Cuero native named to prestigious honor society
May 22, 2010 at 12:22 a.m.
Updated May 23, 2010 at 12:23 a.m.
AUSTIN - Cuero native Mary Fanett Wheeler is taking her place among some of the great names in American history.
The University of Texas professor was recently named as a fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious honorary societies. The academy also serves as a center for independent research.
"It is an incredible honor. I never imagined that I would receive such an award - never in a thousand years. I never considered this possibility," Wheeler said. "I received congratulations from friends before receiving the invitation. I first thought they had the wrong Mary Wheeler."
Wheeler believes it demonstrates that a person from a small town can, with hard work, compete on a technical level with elite scholars educated in the best schools in the world, she said.
STARTED IN CUERO
Wheeler cited her teachers in Cuero for getting her education off to a good start. Her mother, Mary Fanett was also an inspiration.
"My mother believed that I could do anything I was determined to do," she said. "Clearly I have been very lucky in having support from my school, family and friends."
Born in Cuero in 1931, Wheeler remembers fondly her days growing up in DeWitt County.
"Life was fairly simple. Friday nights we went to football games and Saturdays biking and to the movies," she said. "Frequently in high school on weekends after we got our drivers licenses we would drive up and down the drag and meet at the Dairy Queen.
"None of us had much money but we never felt that we were in any way deprived," Wheeler recalled. "People were friendly and I remember my good friends and the fun times we had together."
ALMOST DIDN'T DO MATH
Her venture into a career in math almost didn't happen.
"Several family members had studied medicine," said Wheeler. "I wanted to make some type of contribution to society, however, I did not want to become a physician."
So she took a math course "for fun" and her career path was chosen.
"I had no idea what an applied mathematician does in the real world," admitted Wheeler.
But she learned that lesson well.
Her education and subsequent research led her to study how mathematical equations apply to oil and gas recovery and the spread of groundwater contaminants, among other areas.
She also credits her late husband, John Wheeler, who worked in production research for Exxon, for helping advance her knowledge.
"My husband also played a major role in my graduate education, particularly in engineering applications and software development," Wheeler said. "I learned a great deal from him; he was a brilliant engineer and applied scientist."
Wheeler, now the director of the Center for Subsurface Modeling at the University of Texas Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, has edited seven books and written more than 200 research papers and technical reports.
She is also the Ernest and Virginia Cockrell Chair in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at UT.
Wheeler has been a professor at the university, from which she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees, since 1995. Her Ph.D. in mathematics is from Rice University.
Before joining the faculty at Texas, Wheeler was the Noah Harding Professor in engineering at Rice University in Houston and was the first tenured female associate and full professor.
She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and holds honorary doctorates from the Colorado School of Mines and Technische Universiteit Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
Wheeler has served on numerous committees for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
Since its founding in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other scholar-patriots, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has elected leading "thinkers and doers" from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th.
The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 9 at the Academy's headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.
The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.
And Cuero's Mary Wheeler.