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Stephen Powe graduated from the industrial and systems engineering department at Texas A&M University with a master’s degree. He submitted a final copy of his independent study report this past December to his former professor, the late Dr. James K “Jim” Hennigan. | Image: Getty Images
For many students, turning in a thesis or final project is the cherry on top of a graduate-level education. It’s a fleeting moment in time where you may feel the burden on your shoulders lighten as soon as you submit the last piece of your research while your mind shifts to thinking of your next endeavor.
 
When the bustle of post-college life ramped up, submitting a final copy of an independent study report ended up on the bucket list of industrial engineering former student Stephen Powe ‘78. That is, until late last year. 
 
Powe graduated from the industrial and systems engineering department at Texas A&M University with a master’s degree. He submitted a final copy of his independent study report this past December, 42 years after graduation, addressed to his former professor, the late Dr. James K “Jim” Hennigan ’54.
 
“After I graduated in December of 1978 it was always on my to-do list to type it up and submit it. I knew I would get to it someday because I kept my files with me through a lot of years and several moves,” Powe said.

I see none of Steve’s ‘delay’ as a failure, but as the truest gift to celebrate who Dr. Hennigan was as a teacher, a mentor and a true believer in the quality of people Texas A&M produces for world impact. Especially on the 20th year anniversary of my dad’s passing.

Joni Lora

Hennigan was a well-known and respected professor of industrial and systems engineering and academic advisor at Texas A&M. In 1967, he developed a laboratory for human factors study that led to a second-generation human factors laboratory, located in the Zachry Engineering Building where the Zachry Engineering Education Complex now stands. Hennigan retired in 1996 as associate professor emeritus in industrial engineering.
 
Because Powe took the non-thesis route for his master’s, he owed Hennigan a clean copy of his final report on his IE 685 hours of independent study work. Powe had completed and presented his work to his committee of three faculty members, including Hennigan, during the fall of 1978. Once it was approved, the final step left in the process was to prepare a clean copy and submit it to Hennigan.

“It is here that I failed. Being married with the first of our four children that last semester, I was heavily invested in getting job interviews, which resulted in many interview trips that fall. Then it was time to move my young family from College Station to Galveston,” Powe said. “Dr. Hennigan could be gruff, but he was fair. I wince at the thought that I betrayed his trust and what he must have thought of me.”

“I see none of Steve’s ‘delay’ as a failure, but as the truest gift to celebrate who Dr. Hennigan was as a teacher, a mentor and a true believer in the quality of people Texas A&M produces for world impact. Especially on the 20th year anniversary of my dad’s passing,” said Joni Lora, Hennigan’s daughter. “His office door was always open to students. He would always tell me that he knew each student was better at ‘something’ than he was and would get to know them until he found out.”

A portrait of the late Dr. James Hennigan.
Dr. James Hennigan taught industrial and systems engineering at Texas A&M University for 40 years. He was also in the Corps of Cadets, the Aggie Band and the Ross Volunteers. | Image: Courtesy of Dr. Jim and Jeanette Hennigan Estate

Powe served in the U.S. Army for a little over five years after he received his bachelor’s degree in history in 1971. He came back to Texas A&M for graduate school to focus more intently on his future career path. His decision was in part because of the influence from the late Dr. Robert P. Beals, former industrial engineering professor and Powe’s father-in-law.
 
Powe came back to Aggieland as a married graduate student with a 1-year-old son in January of 1977. When he arrived back on campus many new dorms, particularly women’s dorms, broadened the silhouette of the campus skyline. As a graduate student, he no longer needed to dress in uniform for classes.
 
“In those days, engineering students were learning to write computer programs in Fortran using punch cards. You lined up at a keypunch machine to punch out your card deck and then took the deck to a counter where someone would drop your punch cards in a card reader to run it on the mainframe for you. You waited for the attendant to hand you a printout of all your error messages and, finally, you got your desired output,” Powe said. “I also got to sit down in Kyle Field during a football game for the first time. Wow.”
 
In January 1979 following graduation, Powe began his 38-year career in the chemical industry at a Union Carbide Corporation chemical plant in Texas City.
 
From Texas City, Powe went to work on Union Carbide assignments in West Virginia and Chicago, in facilities, logistics and project management work. Most of the last years of his career were focused on optimizing supply chains, safe handling, storage and packaging of hazardous chemicals, purchasing logistics services and project management.

Joni Lora, the daughter of Dr. James Hennigan, with a copy of Stephen Powe's final paper, and a photo of Dr. Hennigan.
Joni Lora, daughter of the late Dr. James Hennigan, with a photo of her father and the final copy of Stephen Powe’s independent study paper. | Image: Courtesy of Dr. Jim and Jeanette Hennigan Estate
Powe’s last project was on the new construction of inbound flatbed trucks containing coils of different metals from mills in the Midwest, and the transfer of these coils to special-purpose skids for shipment on rail in intermodal containers in Joliet, Illinois. Powe retired in May 2017. 
 
Looking back on his time in graduate school and those final days, Powe remembers Hennigan as a teacher, a mentor and a friend. And now he has fulfilled the promise to himself and his mentor to turn in that final report — even though it was 42 years late.
 
Industrial and systems engineering department head Dr. Lewis Ntaimo, reviewed Powe’s submission. Powe was sent a certification of completion.
 
“Jim was a man who cared deeply about his students. If he granted time to turn in a retyped report, it was because he believed in the integrity we have seen displayed by this submission and knew Mr. Powe would have a successful career,” said Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, senior professor of industrial and systems engineering. “Jim would be pleased.”
 
“The piece that continues to blow me away, usually to the point of getting choked up, is Steve’s commitment to my dad believing in him,” said Lora. “I think it reflects a truth that dad’s impact continues in the love and respect he had for his students and engineering. I believe students could tell he valued their journey of what brought them to Texas A&M, as well as who they would be when they left.”