Campus Life

Texas A&M Foundation Hosts Exploration Day

More than 600 of the Texas A&M Foundation's top donors came to campus to experience impactful research and work being undertaken by Texas A&M students and faculty across campus.
By Dunae Reader, Texas A&M Foundation March 1, 2019

The Texas A&M Foundation on Thursday brought more than 600 of its top donors to campus for an immersive event that highlighted impactful research and work being undertaken by Texas A&M students and faculty across campus.

“We envisioned this event as a way to provide our most generous friends with a truly engaging and impactful campus experience,” said Tyson Voelkel, president of the Texas A&M Foundation. “We are extremely fortunate to have so many thoughtful partners who share a promising vision for this great institution, and we look forward to continuing to provide unique experiences that show Texas A&M’s appreciation for their generosity.”

Dubbed Exploration Day, the Feb. 28 gathering was held in the Hall of Champions on the Texas A&M University campus. It featured five participatory experiences from different academic disciplines that gave donors the opportunity to see the types of programs and research that benefit from their contributions.

“Exploration Day is an excellent opportunity for many of our university’s most ardent supporters to experience the remarkable and innovative research and transformational education happening here due in great part to their generosity,” said Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young, who gave a keynote address during the event. “We are grateful to the Texas A&M Foundation for organizing this wonderful event and for all they do in service of Texas A&M.”

As part of a presentation by the Center for Coffee Research and Education (CCRE) in the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, participants sampled international coffees from Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras to learn the cupping notes and agriculture behind each region. “A lot of work goes into coffee production and processing, but the majority of consumers are not aware of where coffee comes from, who grows it or how it is processed,” said Dr. Leonardo Lombardini, director of the CCRE.

Attendees also learned the importance of horticulture and crop science in the coffee industry as well as how the CCRE partners with coffee farmers around the world to improve coffee research and crop production. “Texas A&M is one of the top agriculture institutions in the world,” added Lombardini. “Through the CCRE, not only do we want to educate about coffee as a crop and as a drink, but ultimately we also want to help mitigate poverty in coffee producing countries. By sharing information about some of the work we do on every aspect of the coffee supply chain, we hope to raise awareness and funding to establish a Texas A&M training facility to continue conducting research and education on coffee.”

Attendees also met Werner, a dog who overcame the odds of a devastating, cancerous tumor with help from an interdisciplinary team of doctors at Texas A&M’s Small Animal Hospital in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Through innovative technology, the group surgically removed the tumor and replaced a section of Werner’s skull with man-made bone created on a 3-D printer. Today, Werner is living a happy and healthy life with his owner in Austin.

A demonstration from Texas A&M’s J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering showed how faculty and students are leading the way in autonomous car research, from design and function to safety features. Participants rode in one of three Polaris GEM golf carts on-site, which were outfitted with sensors and algorithms for autonomous driving.

“Self-driving vehicles fundamentally change how transportation has occurred in the last 100 years,” said Srikanth Saripalli, an associate mechanical engineering professor. “The life-saving estimates for driverless cars are on par with the efficacy of modern vaccines, which save 42,000 lives for each U.S. birth cohort. Texas A&M is one of only a few universities in the world that has deployed self-driving vehicles. We are researching all aspects of autonomous vehicles, from algorithms that enable self-driving to passenger and pedestrian interaction. Ultimately, we hope to develop self-driving vehicles that improve mobility and safety for para-transit, or transportation for individuals with disabilities.”

A fourth presentation showcased the magic of the Chemistry Road Show, a public service program in the Texas A&M College of Science that brings the excitement of science to children and teachers across Texas. Dr. James Pennington, the program’s coordinator for the past 10 years, performed a small portion of his show to attendees. Audiences were dazzled by chemical wonders, colorful reactions and experiments that stretched their minds.

“We want individuals who experience the Chemistry Road Show to enjoy and appreciate science, and to be motivated to dig deeper and learn more on their own,” said Pennington. “We also hope they gain an appreciation for the great service that Texas A&M provides for the state of Texas through its outreach programs. As a land-grant university, education beyond the classroom and beyond the campus is part of our mission. I was excited to give these folks, who are such strong supporters of Texas A&M, an opportunity to see some of the good they are doing in bringing science inspiration, and the Aggie Spirit, to the hometowns of Texans all across the state.”

Finally, attendees got an insider’s look at the world of sport science through a presentation led by Howard Gray, Texas A&M assistant athletics director for sport science. He demonstrated how science and technology are being used by Aggie coaches and support staff to determine how athletes are responding to training regimens and competition.

Audiences participated in various physical activities while connected to two sport science monitoring devices. One demonstration focused on cardiovascular work and tracked participants’ heart rates, while the other assessed jump height during volleyball drills. Participants’ physiological information was displayed live on associated TV screens. “Attendees gained insight into some of the progressive technology we are incorporating with our Texas A&M athletic teams,” said Gray. “Our technologies are being used to assess athletes’ response to training as well as soreness, fatigue and stress. Our goal is to help each individual athlete meet his or her maximum training potential.”

Following the morning’s experiences, Texas A&M President Michael K. Young gave a keynote address during lunch and thanked attendees for their generous support of the university. He noted the impact their recent gifts have had on the Lead by Example campaign, a $4 billion fundraising effort for the university that currently stands at $3.4 billion raised as of this month. The campaign is the largest higher education campaign in Texas history and the third largest conducted nationally by a public university.

Texas A&M Foundation

The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that builds a brighter future for Texas A&M University, one relationship at a time, by uniting generosity and vision to raise and manage endowed gifts. For additional information and for photographs, please contact Dunae Reader at (979) 845-7461 or

Lead by Example Campaign

Launched in 2015, Texas A&M University’s third comprehensive fundraising campaign, Lead by Example, is a joint effort between Texas A&M and its affiliate fundraising organizations: the Texas A&M Foundation, The Association of Former Students, the 12th Man Foundation and the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation. With a goal of reaching $4 billion by 2020, it is the largest higher education campaign in Texas history and the third largest conducted nationally by a public university. For more information, visit   

Media contact: Dunae Reader, 979-845-7461

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