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Engineering Program Rockets to New Heights

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Adding up the figures, mathematician and coastal expert Lee Butler ’60, saw that the time had come in his financial life to give back by “paying it forward” for the scholarship support he had received from University of St. Thomas. “I want to give this generation of students, who want to pursue their aspiration of becoming an engineer, the opportunity to fulfill their dreams,” he said. 

Butler’s generous gift of $200,000 establishes the Braden-Butler Endowed Scholarship to help Hispanic and first-generation students in engineering to have a shot at a good life and career like his. The monies will also support students by helping the UST STEM Center match a $50,000 challenge grant from the Department of Education.

The scholarship fund honors Butler’s mentor, UST Physics Professor and President Emeritus Fr. Patrick Braden, CSB, who inspired him in class and became a friend all these 60 years until his death in 2016. 

Butler loves the stories of his time at St. Thomas and with Fr. Braden. One special story is about a rocket club formed on campus after Russia launched Sputnik in the late ’50s. Energized, Butler commandeered a slim fire-extinguisher from his father, and the physics students made a nose cone and tail turning it into a rocket. Launching that rocket had its glories and mishaps, which Butler confesses might have blown a hole through the roof of the physics lab, had it not been for one steadfast clamp and the grace of God.

“We wanted to measure the rocket’s thrust in the lab,” he laughed.

A Houstonian, Butler attended St. Thomas High School before UST. He entered the University with a full-ride scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Physics and Mathematics. He went on to earn a Master’s degree in Mathematics from University of North Carolina and entered a Ph.D program at University of Texas. 

Butler’s career started at NASA and involved calculations in celestial mechanics. Recalling a highlight, he quips, “I lunched with astronauts in the cafeteria.” He later moved westward to California with the help of UST Professor John Freeman, where his “real career with a marine engineering firm began.” There he met some of the best coastal engineers in the country and later moved with colleagues to establish the firm Tetra Tech, Inc. He learned coastal engineering and used his applied math skills to numerically solve problems in wave theory, beach erosion, storms and tides. After a 25-year stint with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he won the U.S.. Army Research and Development Award in 1984, he moved back to Texas near Wimberley and established Veritech Enterprises LLC. Veritech develops and markets coastal engineering software.

So now, he has come full circle. Along with his financial philanthropy, his ambition is to recruit new students to UST. Butler’s gift makes him the first major donor in the newly established engineering program at UST. “Besides the faculty, fellow students and overall college experience,” Butler said, “I treasure the breadth of knowledge and spiritual guidance that have helped me throughout my career and life.”

“He hopes his gift will inspire his contemporaries to also make a charitable donation to UST for engineering student scholarships and more.”   

Learn more about the new engineering programs at UST:

Chemical: stthom.edu/CHE

Electrical: stthom.edu/ELE

Trio_Rocket1
Lee Butler ’60, Fr. Patrick Braden and Charles Deiterich ‘60 with home-made rocket.

“I want to give this generation of students, who want to pursue their aspiration of becoming an engineer, the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.”
Lee Butler ’60

About the Author — Sandra Soliz, MLA 01

AvatarSandra Soliz, director of Communications for University of St. Thomas, has served the University for 20 years in Marketing Communications Department. In her position, she handles media relations and serves as the editor of the Encounter Magazine.

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