The Texas 10: John McKetta

 

There are some teachers you just don’t forget. Nominated by alumni, these professors are among the best and most inspiring on the Forty Acres. Meet this year’s Texas 10.

John McKetta
Professor Emeritus, Chemical Engineering

After nearly 70 years at UT, it’s no surprise that John McKetta has a few stories to tell.

One of his favorites is about the first—and only—time he was late to his own class. McKetta was known for having a strict policy that when the bell rang at 8 a.m., the classroom door would be locked. In turn, he promised his students if he were ever late, class would be canceled.

“That day, I swear I had half my foot in the door when the bell was ringing,” laughs McKetta, Life Member, former dean of the College of Engineering. “But my students grabbed me, lifted me up, and took me to Scholz’s Beer Garden. We got pitchers, and at 8:45, I thought, ‘My god, I have a 9 a.m. class!’”

McKetta joined the faculty at UT in 1946, where his first class consisted mostly of  World War II veterans. Though the demographics of his students may have changed a bit, McKetta says teaching hasn’t.

“In my department, we were always extremely close with our students,” he says. “That hasn’t changed much.”

Case in point: even today, 97-year-old McKetta calls each of his former students on their
birthdays. The afternoon of our interview, he’s already made seven calls to Longhorns who once sat in his lecture hall.

Recognized as a global authority on the thermodynamic properties of hydrocarbons, McKetta has served as an energy advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush. He’s also authored 85 books, including the 68-volume Encyclopedia for Chemical Processing and Design, a 25-year project on which he collaborated with UT students.

In November, UT’s Department of Chemical Engineering was officially renamed in McKetta’s honor—a testament to the impact he’s had on the University he’s called home for 67 years.

“I’m so proud and somewhat embarrassed,” McKetta says. “We have had giants of every level each year that I’ve been at UT. It could have been named for any of them!”

Ever humble, McKetta says he’s grateful simply for the opportunity to do what he loves.

“Almost every day that I taught, I just looked forward to going,” he says. “I don’t remember a time I didn’t like being in class.”

Below, watch a Longhorn Network video about McKetta’s career.

In 2008, UT’s Department of Chemical Engineering kicked off the Challenge for McKetta fundraising campaign, which will formally name the department in his honor. Learn more about the effort to raise $25 million for the John J. McKetta Jr. Department of Chemical Engineering here.

Meet our other Texas 10 professors here.

Photo by Matt Wright-Steel. Illustration by Erin Modglin.

 

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