A few years after graduating from Texas A&M University, Don Lummus ’58 received an MBA from Harvard University. Both schools made a deep impression on him for different reasons. From his days as an Aggie undergrad, Lummus remembers a sense of camaraderie and learning to appreciate hard work. What stayed with him from his time at Harvard was the type of professors there—many of whom came from industry with real-world experience and knowledge they passed on to their students.
“These professors could tell you what really goes on and how to develop teams that address certain problems,” he said. “They could also tell you how to work within that team to achieve results.”
Last year, when Lummus was ready to make a large donation to Texas A&M with his wife Marilyn, he remembered the impact of those professors. Their $1 million endowed gift established the Don Lummus ’58 Professorship of Practice in Engineering. “It’s important to us that students have the opportunity to interface with professionals with real-world experience who can talk nuts and bolts,” Don said.
It just so happens that the couple’s idea is in perfect synch with the College of Engineering’s long-term goals. Dr. M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of engineering, has made hiring more professors of practice—professionals with at least 10 years of field experience—one of her priorities for the college. “There needs to be a balance between tenure track and professional track faculty,” said Banks. “The students must have fundamental knowledge that only faculty with years of experience in academia can teach. But we also need to ensure that our students understand that while you may have the best mathematical solution to a problem, it may not work in the real world.”
The college understands that qualified professionals can have a strong positive impact on students’ development—not only through industry knowledge, but also as mentors and advisers to students on how to secure internships, how to be successful post-graduation and how to network. Currently, 65 professors of practice—many of whom have graduate degrees—with a combined total of roughly 1,000 years of industry experience are teaching more than 100 engineering classes. When the college polled students on how to use extra funds generated by differential tuition, the top response was to hire more professors of practice.
In Don’s mind, after students have built a base of knowledge in engineering, they would be ready to work with professionals from a particular industry of interest or group of industries. “I think students get a greater springboard to an engineering career by studying under people who were working in the industry last week,” he added.
Don grew up in Denison, Texas, raised by parents born just before the Great Depression. “Everyone was poor as dirt,” he said. Because his parents couldn’t afford to go to college, they were insistent that their kids get an education. And did they ever get their wish. Don’s two brothers have degrees from Texas A&M, while his sister graduated from Texas Women’s University. All the Lummus siblings have master’s degrees—three of them from Harvard and one from The University of Texas.
To put himself through Texas A&M, Lummus worked in the summers as a roughneck on oil rigs. His earnings would last him until spring. Then he would borrow money to get through the last three months of school, which he would repay once his summer job started again. “It was ‘a long fight with a short stick,’ as my dad used to say,” he said. “But we got it done.”
During his time on campus, Don was a member of the Corps of Cadets in Squadron 9, a member of the Ross Volunteers and a commanding officer of the Seventh Group during his senior year. He also served as president of the Texas A&M chapter of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Society.
In addition to the knowledge he gained at Texas A&M, he remembers that the connections and friendships during his time on campus were equally important. “The thing that was most impressive to me was that there were 18 dormitories with about 400 students per dorm,” he said. “And I’ll bet you I could have walked through each of the 18 dormitories floor by floor and called 30 to 40 percent of the people by name.”
Those Aggie connections proved valuable after Don left College Station—even at Harvard. The dean of the Harvard Business School at the time, Larry Fouraker ’44, was an Aggie. “That didn’t hurt my career,” Don said.
What’s more, connections from Texas A&M led him to one of his greatest successes in business—Stewart Systems. He bought into the company and as the CEO, grew it into a manufacturing stalwart, acquiring other companies along the way. He went on to success with other manufacturing companies as well.
His achievements in business have enabled him to make this gift and other contributions to the university. In 1990, he created a President’s Endowed Scholarship, and in 2012, he made a significant donation to aid the Memorial Student Center renovation. Marilyn has supported his philanthropy completely. “She’s an Aggie by choice,” Don said. A graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, she reported feeling something special the first time she stepped on Texas A&M’s campus. “It feels good, and it’s welcoming; students have smiles on their faces,” Marilyn said. “Don has always been very generous and focused on the importance of giving back. I’ve been very proud of him for that.”
To learn how you can support professors of practice in the College of Engineering, contact Jay Roberts '05 below.