First Founders Day Celebrated on Oct. 29th

Four days before his 90th birthday, exactly 50 years since the Founders Building was dedicated, Philip Jonsson told a rapt audience of about 200 people the story of what brought them together that day: a partnership among three men who set out to launch a cutting-edge company and, along the way, create a cutting-edge university.

The crowd included students, alumni, faculty, current and former Texas Instruments staffers and many individuals who could qualify as all of the above. They gathered to celebrate a shared history, a modern day partnership and joint plans for future innovation by declaring Oct. 29th UT Dallas Founders Day.

The grand visions of Jonsson’s father, J. Erik Jonsson, and his partners, Eugene McDermott and Cecil H. Green, were recalled and lauded by those who continue today to benefit from their determination and hard work.

On this day, we honor not only our founders but the countless others — leaders, supporters, students, alumni, faculty, researchers — who have helped to realize our shared vision. That vision is to create a great research university that will play an essential role in educating future leaders, advancing our society, and making life better for us all.

Dr. David E. Daniel,
president of UT Dallas

“On this day, we honor not only our founders but the countless others — leaders, supporters, students, alumni, faculty, researchers — who have helped to realize our shared vision,” President David E. Daniel told the crowd. “That vision is to create a great research university that will play an essential role in educating future leaders, advancing our society and making life better for us all.”

The gathering to commemorate the first Founders Day took place in the Founders Building atrium. In the future, Daniel said Founders Day will be celebrated at a new Texas Instruments Plaza, under construction adjacent to the building. There, bronze busts of the three founders — gifts from Texas Instruments — will be displayed.

Warm, sustained applause greeted the unveiling of the busts by Jonsson, Student Government president Brooke Knudtson and vice president Nancy Fairbank, and three Texas Instruments executives, two of whom are also UT Dallas alumni.

Philip Jonsson recounted the story of how the University came to be. His father, McDermott and Green ran Geophysical Services, Inc., which they purchased in 1941. Initially, the company focused on seeking out natural resources, but corporate priorities shifted to creating instruments to help locate enemy planes and submarines during WWII, leading to the establishment of Texas Instruments.  

To staff the growing company, Jonsson, McDermott and Green were forced to recruit engineering talent from outside the state, while watching bright young people leave the region to pursue education elsewhere.

Jonsson explained his father’s frustration. “He saw that he was not going to be able to hold the technical brains that were necessary for this company because they would go to Stanford and they would go to MIT. They wanted to be in the frontiers of discovery, and they were not going to stay in Dallas,” he said. “So he had the idea, along with Green and McDermott, to start a university here and make it a high-tech university.”

With this vision, the three established the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest in 1961, which was renamed the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies (SCAS) in 1967. The founders made a gift of the assets of SCAS to the state of Texas in 1969, setting in motion the creation of UT Dallas.

Since then, worldwide technology giant Texas Instruments and the University have maintained a close relationship focused on innovation, partnership, economic development and the invention of health technologies.

Through the years, the company and its foundation have contributed more than $28 million to the University, supporting seven endowed faculty positions, and contributing to the UTeach program that trains young mathematicians and scientists to be classroom teachers.

“Sometimes I feel that our university should be named The University of Texas at Dallas Made Possible by Texas Instruments and Margaret McDermott,” President Daniel said as the crowd chuckled after his reference to the long-term commitment and support of founder Eugene McDermott’s wife. Her history-making $32 million gift in the memory of her husband created the McDermott Scholars Program in 2000. 

As the founders perhaps envisioned, thousands of UT Dallas alumni have interned or worked for Texas Instruments. Bill Krenik PhD’93 embodies the deep connection between the University and the company.

As a chief technologist at Texas Instruments, he has served in technical and management roles in developing medical products, wireless communications and consumer electronics, among many other projects during his 30-year career. Krenik, whose sons Thomas and Matthew were UT Dallas NanoExplorers and McDermott Scholars, reflected on the founders’ legacy in his remarks during the ceremony.

“I wish we could talk to the founders today and tell them what they did so many years ago when they came out here, when this was really just an open field with one building — that their vision has been realized,” he said.

Record of the Past

The Founders Book, UT Dallas

When the Founders Building was dedicated 50 years ago, nearly 800 individuals and corporations who supported the founders’ vision were noted in a leather-bound, commemorative Founders Book. Many of the names in the book still resonate across North Texas today — Caruth, Crow, Cullum, Glazer, Harben, Hoblitzelle, Hunt, Marcus, Pearce and Sammons. Others, such as Braniff Airways Inc. and Collins Radio Co., also represent pieces of the region’s history. View a complete list of founding supporters here.

Fern Yoon Ghouse BS’07, MS’08 works at TI as an automotive systems marketing manager.

“It’s been such a great collaboration between TI and UT Dallas,” she said to the crowd. “It’s beneficial from the students’ perspective and TI’s. When I was an undergraduate, it was great to have people from TI come and talk to us about what it’s like to be in the industry, what engineers do, and to present us with opportunities to experience it firsthand.”

Steve Lyle, director of university and engineering workforce development programs at TI, told the audience that “this event demonstrates the kinship between the two institutions — two institutions created by the same three men.”

He added that today, “UT Dallas is absolutely unstoppable,” and it gave him “goose bumps” to be on campus on the exact day, 50 years later, that the Founders Building was dedicated. Lyle was joined by his son, Brandon, who graduated from UT Dallas in 2010.

Philip Jonsson said that his father would not be surprised at what has transpired at the campus, as he had great expectations of such a future.

“I’m very sorry that he can’t actually see it, so I try my best to understand and see it myself,” he said. “And I’m very proud, as he would have been, for what’s been accomplished here. … It’s something to be very, very proud of. It’s affecting Dallas. It’s affecting the whole United States.”

12 Key Steps in History

In his remarks at the first Founders Day celebration, President David E. Daniel listed the following as the 12 most significant events since the University’s founding.

Dr. Bill Krenik, UT Dallas alumnus and Texas Instruments executive, used his remarks to amend Dr. Daniel’s list, by adding No. 13: The arrival of Daniel at UT Dallas in 2005.

In August 1975, the Callier Center for Communication Disorders became part of UT Dallas. Undergraduates were admitted to UT Dallas in September 1975. Then-President Bryce Jordan played a key role in securing Texas Senate approval. Objections by local community colleges were dropped only after UT Dallas was limited to admitting upper-division students. In 1986, after a long fight, UT Dallas was given approval to start an engineering program. Key business leaders worked with local companies and supporters and then-President Robert Rutford to raise money to start the program. In 1990, UT Dallas was allowed to admit freshmen and become a complete university. Again, it was a battle, with Rutford serving as the University’s leader. Also around this time, the UT Dallas Comets athletic teams were invited to join the NCAA Division III. The Eugene McDermott Scholars program was launched in 2000, thanks to the leadership and generosity of Margaret McDermott, honoring her husband and UT Dallas founder Eugene McDermott. The Arts and Technology Program, known as ATEC, was created in 2002.  An economic development project known as Project Emmitt launched in 2004, led by Texas Instruments. More than $300 million was pumped into the University to help strengthen science and engineering programs. In 2008 and in 2013, Margaret McDermott and others supported the transformation of the campus through infrastructure investments. The so-called Tier One legislation in 2009 created a matching gifts program that enabled UT Dallas to raise its game in philanthropic support. The construction of the University’s first residence hall was completed in 2009. Five residence halls have been built in five years, which has doubled the number of students living on campus. UT Dallas’ first comprehensive fundraising campaign, titled Realize the Vision: the Campaign for Tier One and Beyond, launched in September 2009. The two largest gifts ever from alumni both came from School of Management alums: Naveen Jindal, for whom the school is now named, and Chuck and Nancy Davidson. Two new developments are game changers. A recent $17 million gift to create the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History and a gift to create the Founders Fellowship Program, a program designed for graduate student scholars, similar to the McDermott Scholars Program.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].