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Harrington Fellows Program Enters Second Decade

Giving News

By Jamey Smith

Philanthropists Sybil and Don Harrington in the 1940s

If the names Donald and Sybil Harrington are familiar, it could be because they built a hugely successful independent Texas oil and gas operation — or because they chose to share their good fortune to aid worthy causes.

The Amarillo couple married in 1935 and later created the Don and Sybil Harrington Foundation to benefit medicine, education, and the arts. Today the Harrington legacy remains far-reaching, not only in the Texas Panhandle but across the nation.

After Donald’s 1974 death, Sybil, who lived another 24 years, conceived the idea of a fellowship in his honor, a program to support gifted and ambitious young scholars of all disciplines at levels matching or exceeding prestigious longstanding programs. Distinguished Alumnus and fellow Amarilloan Wales Madden, Jr., BA ’50, LLB ’52, was instrumental in bringing together Sybil, the Harrington Foundation (now affiliated with the Amarillo Area Foundation), and the University to create the Donald D. Harrington Fellows Program.

Madden worked with former UT president William Cunningham, the late Shirley Bird Perry, and then-executive vice president and provost Gerhard Fonken to design the framework, and the first Donald D. Harrington Fellowships were awarded in 2001. Since then, scholars from 94 universities in the United States and 10 other nations have received 48 faculty fellowships and 102 graduate fellowships.

These highly sought-after fellowships have a considerable impact at UT: they enhance its reputation among the world’s top universities, encourage relationships with those institutions, and bring to campus some of the brightest scholars out there. Dedicating themselves to a period of intense study in their chosen field, Harrington fellows collaborate and explore ideas together and with other scholars on campus. They attend events like receptions and lunches that build a sense of community. Some fellows present their work to the Amarillo community at an annual all-day symposium.

Graduate fellow Michael Pettes continues his research in the Cockrell School of Engineering.

Perhaps most important, the program provides a boost to the careers of highly talented individuals, benefiting not just them but all of society. Michael Pettes, a 2005 fellow who came to UT from Duke University, received his doctorate and now continues to research carbon nanotubes as a postdoc in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Advanced Manufacturing Center.

Pettes and his colleagues are producing new insights on a material with tremendous potential in electronics and other fields. Harrington support in his first year at the University provided “unparalleled intellectual stimulation from some of the world’s brightest minds,” he says. “The fellowship allowed for focus on research with significantly more risk and longer timelines than would have otherwise been possible.”

Faculty fellow John Fabian Witt wrote a book while at UT.

Yale law professor John Fabian Witt’s faculty fellowship allowed him to write a book, which came out in 2007: Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law.

“The extraordinary generosity of the Harrington Fellows Program, along with the warm collegiality of colleagues at UT, shaped the book in ways that made it far better than it otherwise would have been,” he says. “I’ll always be grateful for the timely assistance the Harrington program and UT offered.”

Not all Harrington fellows remain in academia. Kimberly Hopkins arrived via UC Santa Barbara and completed her PhD in mathematics in 2010. Now a senior associate with a national tax-consulting firm, Hopkins says activities outside the classroom were a large part of her success at UT, and that her fellowship made many of those things possible.

Doctoral fellow Kimberly Hopkins now puts her skills to work in the business world.

Conferences she was able to attend, for instance, enabled her to mix with and learn from others in her discipline. At the same time, like all recipients she had the chance to focus deeply on her research.

“That skill of applying intensity and ambition to get a job done — it transferred to my job search and to the way I do my job now.”

Learn more about the Donald D. Harrington Fellows Program.

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