Chain Reaction

UT graduates Van and Thomas Truskett are now staff and faculty, giving them a deep understanding of how donors make a difference to scholarly pursuits.
Van and Thomas Truskett

Photos: Sloan Breeden

Van and Tom Truskett (both B.S. ’96) met in the summer of 1994 as chemical engineering students in the Cockrell School of Engineering — a connection that “made that class even more eventful and interesting and fun,” Van remembers. When the continuation of their academic journeys took them far from the Forty Acres — Van to Johns Hopkins, and Tom to Princeton — they continued their relationship with a lot of commuting. Eventually, their career paths led them back to The University of Texas at Austin in 2002. Now, the couple’s planned gift for unrestricted use by UT’s McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering reflects their deep understanding of the contribution donors make to scholarly pursuits.

Van grew up in Austin with dreams of studying at UT. “I have always been aware of the community that UT provided to Austin,” she says. “When I got accepted here, it was an amazing day.”

In her role as the executive director of the Texas Innovation Center, Van works with researchers at the intersection of technology, commercialization, innovation and entrepreneurship. “There’s so much impactful research happening at the University,” says Van. “I am passionate about working with faculty and students. It’s energizing and inspirational to see how people transform when their research takes a practical form that people can adopt in their everyday life,” says Van. “Donor support gives researchers the freedom to be bold and daring, which takes the University’s research efforts to the next level. Without donor funding, UT wouldn’t be where it is today.”

Van is excited about Austin’s growing reputation as a hub of transformational research. “Right now is a historic time to be in this city,” she says. “The venture capital community is growing, and President Jay Hartzell’s strategic plan puts a lot of emphasis on bringing awareness to UT Austin as a hub for innovation and transformative research.”

“Donor support gives researchers the freedom to be bold and daring, which takes the University’s research efforts to the next level.”
— Van Truskett

Van and Thomas Truskett
Tom’s hometown is Longview, Texas, and he also grew up knowing UT was his destination of choice, just as it had been for his older brother. “I was very interested in learning about the world and scholarship and academia,” he says. “I wanted to be at a place that was big enough that you could fully immerse yourself and take in everything a big university had to offer.”

Despite the size of the University, Tom benefited from individual attention from his professors. “I got my start here as an undergraduate researcher. A professor pulled me aside and offered me the chance to do research in his lab. He told me, ‘There’s a real opportunity for you to go out and see the world and become an outstanding scholar and build a career in helping students advancing research.’”

After completion of his master’s and doctoral degrees, Tom returned to UT as an assistant professor and became chair of the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, a position he held from 2013 to 2021. The experience gave Tom insight into the possibilities that donor funding makes reality. “State funding supports the core mission of the University and essential functions,” he explains. “But what makes things happen are the other resources that unlock time and opportunities — graduate fellowships and scholarships, for example, or even a new class that would not be offered except for a donor’s generosity.”

With their long connection to UT, both Van and Tom are excited about what the future holds — for students, for researchers and for the city they love. “Donors give students access to a future that we can’t even imagine today,” says Van. Tom adds, “Those resources can help nudge somebody in the right direction and open up opportunities for them to transform the world,” he says. “And it’s all because of someone’s decision to make a gift.”

Texas Leader Magazine

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