Aggie Hands In Final Paper — 42 Years After Graduating
Industrial engineering former student Stephen Powe graduated with a master’s degree from Texas A&M University in December 1978. He had completed and presented a report on his 685 hours of independent study work to a committee of three faculty members. Once it was approved, all that was left to do was to prepare and submit a clean copy.
Powe says typing up the report and submitting it to his professor, the late James K. “Jim” Hennigan ’54, was always on his to-do list.
“I knew I would get to it someday because I kept my files with me through a lot of years and several moves,” Powe said.
But when the bustle of post-college life ramped up, submitting a final copy of an independent study report ended up being more of a bucket list item.
“Being married with the first of our four children that last semester, I was heavily invested in getting job interviews, which resulted in many interview trips that fall. Then it was time to move my young family from College Station to Galveston,” Powe said. “Dr. Hennigan could be gruff, but he was fair. I wince at the thought that I betrayed his trust and what he must have thought of me.”
Hennigan was a well-known and respected professor of industrial and systems engineering and academic advisor at Texas A&M. In 1967, he developed a laboratory for human factors study that led to a second-generation human factors laboratory, located in the Zachry Engineering Building where the Zachry Engineering Education Complex now stands. Hennigan retired in 1996 as associate professor emeritus in industrial engineering.
Looking back on his time in graduate school and those final days, Powe remembers Hennigan as a teacher, a mentor and a friend. In December 2020 he fulfilled the promise to himself and his mentor to turn in that final report — even though it was 42 years late. Industrial and systems engineering department head Lewis Ntaim reviewed Powe’s submission. Powe was sent a certification of completion.
“I see none of Steve’s ‘delay’ as a failure, but as the truest gift to celebrate who Dr. Hennigan was as a teacher, a mentor and a true believer in the quality of people Texas A&M produces for world impact. Especially on the 20th year anniversary of my dad’s passing,” said Joni Lora, Hennigan’s daughter. “His office door was always open to students. He would always tell me that he knew each student was better at ‘something’ than he was and would get to know them until he found out.”
G. Kemble Bennett, senior professor of industrial and systems engineering, said Hennigan would be pleased to know that his former student had submitted the report.
“Jim was a man who cared deeply about his students. If he granted time to turn in a retyped report, it was because he believed in the integrity we have seen displayed by this submission and knew Mr. Powe would have a successful career,” Bennett said.
Powe served in the U.S. Army for a little over five years after he received his bachelor’s degree in history in 1971. He came back to Texas A&M for graduate school to focus more intently on his future career path. His decision was in part due to the influence of the late Robert P. Beals, former industrial engineering professor and Powe’s father-in-law.
He returned to Aggieland as a married graduate student with a one-year-old son in January of 1977. When he arrived back on campus, many new dorms, particularly women’s dorms, had changed the campus skyline. As a graduate student, he no longer needed to dress in uniform for classes.
“In those days, engineering students were learning to write computer programs in Fortran using punch cards. You lined up at a keypunch machine to punch out your card deck and then took the deck to a counter where someone would drop your punch cards in a card reader to run it on the mainframe for you,” Powe said. “You waited for the attendant to hand you a printout of all your error messages and, finally, you got your desired output. I also got to sit down in Kyle Field during a football game for the first time. Wow.”
In January 1979 following graduation, Powe began his 38-year career in the chemical industry at a Union Carbide Corporation chemical plant in Texas City.
From Texas City, Powe went to work on Union Carbide assignments in West Virginia and Chicago in facilities, logistics and project management work. Most of the last years of his career were focused on optimizing supply chains, safe handling, storage and packaging of hazardous chemicals, purchasing logistics services and project management.
Powe’s last project was on the new construction of inbound flatbed trucks containing coils of different metals from mills in the Midwest, and the transfer of these coils to special-purpose skids for shipment on rail in intermodal containers in Joliet, Illinois. He retired in May 2017.
“The piece that continues to blow me away, usually to the point of getting choked up, is Steve’s commitment to my dad believing in him,” said Lora. “I think it reflects a truth that dad’s impact continues in the love and respect he had for his students and engineering. I believe students could tell he valued their journey of what brought them to Texas A&M, as well as who they would be when they left.”