“Lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time as dean of the Texas A&M College of Science, I was privileged to participate in George’s philanthropic efforts to build fundamental physics and astronomy at Texas A&M. In the process, he became a friend. I flew on Continental Express with him. I ate at Chick-fil-A with him. Somehow, he thought I had power. He would call me to tell me to fix things. Sometimes, I even could. His passing has made me very sad. I cannot believe this life force has left us.”
– Dr. H. Joseph Newton, Texas A&M statistician and former Dean of Science (2000-2015)
Three years after the death of Texas businessman, global energy pioneer and 1940 Texas A&M University distinguished petroleum engineering graduate George P. Mitchell, one of his children is honoring one of the key Texas A&M administrators who helped him chart the course for his visionary legacy at Texas A&M and as a philanthropic leader in the future of big science.
Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz, daughter of George and Cynthia Woods Mitchell, has established the Dr. Joseph Newton Graduate Student Service Award in the Texas A&M College of Science in tribute to Newton and his 15-year tenure as Dean of Science. Under Newton’s leadership during this pivotal period, the college and the broader university made noteworthy progress toward realizing Mitchell’s lifelong dream: transforming his alma mater into a world leader in fundamental physics and astronomy.
“Joe Newton did so much to help the College of Science and Texas A&M University succeed,” Lorenz said. “I know his contributions were in part a tribute to my father’s memory and legacy, and I am just incredibly touched by that. I want future generations to know how loved he was and is, and how much he did for science at Texas A&M.”
The endowment, created through the Texas A&M Foundation, will provide five annual awards to benefit Texas A&M Science graduate students with distinguished records of service to their university, college, departments, professions or community. One student will be selected per year by each of the college’s five departments (Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy, and Statistics) through a process coordinated by the college’s associate dean for graduate programs.
Newton, a professor of statistics who joined the Texas A&M faculty in 1978, served as dean of science from July 2002 to October 2015. Prior to that, he had served since October 1, 2000, as interim dean of science, preceded by two years as executive associate dean and eight years as head of the Texas A&M Department of Statistics.
During Newton’s administrative career, the college, its five departments and its many centers and institutes experienced significant gains as well as unprecedented growth and success, from academic programs and facilities to top-tier faculty hires. Chief among the many beneficiaries was Texas A&M Physics and Astronomy, whose net gains courtesy of the Mitchell family and the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation include two new buildings, an endowed institute and funding toward 10 academic chairs and professorships.
As director of Cook’s Branch Management Co. LLC, Lorenz developed the habitat restoration program for the Mitchell family’s Cook’s Branch Conservancy, a picturesque 5,650-acre preserve in the east Texas Pineywoods northwest of Houston honored with a 2012 Leopold Conservation Award, the state’s highest award for private land stewardship. A past vice president of both the Mitchell Family Corporation and Mitchell Historic Properties, she also has played important roles in several other Texas-based companies, including as president and director of the G-1 Corporation and as vice president and managing member of Circle Ten Inc. Her daughter, Katherine Lorenz, currently serves as president of the Mitchell Foundation and has been cited by Forbes as “one to watch” in the philanthropic world.
More specific to Texas A&M, Lorenz actively participated in and supported the relationship between her father and Texas A&M Physics and Astronomy, from his creation of his namesake George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy in 2002 to his passionate interest in the Giant Magellan Telescope — one of many philanthropic activities in which she remains actively involved. She also serves on both the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization Development Board and the University of Texas Physics Advisory Council.
“I am touched and honored that Sheridan has established these awards,” Newton said. “She did so much to ensure that her father’s wishes were accomplished, and science and Texas A&M have benefited tremendously by her work. I am sure these awards will keep alive the combination of excellence and service so much exemplified by George P. Mitchell.”
Mitchell, who passed away at the age of 94 on July 26, 2013, earned his five-year degree in petroleum engineering with an emphasis in geology from Texas A&M in only four years, graduating as the valedictorian of his class and captaining the men’s tennis team. His visionary support for his alma mater totals more than $95 million, establishing him as the all-time most generous donor in Texas A&M history. That total encompasses more than $88 million contributed to Texas A&M Physics and Astronomy, a figure that includes nearly $21 million credited to Texas A&M out of the total $33.25 million he and his family have committed to the overall GMT project.
“I don’t know much about the other departments in the College of Science, but judging from Joe Newton’s impact on Physics and Astronomy alone, especially the GMT, his tenure and legacy as Dean of Science will be long remembered,” Lorenz said.
As the face of Texas A&M Science, Newton worked side-by-side for more than a decade alongside Mitchell, six Texas A&M presidents and various Texas A&M Foundation executives to shepherd dozens of Mitchell-related gift agreements. One of the most memorable, he says, was the Mitchells’ landmark $35 million pledge in 2005 toward the construction of Texas A&M’s $82.5 million physics buildings — the first across the nearly 140-year-old campus to be financed through a public-private partnership involving substantial donor funds.
“Mr. Mitchell’s gift for the buildings that now exist in his honor is one of the cornerstones of all he did to make Texas A&M a leader internationally in fundamental physics,” Newton said. “They stand as a monument to his love of physics and astronomy.”
In 2006, Mitchell himself recognized Newton’s commitment to big-picture causes, establishing the $1 million George P. Mitchell ’40 Endowed Chair in Statistics for the specific purpose of supporting Newton in his efforts to improve college programs for the duration of his tenure as dean and, subsequently, faculty and related programs within the department. Newton served from 2006 through 2015 as the inaugural holder of the chair, the first ever created in the department’s then-44-year history.
“Being the inaugural holder of a chair named for Mr. Mitchell is, of course, a thrill of a lifetime,” Newton said when he was appointed to the chair in June 2006.
In 2015, Newton was honored as the namesake of the Dr. H. Joseph Newton Dean’s Excellence in Service to Science Award. Created by members of the college’s External Advisory and Development Council (EADC), these scholarships will benefit Texas A&M Science students who exhibit leadership skills similar to those that council members say Newton made synonymous with Texas A&M Science during his tenure as dean.
Lorenz previously established the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Undergraduate Scholarship for Women in Physics at Texas A&M in 2011 to honor her late mother, who passed away in December 2009. In addition to Cynthia’s lifelong example of devotion to both personal and charitable interests, Lorenz says she wanted to pay tribute to her mother’s own love of astronomy and belief that women should be supported in higher education.
Read more about that historic building gift in Newton’s own words in the Texas A&M Science blog.