are passionate supporters of the Cockrell School’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, hoping to provide students with the support resources and financial assistance they need to continue pursuing their engineering degrees and embark on fulfilling, impactful careers. They started the Catherine M. Deans Endowed Scholarship in Aerospace Engineering and are always seeking opportunities to help increase enrollment of women and students from underrepresented backgrounds in aerospace engineering.  

“It would be such a shame for financial limitations to hinder young, eager minds from entering the field, pursuing their dream and ultimately becoming the future leaders of industry,” Dan said. “I want to give more women and underrepresented groups the opportunity to work in a field that I’ve been privileged enough to work in. Their insight will strengthen the industry.”

Dan Deans’ passion for philanthropy is shared by Millennium Engineering and Integration’s founding owner and fellow Cockrell School alumnus Brian McKee (B.S. ASE 1980). Through McKee and Deans’ leadership, the company has given nearly $400,000 to directly support scholarships and student projects for women, underrepresented populations and graduate students in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics.

The Deans’ most recent gift was in support of the student organization space in the newly renovated Aerospace Engineering Building. The space was named the Cathy and Dan Deans Undergraduate Student Organization Office in their honor.

Both Dan and Cathy believe education is key to unlocking opportunities. They hope their support will serve as an example for others as they empower aerospace engineering students to continue on a path of lifelong learning.

Cathy’s advice for students: “Don’t give up. If you feel like this is your calling, push forward. Your hard work will earn you an incredible degree, and that degree will open so many doors for your future.”

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