Texas A&M faculty, staff and leaders celebrated Friday with donors and students as they officially cut the ribbon on the new Zachry Engineering Education Complex.
Though many donors helped make the new building a reality, Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of the College of Engineering, said, one of the most touching was the first received. It was not the amount -- $1 million -- or the timing that made it special, but its source: the students and the Student Engineers' Council (SEC).
The donation was "by the students and for the students," current SEC President Reed Hampton said, noting when he arrived on campus in 2015, the original Zachry Building already was slated for demolition.
"In my first three years here at Texas A&M, I always felt that something was missing, something intangible. In my freshman year, I had just begun to realize it. In my sophomore year, I started to share that sentiment with my peers. And as a junior, I began to try to discover what that was and what its absence meant."
That missing piece, he discovered, was the Zachry.
"We had been missing the heart of the engineering campus," he said. "We had been missing a home for our community because to the students, Zachry is so much more than just its first-class facilities, its cutting-edge technology or its thought-provoking art. Zachry is a home for all engineering students, male and female, young and old, civil and computer science."
Officially, the newest academic building is also the largest and boasts an engineering-based art collection and the largest Starbucks on campus. Its completion came with the help of $75 million in private donations, which represents the most support of any academic building on campus, Banks said.
Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young called the building a "stunning feat of engineering," noting the building measures 525,000 square feet and could fit two Boeing 747 jets north to south, end to end, inside.
Beyond just its size, he said, the space brings students together.
"It is a teaching space above all, and that is really critical as we think about it. These active learning pods -- not just classrooms -- but places where students gather, where they work together, work on projects that they have an opportunity to internalize and actually use the things that they're learning in the classroom with respect to engineering," he said, noting the classrooms are equipped with chairs and tables on wheels instead of traditional lecture-style desks.
Friday also marked the first time for many to see the Engineering Quad or E-Quad, which features 50 equations selected from those submitted by faculty, staff members, current and former students.
"Many of us think [of] a favorite football team; we have favorite foods. Engineers have favorite equations," Young quipped. "They go to sleep dreaming of these equations. They name their children after these equations. Fifty of these equations have been selected, and they are all around here, so the entire building in every part of it is really designed to teach; it's designed to reflect the fundamental principles of engineering."
The artwork throughout the building on each floor also represents engineering data and principles and has led to the development of the first engineering art curriculum.
While the old Zachry may have been replaced, the new building continues to honor the past with a piece of aggregate from the former Zachry, dedicated in 1972, and the original bronze plaque honoring the building's namesake, 1922 graduate H.B. "Pat" Zachry, on display at the front of the building.
"Exactly one hundred years ago in September of 1918, a young man, an entering freshman, stepped off the train in College Station with not much more than a desire to earn an education and make a better life for himself and his family. By the time he graduated, both his ambition and his belief in himself had grown significantly. That young man happened to be my grandfather, but his story is not unique or even unusual," said John B. Zachry, CEO and chairman of Zachry Group. "Since 1876, young people have been transformed by this great institution and the values it stands for. That I have the privilege to stand here today representing Aggie family members and Aggie co-workers a full century after a small-town kid decided to go to college demonstrates the type of profound lasting impact that an engineering education at Texas A&M can have, obviously on an individual and on a family, and also on generations."
The younger Zachry's desire to support the new project was not because of his ties to the university, but a support of what will happen in the new Zachry building.
"Our gift represents an investment in an institution, which has distinguished itself and proven that it produces graduates who possess the desire and the capacity to make a contribution, a positive impact in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our country and around the globe," he told the crowd. "When considering ways that we as a company could contribute to society or make the world a better place, what could be more effective or more powerful than supporting an institution that takes thousands of young people who come here simply wanting to improve their own life circumstance and equips them, energizes them and challenges them to change the world, and even more importantly, teaches them that it's their responsibility."
Young also reminded donors at Friday's event that the building itself is not their legacy.
"It is a great legacy, but the legacy is those students who stood up, the student who will follow them," he said. "What you have done today is create a building in which we're able to teach students in a much expanded, much deeper, much more powerful, much more interactive way."
The original Zachry Building stood for more than 40 years and the expectation is so will the newest structure to bear the name.
"But let me tell you, the legacy of this building, the legacy of what you contributed will last for literally hundreds of years," Young continued. "That's the contribution that you've really made: not just a building, but changing the world. The building will change how we're able to teach and, in turn, the students who study in this building, who have the opportunity to be in this building will change the world. That's your contribution. That's your legacy, and for that we will be eternally grateful."
Quoting Pat Zachry's My Philosophy, Hampton said, "I want to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. Never to be numbered among those weak and timid souls who have known neither victory or defeat."
"These are the words that embody the Aggie spirit and encapsulate the mindset of so many aspiring, ambitious and accomplished Aggie engineers. What better place for students to learn how to fail and how to succeed than in a classroom, a classroom that has all the tools and the resources for them to dream and build their way to that success," Hampton said, thanking the Zachry family and all the donors and people who made the building possible.