One little known fact about the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering’s PROMES program (Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies) is that the program’s year-to-year funding has relied largely on the generous donations of corporate sponsors and Cullen College alumni. Since the 1980’s, one small group of donors in particular – 10 Shell retirees – has significantly impacted the lives of a number of PROMES students by providing financial assistance to help them complete their engineering education.
Now, the same Shell retirees who were early supporters of PROMES are providing an endowment to the program so that their legacy of support for PROMES students will continue to live on long after they are gone. The “40th Anniversary PROMES/Shell Engineering Retirees Scholarship Endowments in Honor of Dr. Gerhard Paskusz and Dr. Katherine S. Zerda” in the amount of $40,000 was announced on May 31 at the PROMES 40th Anniversary Reconnect and Mixer event. The Shell retirees jumpstarted the fund with a combined $25,000 commitment.
Ron Cambio and Irv Doty, two of the former Shell engineers who spearheaded the PROMES 40th anniversary endowment, said their support for the program started when managers throughout various engineering departments at Shell were having trouble finding minority engineers to join their teams in the early 1980’s. That’s when Cambio began brainstorming with his then-manager, Jim Braus, about the possibility of investing in a grassroots program at a local university to support minority participation and success in science and engineering.
Shortly thereafter, Cambio, Braus and eight other individuals at Shell began donating to the UH Cullen College of Engineering’s PROMES program year after year for over a decade. Then, in 1996, the 10 Shell employees established a scholarship fund called the “PROMES Shell Scholarship.” The PROMES Shell scholarship has funded the education of two to three PROMES students each year since then, providing funding for a total of sixteen UH engineering students through the years. However, because funding for the Shell/PROMES scholarship has relied largely on the generous annual donations of the original 10 Shell retirees, Cambio and Doty said they both feared that the scholarship funds would run dry after they passed away.
“That’s why the idea of an endowment appealed to us,” Cambio explained. “It’s more of a legacy for after we’re gone.” Cambio and Doty said establishing this endowment for the PROMES program was of particular importance to them, as they personally saw the benefit of the program on both the students who participated in it as well as the companies who hired them after their graduation.
“Many of the PROMES students would come to Shell as part of a co-op, and many worked in my department. It really was an effective program from the first understanding that we really weren’t able to get the kind of people we wanted into engineering. It was a really great thing – both for the students involved in the program, who received great industry experience and professional training, and for us at the company as well, who were able to hire these well-trained engineers right in our backyard, right out of college,” Doty explained.
Moreover, Cambio and Doty both noted that graduates of UH Cullen College of Engineering who were involved in the PROMES Program seemed more mature and better prepared to take on positions in industry. “My observation is that UH students were people who worked very hard to get through school. They were very sincere, hardworking people who wanted an education, had to work very hard to get that education and put themselves through school, and I think that is unique,” Doty said.
“I really relate to the UH engineering students,” he said. “I grew up from humble beginnings and had to work very hard to get a degree. I see a lot of my background and history with education in the UH students I worked with, and I respect that a great deal.”
“I think the PROMES program has gotten even stronger,” said Doty. “Every student who participated in PROMES that I ever met – and there’s been quite a few of them – are just top notch people. A lot of them were first in their family to ever go to college and they graduated and many of them went to work for Shell. It was a very worthwhile thing because what we helped to build was a program that helped people who wanted to help themselves, and that was really a great thing.”
Cambio and Doty explained that although they both hope the PROMES Shell scholarship fund continues to receive donations that will provide financial assistance to PROMES students for many years to come, they were excited about the idea of having an endowment fund which could accrue interest until the existing scholarship fund runs out. “We very much hope that doesn’t happen at all, or at least for a very long time,” Doty said. “But it’s nice that if it does, this endowment is here to support PROMES students.”
To make a donation to the PROMES endowment, please click here and choose "40th Anniversary PROMES Endowment" in the "Department or Program" drop-down menu.
View photos from the PROMES 40th Anniversary Reconnect and Mixer here.