We need men who can dream of things that never were.
John F. Kennedy

My Story of Aggieland (Texas A&M)

For those of us who had the privilege of attending Texas A&M University, there is no place like it on earth. A colleague of mine, Dr. Ray Ayers, (who is not an Aggie, I might add) once stated, “Being an Aggie is something that is hard to describe from the inside and hard to understand from the outside.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Texas A&M was originally started as an all-male military college in 1876 based on the Morrill Act of 1862 enacted under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. According to the rules of the Morrill Act, every state was awarded land on which an institution of higher learning was to be located “to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts”. Nearly all of the current Land-Grant Colleges are public, with two notable exceptions being Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For the A&M College of Texas, as it was originally known, the “A” and “M” stood for Agricultural and Mechanical, respectively. Being a Mechanical Engineer, I certainly appreciate the M, while being a Texan where farms and ranches are plentiful makes me appreciate the Agricultural aspect of the university (plus, I like to eat).

Today, A&M has almost 50,000 students and is one of the top universities in the world; a far cry from its first days as a struggling college located on the prairies of Brazos County involving 40 students and 6 faculty members who first met for class in October of 1876.

My Aggie roots run deep as I am a third generation Aggie Mechanical Engineer. My brother Jonathan and my wife, Tanya, are also Aggies, both Class of 1993. I wanted to tell you a little about my “Aggie” story. Second to my being a Christian (and having grown up in a wonderful home), being an Aggie has defined who I am.

My grandfather was the first Aggie in our clan. His name was Marvin Monroe Alexander, Jr. and he graduated from A&M in 1943 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the A&M College of Texas, as it was then known. While many of his classmates went off to fight in World War II, my grandfather went to work for Consolidated Aircraft Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas as an engineer. At that time Consolidated was building the B-24 Liberator. Consolidated eventually became General Dynamics.

My grandfather had an amazing career and during his lifetime had the opportunity to witness first-hand the greatest progression of aircraft advancement seen to man. He went from working as an engineer on the B-24 Liberator in 1943 to the F-16 Falcon by the end of his career. The F-16 is my second favorite airplane, next to the P-51D Mustang.

My grandfather and grandmother (Katherine) had three children: Richard, Susan, and Michael. My father, Richard, was the elder son. Like his father before him, he decided to attend A&M and become a Mechanical Engineer. Equally important, my father joined the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band and was the White Band Drum Major his senior year (left drum major in the photo at right). Dad graduated in 1965. That same year he married my mother, Judy Wallace, whom he met on a blind date at the Aggie- Baylor game in the fall of 1964. He and Mom married in the summer of 1965 after they both graduated from college (my Mom from Baylor). They lived in College Station so Dad could complete his Masters in Mechanical Engineering from A&M.

After graduating Dad went on to work at General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter, while living in Fort Worth. I was born in 1968 and Jonathan came along three years later in 1971. Dad received a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from University of Texas at Arlington. He always wanted to teach and in December of 1976 we moved to Bryan so he could teach Mechanical Engineering at A&M, returning to Aggieland once again. In my opinion, and many others who had him during his 30-year career, he was one of the finest professors A&M has ever had.

Chris and Tanya (May 1991)Growing up, I always wanted to be an Aggie. I also wanted to be a Drum Major in the Aggie Band . I first saw the Aggie Band as a four year old at the A&M-TCU game in Fort Worth in November 1972. By God’s grace I was able to accomplish that dream and like my father, be an Aggie Band Drum Major. There is nothing quite like being in front of the band on Kyle Field in front of 75,000+ fans. Even today, watching the Aggie Band is deeply emotional for me. My brother Jonathan was also in the Band, two years behind me, and was on the Bugle Rank. Our being together during that time period was special for our entire family. After graduating from A&M, Jonathan went on to serve in the U.S. Army, graduated from Ranger School, and served in the Old Guard Unit in Washington, D.C. Today he is Senior Pastor at North Shore Baptist in Seattle, Washington and impacting many lives.

I met my wife, Tanya Beck, during my junior year at A&M (or as I like to call her, my “beautiful blonde wife”). We had a wonderful time together at A&M. We enjoyed the care free days of college together with my being in the Band, including attending Aggie football games, Midnight Yell Practice, and Bonfire. After graduating in 1991 with a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering, I stayed at A&M to attend graduate school. Tanya and I were married in 1992, while we were both in school. I received a Masters in 1993 and Tanya also graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology that same year. In the summer of 1993 we moved to Houston, where I started work at Stress Engineering Services, Inc. Eventually, while working full-time at Stress Engineering, I went on to receive a Ph.D. from A&M in December 2007. By that time we had two daughters, Ashley and Anna, who were able to see me walk across the stage. Little did we know, Aaron would later join the clan in 2008.

After being a follower of Christ and coming from a wonderful home, being an Aggie very much defines who I am. There is a joke that is known throughout the South and around the world (especially in the Oil Industry) – “What do you call an Aggie in five years?” The answer (wait for it)… BOSS! From what I have observed, there is a lot of truth to that statement. Even though A&M is no longer an all-male military college located in small town America, it still maintains a deep sense of tradition and honor that were at the heart of its early days. At A&M, students are exposed to the values of hard work, respect for authority, and learn the importance of giving back to the community. I have come to believe that perhaps A&M has maintained the elements of this culture not so much because of what it produces, but because of the type of students, staff, administrators, and faculty who are attracted to A&M.

If you have never had the opportunity to visit Aggieland, I encourage you to visit College Station. If you get a chance, go over to the Quad where the Corps of Cadets reside and get a sense of what makes this university so unique. Visiting the Sander Corps of Cadets Center will also be worth your time as it depicts the Corps from its beginning in 1876 to today. If your trip takes you in the fall, try to attend an Aggie football game at Kyle Field. These days, with Coach Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Manziel (aka Johnny Football) there is a lot to see! And as always, the Aggie Band wins the halftime performance no matter who shows up.