Three prominent Texas A&M University former students from the College of Science have earned selection by the college for its highest alumni honor, induction into its Academy of Distinguished Former Students.
Dr. Katherine “Kathy” Ensor, Class of 1986, of Houston; Brig. Gen. (Ret) James A. Mobley, M.D., Class of 1969, of Portland, Texas; and Dr. Robert O. Williams III, Class of 1979, of Austin, join a prestigious list of 62 previous honorees distinguished for their innovation, merit and records of professional and personal accomplishment.
The Academy was established in 1996 to recognize Aggies who have brought honor to their alma mater and professions through outstanding leadership in mathematics, statistics, the sciences and medicine. Each year, inductees typically are recognized for their achievements and contributions to their profession, community and causes as part of the college’s annual Spring Recognition and Awards Dinner celebrating current scholarship recipients along with all donors who have established new endowed gifts within the college’s five departments during the past year. Because both the 2020 and 2021 events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trio instead will be honored at the 2022 dinner, set for April 1 at Pebble Creek Country Club.
Ensor earned her doctorate in statistics from Texas A&M in 1986 with a concentration in time-series analysis under the mentorship of longtime Texas A&M statistician and Dean Emeritus of Science Dr. H. Joseph Newton. She spent one year as a visiting assistant professor of statistics in the Texas A&M Department of Statistics prior to joining the faculty at Rice University, where she is the Noah G. Harding Professor of Statistics in the George R. Brown School of Engineering. She also serves as director for the Center for Computational Finance and Economic Systems and oversees development of the Kinder Institute Urban Data Platform, a computing platform and data repository for the greater Houston area. She was chair of the Department of Statistics at Rice from 1999 through 2013 and has been an adjunct professor of statistics at Texas A&M since 2018.
As an expert in many areas of modern statistics, Ensor develops innovative statistical techniques to answer important questions in science, engineering and business with particular focus on the environment, energy, finance and risk management. Many of her research contributions have resulted in state and local policy changes, such as her work modeling the impact of Texas regulations leading to drought and related effects on endangered species, including whooping cranes.
In her efforts toward advancing statistical methodologies in urban analytics, Ensor routinely partners with the City of Houston and public health professionals on a variety of air quality and health-related projects, most recently collaborating with city officials and colleagues at both Rice and Baylor College of Medicine in a multi-million-dollar wastewater sampling study to track the spread of COVID-19 throughout the nation’s fourth-largest city. She played a critical role in creating the COVID-19 Registry as well as the Texas Flood Registry, and her methodology has been key in helping to model trends in air quality for improved asthma management, in the identification of risk factors for cardiac arrest, and in groundwater contamination and flooding — a major problem in Houston, especially during hurricane season.
During her tenure as chair of statistics at Rice, Ensor vastly improved the department’s national rankings by more than tripling its tenured and tenure-track faculty numbers while also doubling student enrollment in all programs, particularly doctoral. In addition, she led the development of a joint Ph.D. program between Rice and MD Anderson Cancer Center as well as the first professional master’s program in statistics in the Houston area designed to help to meet the needs of the Texas Medical Center while also infusing additional data analytics capabilities throughout Houston industries and government.
In 2002, Ensor led the effort to establish the Center for Computational Finance and Economic Systems at Rice, a center she still leads. Through CoFES, she has expanded the curriculum and research in this area at Rice for two decades. For example, in collaboration with Rice’s Department of Economics, she established the undergraduate minor in financial computation and modeling (FCAM). Working with the departments of Mathematics and Computation and Applied Mathematics, she co-directed a 10-year National Science Foundation-funded research training program for undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Many of the students she worked with in this program focused in the area of quantitative finance. The CoFES program continues to evolve and in partnership with the Statistics department will offer a financial technology course in blockchain and cryptocurrency beginning this fall.
Ensor is a fellow of both the American Statistical Association (ASA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2013). She was elected president of the ASA Board of Directors (2021-2022) and will take the helm as the 117th president of the ASA in January 2022. Her professional service spans many areas, including serving on the board of directors of the National Science Foundation Institute on Pure and Applied Mathematics, as a member of the National Academies Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics, as vice president of the ASA from 2016 to 2018 and as a member of various Environmental Protection Agency advisory panels. She is widely recognized for her leadership, scholarship and mentoring, and her career honors to date include the 2020 Presidential Mentoring Award at Rice, the Southern Regional Council on Statistics’ 2014 Paul Minton Service Award, a 2006 Association for Women in Computing-Houston Award and Texas A&M Statistics’ 1998 H.O. Hartley Award.
“What truly sets Kathy apart from other faculty is the way she has chosen to engage fully with regional leaders in the greater Houston area to improve the health and wellbeing of local residents,” said Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda, Charles and Jill Fischer Provost at the University of Notre Dame and a former provost at Rice. “While Kathy is fascinated by the underlying scientific questions behind these community issues, she is singularly focused on how her work can help city and county agencies better serve the community. She is truly remarkable in her ability to advance the knowledge frontier while also ensuring that good science is placed in service to society… . She is intensely proud of her connection to Texas A&M, which now has an opportunity to endorse her leadership as a scientist while simultaneously celebrating her long loyalty to your wonderful university.”
Mobley received his bachelor of science in zoology from Texas A&M in 1969 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army. While attending the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, where he earned his Doctor of Medicine in 1973, he was called to active duty. He completed his internship and residency in family medicine at Silas B. Hayes Army Hospital in Fort Ord, Calif., then founded the first family practice clinic in U.S. Army Europe. Following his tour in Germany, he returned to Texas and founded the first family practice clinic at Fort Hood. He retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of Brigadier General.
For the past 40 years, Mobley has been president of Medical Arts Clinic in Portland, a family medicine practice opened in 1981. He was appointed as Health Authority for the San Patricio County Department of Public Health in 1990 as well as medical director for the Texas A&M Healthy South Texas Initiative (2015-2020), for which he leveraged an initial $10 million grant into $52 million in saved medical costs benefiting more than 1.2 million people in 27 Texas counties. After earning his master of public health from the Texas A&M School of Rural Public Health in 2013, he developed the first epidemiology course at Sam Houston State University, where he has been a lecturer in the Department of Population Health since 2014.
As one of the longest-serving Health Authorities in the State of Texas, Mobley has dealt with a wide variety of problems, from rabid skunks and tiger attacks to Chagas disease. In addition to receiving the 2010 Texas Academy of Family Physicians Public Health Award, he was recognized by the Texas Health Commissioner following Hurricane Harvey for bringing a mobile hospital to the county after its only hospital was destroyed. Present-day, he continues to lead the COVID response in San Patricio County, which has one of the lowest infection rates in the area. Mobley also has served since 2006 as chair of the Coastal Bend Regional Health Awareness Board that has addressed benzene levels, water fluoridation, birth defects and many other issues in its mission to provide environmental and health information to local residents and elected officials. In addition to being a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility, he has sponsored a medical careers club for area high school students for more than 35 years.
During his 38 years of service in the Army, Mobley held many positions of increasing responsibility, including as Commander of the 1,000-bed 4010th U.S. Army Hospital in New Orleans and 1,000-bed 2291st U.S. Army Hospital in El Paso. After serving as Command Surgeon for the 90th Regional Support Command in Little Rock, he received the designation Arkansas Traveler, an honor given by the Governor of Arkansas to non-Arkansas residents who provide significant service to the State of Arkansas. His career military honors include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and induction into the Order of Military Medical Merit.
“All Texas communities need true leaders such as Dr. James Mobley,” said David R. Krebs, County Judge for San Patricio County. “Those leaders who possess not only integrity, accountability and vision, but also have the ability to work well with others to put community first… . At age 63, he returned to Texas A&M to earn his master of public health to better serve in his role as Health Authority. He was here for us after Hurricane Harvey, and he’s played a vital part in San Patricio County’s successful COVID-19 response, working tirelessly with our churches, restaurants and businesses to establish safe practices.”
Williams received his bachelor of science in biology with honors from Texas A&M in 1979 as well as a bachelor of science in pharmacy and a Ph.D. in pharmaceutics in 1986 from the University of Texas at Austin. While at Texas A&M, he was an Undergraduate Honors Fellow (1978) and recipient of the Distinguished Student Award (1979). He spent nine years in the pharmaceutical industry in the United States and France before returning to the University of Texas in 1995, where he holds the Johnson & Johnson Centennial Chair in Pharmacy and serves as professor and head of the Division of Molecular Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery within the College of Pharmacy.
Williams’ research focuses on the formulation, development and optimization of novel drug delivery systems for oral, pulmonary, nasal, injectable, buccal and topical administration. He devotes significant effort to enhancing drug solubility and dissolution through novel particle engineering technologies, including precipitation and thermal processes as well as thin film freezing (TFF). This technology platform patented by Austin-based TFF Pharmaceuticals Inc. — one of several biopharmaceutical companies Williams has co-founded — makes it possible to turn molecules into inhalable therapies that can be dosed directly to the lungs with fewer side effects. He has published more than 400 peer-reviewed articles, reviews, abstracts and book chapters and co-edited three books in the fields of pharmaceutical technology and drug delivery, including Formulating Poorly Water-Soluble Drugs, Second Edition and Essential Pharmaceutics. In addition, he is the editor-in-chief of AAPS PharmSciTech, the official journal of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, and previously was editor-in-chief of Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy (Taylor & Francis) from 2000 to 2014. He also serves on the editorial advisory board of The Journal of Drug Delivery Science and Technology (Elsevier) and as a reviewer for numerous other journals.
Williams is an elected fellow of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (2006), American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (2008) and National Academy of Inventors (2020). He has been a member of AAPS since its inception along with other numerous professional societies, including the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy and the American Chemical Society.
The commercial impact of Williams’ work on public welfare has been described as “profound,” an apt modifier, considering nearly every one of his more than 40 issued and pending patents in the fields of drug delivery, processing and biotechnology have been licensed to companies. He was recognized with the highly coveted and competitive 2017 Inventor of the Year Award by the University of Texas Office of Technology Commercialization for his achievements in the area of intellectual property and innovation.
“In many instances, patents issued to inventors in universities often die on the vine due to a disconnect that exists between academic inventors and potential end users of the patented technology,” said Dr. James W. McGinty, Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin and a National Academy of Inventors Fellow. “This has not been the case with Dr. Williams, in fact, just the opposite has occurred. He has displayed an innate ability to not only see a problem to be solved, but he also focuses on challenging problems where there is a definite and confirmed unmet need for a potential product to be derived from solving such a problem.”
Members of the Academy of Distinguished Former Students receive a commemorative award and have their names inscribed on a perpetual plaque included in the Academy section of the College of Science donor recognition wall located on the first floor of the John R. Blocker Building.
For more information on the Academy and its previous inductees, visit https://science.tamu.edu/giving/adfs/.
Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or [email protected]