Faces of Texas Engineering

Carmen Wright is the first Black woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from UT Austin. We sat down with Wright to learn more about her other "firsts" and how she encourages others to not let being the first deter you from reaching your goals, to let your idea of success evolve and change as life evolves, and to enjoy the journey rather than solely focusing on the end goal.

Catherine Dominic, a sophomore aerospace engineering major from Sugarland, Texas, was selected to receive a Brooke Owens Fellowship for 2021. Dominic joins two former students in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics to receive the award — Josefina Salazar in 2018 and Mykaela Dunn in 2019.

ervin perry

Along with the Precursors, who were the first Black undergraduate students to enroll at UT Austin in 1956, Ervin Perry — who, in 1964, became the first Black faculty member at UT, a professor of civil engineering — helped pave the way for continued desegregation across the university and showed the importance of having Black professors at UT. He was also one of a small handful of Black graduate students at his time of enrollment and the first Black engineering Ph.D. student at UT.

For two and a half years, fear and chaos defined Cockrell School alumna Azita Sharif’s daily reality as a teenager in the 1970s living through the Iranian Revolution – a revolution that led to a short civil war and a long, brutal international war with Iraq.

Some little girls grow up wanting to follow in their father’s footsteps. Houston-native and recent Cockrell School of Engineering graduate Corrinne Cassel (B.S. ChE 2020) took this dream seriously, following her father’s footsteps right to the Forty Acres to pursue a degree in chemical engineering just like her dad, Craig Cassel (B.S. ChE 1987), did over 30 years earlier. Corrinne and her father now share a unique experience that few father-daughter duos can tout: they are both graduates of the Cockrell School’s McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering.

In celebration of Black History Month, the Cockrell School of Engineering hosted a panel featuring some of Texas Engineering’s most accomplished and dedicated Black alumni leaders: Tejuana Edmond (B.S. ChE 1998), Milton Lee (B.S. ME 1971) and Dr. Chad Wilson (B.S. ChE 1997). The Feb. 2 event was moderated by Alexander Tekle, a senior in the Cockrell School and current president of UT Austin’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Over a hundred people tuned in.

Cockrell School of Engineering alumna Columbia Mishra has been named the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Foundation’s inaugural Lakshmi Singh Early Career Leadership Award winner. The award, named for a 31-year-old ASME leader who died unexpectedly in 2015, honors a young female engineer who distinguishes herself as a rising volunteer leader within ASME.

Jeannie Leavitt in cockpit of jet

As a young Air Force ROTC cadet at The University of Texas, Maj. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt was fascinated with the idea of flying, and at that point, it was purely an idea. Family travel during her childhood consisted only of cars, trains and busses. She was 18 years old the first time she flew in an airplane, and from there, she progressed to a private pilot's license. "I started slow and worked my way up," Leavitt said.

Cockrell School alumna Melanie Weber (B.S. ASE 2004) was one of four UT Austin alumni selected to receive the 2020 Outstanding Young Texas Exes Award. The prestigious award, first initiated in 1979, recognizes Texas Exes age 39 and younger who have made significant achievements in their careers and service to the university.

Stellar grades. Strong work ethic. Heavy involvement in networking organizations. The ability to land a top summer internship. We have come to identify these as key indicators of success in college and determining factors of post-college achievement. While the importance of academic performance cannot be ignored – especially as a student at the Cockrell School of Engineering – there is another factor perhaps more crucial to success than a flawless report card: community.