$20 million gifts rename UT-Austin, Texas A&M mechanical engineering departments

Gracie Awalt

Aggies and Longhorns have been rivals for decades, but now the universities have something in common. Both the Cockrell School of Engineering and Texas A&M College of Engineering share the same name for their mechanical engineering departments, UT announced Monday.

J. Mike Walker, a UT Austin and Texas A&M alumnus, donated $20 million to support each university’s respective mechanical engineering department. UT changed its department’s name to the J. Mike Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering, and at Texas A&M, the department is now called the J. Mike Walker ‘66 Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“Mike Walker has made an extraordinary investment in the future of engineering, not only for the University of Texas, but for our state and our nation,” UT President Gregory Fenves said in a press release. “Our students and faculty will benefit tremendously. And, because of Mike’s generosity, our mechanical engineering department will continue to expand its reputation as one of the best in the country.”

Thursday evening, the mechanical engineering department celebrated the name change in the Engineering Teaching Center Building Plaza, and featured a live music performance by Ray Benson, a nine-time Grammy Award-winner and founder of Asleep at the Wheel.

Christopher Higgins, the chief development officer for the Cockrell School of Engineering, said the $20 million will go toward funding student scholarships, faculty and student research projects and other priorities outlined by the mechanical engineering department chair. 

“Mike wanted to pay it back and make sure that student and faculty have amazing opportunities when they come to these schools to chase their dreams,” Higgins said. “He came from very humble beginnings and is a very successful man.”

According to a press release, Walker was born in 1943 in a log cabin in Huffington, Texas. After graduating as the valedictorian of his high school, he earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M in 1966. He earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from UT-Austin in 1968 and his doctorate from Texas A&M afterward. 

“My experiences at these two universities certainly helped me grow as an engineer,” Walker said in a press release. “But they also taught me how to be a leader — how to collaborate on big ideas, persevere through tough challenges and bounce back from failure. My education shaped who I am today, and I want to make that same opportunity available to as many students as I can.”

Andreas Polycarpou, the head of the department of mechanical engineering at Texas A&M, said he has discussed with Walker the potential of both departments collaborating on faculty and student projects in the future.

“The naming of the departments both at Texas A&M and UT was a very big pleasant surprise,” Polycarpou said. “We now have something in common, something we can share and that will help propel both departments towards preeminence.”

Walker is a co-founder of Dril-Quip, a company that manufactures offshore drilling and production equipment. He has been inducted as a distinguished alumnus for both universities.

“I hope having the same name will lead to a sort of friendly competition between UT and Texas A&M’s departments,” mechanical engineering sophomore Jacob Allred said. “Seeing who can better honor the legacy of a great engineer will be good way to challenge each other.”