Friday, May 31, 2013

Railway Adventures

I grew up listening to the train whistle in Tulsa. Many years ago I read Paul Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster, a wonderful travel novel about riding the train through China. His journey fascinated me. Later, Marsha and I enjoyed several weeks of riding the trains throughout Britain. Most recently, one of my favorite LETU memories is taking the bullet train out of Seoul, Korea, with former professor Kyun Lee.

Train travel has always interested me and that's why I think Longview's Amtrak stop is a wonderful asset.

This weekend was a treat. Marsha and I took the Texas Eagle from Longview to Chicago and back. We hear the train whistles daily from our house, but this was the first opportunity we had to "ride the rails" out of Longview. It's a great adventure that I recommend.

When on time, the Texas Eagle departs Longview at 6:15 p.m. and arrives in Chicago at 2 p.m. the next afternoon. However, the Eagle seems rarely on time. The train is for those who have decided they are not in a hurry. I enjoyed this "not in a hurry" attitude. From Longview, I was surprised at the beautifully restored train depot in Marshall, impressed with the inspiring gateway arch monument in St. Louis, surprised with Abe Lincoln's Springfield and awed at Chicago's downtown skyline.

Take the Eagle home from Chicago and arrive in Longview the next morning. The train then continues west to Ft. Worth, then south to San Antonio, and then west again to El Paso, Tucson, and finally, Los Angeles.

I downloaded podcasts that gave a brief, but interesting, history lesson for many places along the route. The Texas Eagle route is home to the birthplace of several U.S. presidents, as well as following much of the path of the old Route 66.

Best of all about my train adventure over the weekend? Marsha and I had much time to just sit and talk and focus on each other and celebrate our 28 years of marriage.

Soon we will be back to air travel as we have plans to visit Connecticut for an LETU reception hosted by LETU friends Jim and Marjie Brake. We also plan a visit soon with the LeTourneau Nation in Alaska.

Thanks to those of you who asked about our family following the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla., last week. All are safe, and we are again proud of that self-reliant Oklahoma spirit on display for the world to see.

Friday, May 17, 2013

LeTourneau Nation: Global Travels

This week it is easy to see LeTourneau University fulfilling our strategic vision to be a university of global influence.

The Wheels team recently arrived safely in Kenya. Karen Rispin and her four students are continuing their research, collecting data that could lead to better wheelchairs for the disabled in developing countries. They will return in June.

One group of 19 traditional students is returning today from a study abroad trip to Israel with Drs. Kelly Liebengood and Viktor Roudkovski. Students on that trip prepared by studying something specific that they presented to the group while they were there.  The students benefit by doing the research, and then in person what they have studied.

Another group of 16 trad and nontrad students are studying church history and exploring Scotland in a study abroad trip with School of Arts and Sciences Dean Dr. Larry Frazier for course credit. They return Saturday.

A group of four students is in Spain until May 27 on a study-abroad trip where they are learning more about the Spanish language, culture and history with LETU's Rebecca Haesecke.

Dr. Stephen Ayers is leading a group of eight engineering students in his homeland of Australia where the students are being exposed to international professional engineering practices outside of the United States. They will return May 27.

Outside of our school-sponsored study-abroad and global service learning opportunities, we know of other LETU students who are also serving in the countries of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Haiti and Mongolia. Keep up with the LeTourneau Nation this summer on Facebook.

One thing all of these trips have in common:  Our students are gaining hands-on, global experience that will enrich their education by exploring new cultures, new foods and new places.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Spring Commencement Celebrations

The campus grounds were immaculate. The food was excellent. The stage was beautiful. Smiles and hugs were everywhere. LeTourneau University people really know how to make guests feel welcome, and we did it again with Longview Commencement 2013 last weekend. Thank you so much for making it a special day for families from around the world.

This coming Saturday, our Houston Commencement 2013 will honor hundreds of graduates and family members with the same genuine hospitality that is a gift shared by so many at LETU. Marsha and I will miss the Houston event because we will be in Denton celebrating the graduation of our oldest daughter Rachel.

She will receive her Bachelor of Science in Merchandising from the University of North Texas. After graduating from Kilgore where she was a Kilgore Rangerette, Rachel went to UNT to dance and study merchandising and fashion design (offerings we don't have here at LETU). After graduation, she has a job with a Dallas designer.

Last year, we had the joy of celebrating with daughter Hannah, who is now an RN working at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler.

Our two girls were still in high school when Marsha and I first came to LETU. Where have the years gone?

From up on the stage, looking out on the Belcher Center last Saturday, I saw again that commencement ceremonies are celebrations of academic success, to be sure, but also they are celebrations of the blessings of family. In Denton this coming Saturday, I'll be happy to not be sitting onstage, but instead  be in the audience celebrating the gift of my family.

For more on LETU's Spring Commencement celebrations, head over to the IncrediblyLETU blog

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sweet Alumni Connections on the West Coast

This past week, several of us traveled to the West Coast, meeting new friends and reconnecting with former students and supporters of LETU. Starting in Los Angeles, we also traveled to Cupertino and Seattle. I ended up in Vancouver, Canada, visiting an alumnus from the 1960s who remembers fondly his days here in Longview.

I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Pratt in El Segundo, Calif. Chris graduated from LETU in 1991 with a degree in electrical engineering. He went on to earn a graduate engineering degree from Cornell and marry his wife Peilin, a Harvard Law graduate. While practicing engineering in L.A., Chris became interested in the Internet and e-commerce. A simple experiment in selling candy demonstrated the potential of the technology. Soon, he left his job working with electric vehicles to start

The night we visited (the Pratts were kind enough to host an alumni reception), the warehouse was filled with over 300 tons of every candy I could imagine. Orders arrive day and night, and Chris ships large orders of candy daily. Who buys? Often his customers are planning candy buffets for weddings and showers. Go to their website, and you'll see that you can sort by color to create that perfect buffet.

With Chris and Peilin Pratt in their candy warehouse in Los Angeles, Calif.
Chris is no Willy Wonka! I can see that he uses the analytical reasoning of his LETU engineering education to refine the logistics of his business and improve both customer service and profit. I could also see his LETU heart in the care for his employees and the fun, supportive work environment Peilin and he have created.

You can learn more about the Pratts' company in one of their YouTube videosYou can see their other website videos here.  

When Chris graduated from LETU over two decades ago, I'm sure his candy company was not even imaginable to him. As our newest graduates cross the stage this coming Saturday, only God knows what new businesses they will start and what workplaces they will claim for Jesus Christ.