It’s not every day students can meet a saint and take pictures with him. But on Monday, UT students had the opportunity to meet Alec, the patron saint of the Cockrell School of Engineering, to celebrate his 105th birthday as mascot of the school.
“Alec is a really important tradition,” said Marcela Defaria, director of Friends of Alec, which is the engineering school’s fundraising arm and host of the event. According to Defaria, the annual giving fund began in 1974, but the story of Alec goes back before that.
In 1908, several UT engineering students decided to make a holiday out of April Fool’s Day. Their solution was to place a statue of a wooden man in front of the main building, where they gave a speech that traced his ancestry back to building monuments such as the pyramids, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Great Wall of China and more. The next year, the statue was officially christened Alexander Frederick Claire, the patron saint of UT engineers, and would later be known as Alec for short.
“It’s important for everyone to have a sense of tradition,” Defaria said. “It brought a sense of community to the students.”
Over the years, students from the UT School of Law would periodically kidnap Alec from the engineering school, thus sparking a friendly rivalry between the two schools. Today, Alec continues to be recognized as the symbol of the engineering school.
“I think that it’s important to know what Alec represents; both the engineering school and connecting with the alumni,” social work senior Monique Robinson said.
Robinson said she has been working at Friends of Alec for over three years. She said at first her job focused on calling UT alumni and asking for donations to the engineering school, though she now serves as a manager for the giving fund.
“It’s important for the alumni to give back to the program they were involved in,” Robinson said.
According to Robinson, Friends of Alec raised $1.5 million for the engineering school last year. Defaria said money raised helps fund scholarships for students, departmental projects and faculty research. The giving fund also keeps alumni up-to-date on building projects, professors and students, Defaria said.
Aerospace engineering senior Douglas Parker said he has dressed up in an Alec costume for three years in a row. Parker said while he gets a lot of odd looks, the event is a chance to have a day of play and raise awareness for Friends of Alec.
“The organization is great,” Parker said. “This is an opportunity to get the word out to the school.”
Printed on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 as: Students celebrate St. Alec