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Two men and two young women in business attire at an awards banquet. Screen behind them projecting image that says "130 years: Building our world. Zachry Department of Civil Engineering."

On Nov. 2, 2017 the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University hosted its annual banquet honoring recent donors of endowed scholarships or fellowships, recipients of former student awards and students who were awarded scholarships or fellowships.

The distinguished graduate award was established in 2000 to recognize and honor former students who have excelled in the civil engineering profession, highlighting their significant contributions and achievements. Including 2017’s recipients, 88 former students have been recognized since its formation. 

This year’s recipients were Fred Balda ’82, George Cozart ’74 and Thomas Stewart II ’72.

Balda currently provides strategic leadership and oversees all aspects of operations within the Hillwood Communities division, continually expanding and redefining the division’s business plan to satisfy changing homebuyer demands and market opportunities. Balda also shares his industry insights and expertise through his involvement with various institutes, commissions and committees, including the Civil Engineering Advisory Council.

Balda credits his uncle Cesar as a key influencer in his life and career. As a physician, Balda’s uncle personified a tireless work ethic and sought to instill that same characteristic in Balda, encouraging him to better himself through higher education. By serving as a living example, Cesar taught Balda that family and faith are the strongest core values. Ross Perot, Jr. mentored Balda over the course of his career and inspired him to expand his self-imposed boundaries. Through his exemplary leadership skills, focus on family, integrity, work ethic, fairness and focus on selfless - service, Balda learned that true success is achieved through a balance of these core values.

Cozart has performed, supervised and managed both geotechnical engineering and environmental consulting projects for more than 40 years. He currently serves on Terracon’s board of directors and as a national director for Terracon in the area of risk management. Cozart has served as the geotechnical engineer for hundreds of projects involving retaining walls, earth retaining systems, foundation investigations, soil and groundwater contamination studies, municipal solid waste landfills, and failure and remedial action studies. 

Cozart considers his cousin, Don Murff, a mentor and personal example for his professional career. Cozart credits him and influential professors like Drs. Harry Coyle, Bob Lytton, Wayne Dunlap and Louis Thompson as his personal motivators for his pursuit of a career in geotechnical engineering. For Cozart, they set great examples of professionalism, engineering excellence and embody essential virtues for a successful life. 

Described by colleagues and friends as a prime example of the Aggie core values, Thomas Stewart II was the first black student to receive a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M. Stewart learned to be successful and productive in this changing and challenging field through a variety of positions he has held over the past 40 years.

As a professional engineer, Stewart has made significant contributions to numerous oil and gas and transportation infrastructure development projects around the world. He developed and implemented project control systems (budget and schedule) for the eight-mile, $300 million, Houston METRO light rail starter line that runs from the Astrodome through the Medical District to the downtown Central Business District and had similar responsibilities for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit $400 million Light Rail Green Line Expansion. Both projects were completed on time and under budget. In Stewart’s current position with HS&S Development Inc., he has initiated a joint venture with engineering and construction companies to plan for the onsite clean-up of the Niger Delta in Nigeria.

The department awarded 244 scholarships and fellowships (28 more than last year) for a total of $688,100, a 16 percent increase. The department also recognized those former students who established an endowment in the past year. Acknowledged for their recent gifts were:

  • Albert Fernandez ’54; San Antonio, TX
  • Annette Browne; College Station, TX
  • Denise ’76 & Ken ’75 Meyer; Elgin, TX
  • Diana & Mark ’82 Dunn; The Woodlands, TX
  • Fiona McCracken Allen ’82; Arlington, TX
  • Jean & Don ’70 Murff; Austin, TX
  • Jeff Robertson; Bryan, TX
  • JQ Engineering, LLP.; Dallas, TX
  • Kelsey ’06 & Scott Whitmire; Moulton, TX
  • Patricia & Richard ’65 Kistner; San Antonio, TX
  • Raul Fernandez ’59; San Antonio, TX
  • Sandy & Les ’74 Pittman; Bryan, TX
  • Yma & Chuck ’75 Urban; Corpus Christi, TX

 “In the last 130 years our department has graduated over 15,000 civil engineers, “said Dr.  Robin Autenrieth, department head of the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering. “This banquet serves as an opportunity to celebrate current and former students as each year we recognize the professional accomplishments of a few distinguished graduates who provide inspiring stories of their professional success. The banquet is also a time for us to show appreciation for recent generous donors who have created endowments to support the next generation of civil engineers. We also take time to celebrate the academic excellence of our student scholarship and fellowship recipients, who are given an opportunity to meet those former students who have invested in them through established endowments.”