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Meeting Iconic Figures of Texas Tech | Ed Whitacre, President Nellis, and Kirby Hocutt

Last week I was in Lubbock on a trip that I will remember forever. I wrote a short story about last Thursday evening when I met some of the most powerful people at Texas Tech University. It was a surreal experience on so many levels.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

I remember being so proud receiving my engineering degree in 2008 from Texas Tech. I told all my friends that I’d be back on campus someday speaking about my career path to the students and meeting key TTU administrative people… no one really believed me.

Hard work is the only way to achieve things in life. A way to help with that is having a chip on your shoulder to prove to people that you can do anything you set out to do.

I was in Lubbock on Texas Tech campus last week for a Dean’s Council meeting this past Wednesday through Friday. This meeting was for the Engineering Dean’s Council Board members, and it also included Executive Board members from the young engineering professional alumni society that is simply known as the "Young Guns".

Weeks ago I was nominated and elected to the Young Guns Executive Board as the representative for Civil Engineering. There is one elected Executive Board member for each major in the Whitacre College of Engineering. On Wednesday I was part of a panel that had an open questions forum with the students about our careers transitioning from student into engineering professional. That night we went to a reception at the residence of Dr. Marshall Watson, Petroleum Engineering Department Head. On Thursday we had a luncheon followed by an all day council meeting discussing an array of different agendas. That evening we went to another reception in the Engineering Key. Below is a short description of the surreal experience that I had at that particular reception.

I walked into the newly constructed Terry Fuller Petroleum Engineering Research Building around 6 PM. It is a magnificent structure that has plenty of space on ground level for a gathering of approximately 150 people for our event. As I walked in expecting to see some engineering faculty and council members I found myself surrounded by familiar faces that I never thought I’d see there.

I turned to the left and saw a small line forming for a chance to chat with Ed Whitacre and get his book, "American Turnaround, Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the USA" personally autographed. Meeting Ed and obtaining his autograph became a top priority of mine. I immediately started towards the small line.

As I approached the table there was an older woman directly in front of me walking to the same place. I followed her to the gathering and introduced myself on a first name basis. Her name was Elizabeth. We had an excellent conversation about the landscape around Lubbock and how rapidly Texas Tech was growing.

She politely asked what I was doing in Lubbock and I proudly told her about the Dean’s Council. She congratulated me and at about that time the Dean of Engineering Dr. Al Sacco walked up behind us. He got in line directly behind me as I said hello.

He replied with, "Hi Daniel" and looked ahead seeing Elizabeth. He said, "Hello Dr. Haley". After that his attention was turned to another person walking up to greet him in line.

I was surprised that Elizabeth did not tell me she was a professor. I asked Dr. Haley what she teaches and came to find out she is an associate vice chancellor, dean emeritus, and a professor for Human Sciences. We talked a while longer before approaching Ed Whitacre.

All of a sudden Texas Tech President Dr. Duane Nellis walked into the building and shook a few hands before coming over to hug Dr. Haley and say hello to Dean Sacco.

Dr. Haley asked President Nellis if he had met me yet, and he said he had not. The associate vice chancellor addressed me as "her friend Daniel" to the Texas Tech University President. I could hardly contain my excitement as President Nellis extended his hand to greet me. A brief discussion followed between Dr. Haley, Dr. Nellis, Dr. Sacco, and myself about how wonderful the weather was and how happy we were that Ed Whitacre was with us at the reception.

As Dr. Haley shook hands with Ed Whitacre I could immediately tell they were close friends. I took a step back from them so they could catch up with some privacy. As I looked across the lobby a face caught my eye. It was the man himself, our Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt. My new priority after chatting with Ed Whitacre was going to be with Kirby.

I turned back to the table right as Dr. Haley was introducing me to Mr. Whitacre. It was amazing meeting an iconic figure like him. We talked for a few moments about school and about engineering. He was interested where I was from and what my plans were for the future. Of course I knew his whole story, and congratulated him on all his accomplishments and for being such a strong public figure of Texas Tech. He graciously autographed his book for me and we shook hands to end the conversation. I told Dr. Haley it was a pleasure to meet her and I hightailed it in the direction of Kirby Hocutt without any hesitation.

As I approached Kirby he was just finishing up a conversation with some gentleman. I waited a second then jumped in and introduced myself. We talked for a while about the event at hand and I eventually brought up Viva the Matadors. I mentioned I was a writer for our men’s basketball team on the site. He knew exactly who we were and what we do. I know Seth has interviewed Kirby, so I mentioned what a tremendous job Seth has done with the site. He agreed and said he appreciated everything that we all did with VTM to promote Tech sports.

We started talking basketball, and went back and forth on how great of a staff Tubby Smith has created. I even asked him if he thought we might lose Pooh Williamson to Tulsa. He said he didn’t know how true those rumors were, but that Pooh will someday be a great head basketball coach wherever he goes. I agreed with him.

As the conversation was rolling along President Nellis came over to Kirby and greeted him. Kirby tried to introduce me, but the President politely interrupted him and said that he already knew who I was. Us three talked about football for a few moments before the President was dragged away by some other guests wanting to speak with him.

Kirby told me that he had taken Ed Whitacre to football practice that day to meet Kliff and the players. It was a big deal to everyone on campus that Ed came to Texas Tech that day, not just the college of engineering.

A few more minutes about basketball were spoken and I didn’t want to tie-up anymore of Kirby’s time if I was hogging him from others there. I thanked him for meeting me, and for running a great sports program. He told me to give him a call if I needed anything, and thanked me for being a supporter of Tech athletics.

I shifted through the crowd after talking with Kirby, and I ran into a few more recognizable faces. While on my way to the open bar I bumped into Gerald Myers. We only spoke briefly.

I was walking back from the bar to find some more people to meet when I heard Dean Sacco speaking loudly telling everyone to gather around. I ended up being a few feet away from him when after a few nice words about the University he introduced Chancellor Kent Hance.

Hance spoke to us for a few moments and then introduced his fellow fraternity brother Ed Whitacre to everyone. I had to presume most of these people in the room were very dear friends the way jokes were being talked about and stories were being told. It was amazing I was in the presence of these people to witness such a fabulous event.

After speaking to all of us Ed Whitacre thanked everyone in attendance, and we all gave him a huge round of applause. Then it was back to mingling with people in the crowd again.

I walked around and talked to a lot of people that I had met throughout the week and had a marvelous time sipping my beer and chatting away. It was only 90 minutes into the event, but the crowd was beginning to dwindle. If you didn’t know, engineers really know how to party hard.

As Kirby was walking out the door to leave the reception he saw me and made it a point to come over. He shook hands and told me, "Great to meet you Daniel. Seriously, if you ever need anything let me know. See you around."

How awesome is that? I couldn’t believe how nice all the people high up in the Texas Tech system could be. They were all so personable and genuine. All of them talked so sincerely in a way that would make anyone feel welcomed.

I finished another beer with some guys I met at the Dean’s Council meetings and our conversation had shifted to football. A lot of people at the event were ready to attend the spring game. We finished up, and eventually I ended up back in my hotel room.

I called my wife to tell her that I loved her, and about the incredible day I had. I then laid the back of my head against the pillow and a huge smile crept up from the corners of my mouth. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends what had happened, but all I kept thinking in my head was one humorous thing… no one is going to really believe me.