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President's Post

The Thinkers

By Tyson Voelkel '96

President, Texas A&M Foundation
President Tyson Voelkel '96

Since the beginning of time, humans have yearned to understand the underlying order of our world, from grand ideas to minute details. This search for knowledge is behind almost every advancement we make. Fundamentally, a desire to learn is also at the heart of every educational institution, and no more so than at Texas A&M University.

In 2016, the Texas A&M University Institute for Advanced Study received a monumental show of support in the form of a $20 million gift from Jon Hagler ’58 that will endow and name the program to cement its permanent place in Aggieland. It is a pivotal point in our university’s history and an example of a gift that reflects all three Lead by Example campaign pillars: transformational learning; discovery and innovation; and impact on the state, nation and world.

Established in 2010 by The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, the institute attracts national and international scholars to College Station to pursue advanced study in collaboration with Texas A&M faculty and student scholars. It enriches the intellectual climate and educational experience at Texas A&M by combining the resources of a major tier-one research institution with great minds.

One such example is Dr. Yuri Oganessian, a 2014-2015 fellow who made headlines in 2016 when element 118 of the periodic table was named oganesson to honor him as its discoverer. As a Texas A&M Cyclotron Institute collaborator and an acknowledged pioneer in experimental nuclear physics, Dr. Oganessian has worked with teams to discover six new elements since 2000.

Mr. Jon Hagler '58

His achievements epitomize the high levels of innovation and advanced scholarship that the institute's fellows bring to the Texas A&M campus every year. Others who have made great breakthroughs in genomics, cancer, aerospace technology, economics, kidney disease, food safety and history are equally inspiring and impressive.

Indeed, this capacity for discovery is the reason each fellow is awarded, upon induction to the institute, a 10-pound “Academic Heisman Trophy”—a bronze replica of sculptor Auguste Rodin’s famous statue, “The Thinker.” It symbolizes their capacity to think deeply and passionately about big ideas.

When I think about the institute and Mr. Hagler’s remarkably generous gift, I cannot help but recall a television commercial produced by Apple in 1997, of which I’m sure many of you are familiar. Part of Apple’s Think Different campaign, the ad featured footage of such great influencers as Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Mohandas Gandhi, Amelia Earhart and others with these poignant words:

“Here’s to the crazy ones…the ones who see things differently…they have no respect for the status quo…about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things, they push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

At the newly renamed Hagler Institute for Advanced Study, those who see things differently will continue to contribute big ideas that will shape and change our world. After all, it is only human nature that we continue to push our limitations and seek new knowledge. And as they say, learning never ends.