Thomas Marek is a Native Aggie who loves Texas A&M and the department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. Marek’s love for agriculture and the Aggie spirit shines through in his career working for Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Amarillo and Bushland. He has accomplished much within his 46 years of work and attributes his time at the department to helping him succeed.
What degrees have you obtained from Texas A&M University?
B.S. Agricultural Engineering, 1975
M.S. Agricultural Engineering, 1977
What drew you to Texas A&M University?
Thomas: For me, going to Texas A&M University was an easy choice as I was born and raised in Bryan, Texas making me a Native Aggie. Growing up, agriculture had always interested me. Both sets of my grandparents operated farms south of Caldwell, Texas and I visited almost every week. I was routinely exposed to production agriculture and I was influenced and intrigued by it. I also had a desire and aptitude to design and build things at an early age. When I decided to go to college, I wanted to learn more about the “what’s” and “how’s” of agriculture from an engineering standpoint.
Texas A&M was my obvious choice, particularly because of the proximity but also because of its outstanding reputation in agriculture. While I could build things, my science and engineering background was limited and I tended to overbuild and make projects stronger than needed. I thought Texas A&M was going to hopefully teach me regarding the necessary skills to be an engineer which it ultimately did. I not only used them but abused those teachings, pushing the limits and beyond over time.
What was your time like at Texas A&M University and the department?
Thomas: The classes were tough for me. However, the department in the 70s had some of the kindest and most patient people I have ever known. There were kids from all walks of life, all over the country and around the globe in the department. Most of the undergraduate students were kids from rural areas or Texas farms. We also had the first female agricultural engineering student at the time. I recall the faculty promoting and foster an engineering family attitude which cannot be overstated during that era. This is not to say that the professors were easy on the students. They were kind and caring yet focused on teaching theoretical and applied engineering skills that were applicable for the real world. The placement of agricultural engineers in the real world was a profound aspect of the departmental efforts. The professors truly cared about the students and their lives. Students were mentored and challenged unlike anywhere else. This caring attitude was known throughout the department. In many ways, the students were viewed as extensions of the faculty’s family. Credit must be given to the mentor’s spouses as they always made us feel welcome at their homes during visits. I believe these mentors taught well and truly led by example, the true Aggie way of teaching.
I also frequently recall that all undergraduates would meet daily upstairs in Scoates between classes. We did homework and helped each other out. This led to a lifelong respect for the students and the promotion of the helping others out attitude. There was no disparity between ages or upperclassmen and underclassmen which helped us prepare for the real world. Playing 42 dominoes and all its variants was a pastime of students in Scoates and basically a rite of passage. All of this instilled a culture that many of us did not fully realize until after leaving campus. The department ultimately taught us applicable information and knowledge for the time. The professors firmly believed in no “I” in team and promoted integrity in what one does and how one performs. We were also taught the true value of trusted teamwork and this has been a trademark of my multi-disciplinary efforts to date. These professors had experiences throughout the world so they knew what we needed to succeed. These outstanding teachers and mentors were simply amazing and set a legacy footprint of leadership, mentorship and example that was hard to follow but we all tried to. The professors were tough on students but we still loved them because we knew they truly cared. Looking back, the department was a very special place.
What are you doing now?
Thomas: Some people say I am doing too much. I am conducting more advanced irrigation research and associated engineering efforts today than I ever thought possible. I keep asking myself what’s next and when others say there is no next level, I say that I don’t buy that and respond with a position that they never thought of in that way. My challenge view is directly attributed to several of the professors from my time at A&M. They took the time to encourage and explain research as a possible career and I ended up in research. I am currently in my 46th year of research with Texas A&M AgriLife Research. I work mostly in Amarillo and Bushland, Texas. I work closely with Texas AgriLife Extension, particularly Dr. Dana Porter in Lubbock, and hold an adjunct professor status at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU). I occasionally guest lecture on irrigation. I also conduct project efforts with several colleagues at WTAMU regarding irrigation related efforts. I serve on the WTAMU graduate faculty. I currently conduct differing related projects with colleagues in several states and collaborate with the Wintergarden region of Texas. I am also currently working with the electrical engineering department at A&M on advanced automated irrigation systems controls research and development. I have continued efforts for over 39 years with the fine folks at the USDA-ARS group at Bushland. Now I even have the privilege of working with my oldest son, Gary, who is an ARS researcher.
What are some of your hobbies or activities?
Thomas: I have always enjoyed hunting and fishing. However, I must admit it is getting harder to find the time and places to go. On very rare occasions, I have been seen chasing a white ball around large green areas. I should never be called a golfer as that would be an insult to the game. I remember Dr. Don Redell asking me after I had left school if I still had time for fishing and hunting. I said that I had not done either in quite some time. He said that it seemed to him my priorities were all messed up. His point was that life was a balance and we need to strive to find that balance. That was the lesson of perspective he had learned and tried to pass on to me. Admittedly, I have not mastered the concept yet.
Is there anything else that is unique about you that you want to share?
Thomas: I stated in the departmental centennial book that attending Texas A&M was the best thing that I ever did as it set my career path and status. I still stand by that statement today.
One of the implemented philosophies of Dr. Reddell was that the department needed average students instead of just whiz kids. He was an individual who stood firm in the departmental belief regarding a diverse set of students. The world is made up of differing classes of individuals so the department should be too. He was indeed a brilliant and caring man that affected more students than he ever gave himself credit for.
We were taught measurables and accountability are important. With all of the mentorship that I received within the department, I was able to achieve a few performance outputs career-wise. I want to mention some of the mentors who helped shape my career and include: Dr. Dwayne Suter, Dr. Donald Redell, Dr. Edward Hiler, Dr. Robert E. Stewart, Dr. Terry Howell and Dr. Jack Runkles. Some may not have known the impact they had but they helped us all. They all influenced my career and life and this resulted in myself becoming a professional registered engineer. I was also able to design and build the world’s best lysimeter facility in Bushland with Terry Howell, an outstanding department graduate.
Some of my accomplishments include: leading energy and production conversion of high pressure sprinkler systems to low pressure systems that is still the dominant set up today. I developed a scientifically based automated electronic system that put research-based crop ET data in the hands of irrigated crop producers daily for 20 years and now is commercially available. The state of Texas uses a regional irrigation estimation methodology that I helped develop for the last 20 years. In the northern Texas High Plains, I conducted cotton research that produces more cotton on less water and that has led to establishment of the nation’s largest cotton gin.
My time at Texas A&M through mentorships resulted in me being bestowed as a Texas A&M University’s System Regent’s Fellow and being awarded Texas Section ASABE Engineer of the Year. I attribute their efforts to being awarded ASABE’s John Deere Gold Medal Award and several Texas A&M Vice Chancellors Awards for Excellence Team awards. I also have several national and international patents pending using integrated machine learning techniques for automated irrigation control systems. These advances will hopefully take us to the next level of irrigated production control.
My success is due in large part to the department and I am sincerely thankful for the commitment, time and effort those within the department made to foster me into a productive agricultural engineer. I have passed their mentorship on. I thank God for Dr. Reddell and that he deemed average students necessary and I hope to have lived up and hopefully surpassed all my mentor’s expectations.
Recently, I told the Chancellor that we are all Texas A&M, each and every one of us. I hope I have done my part in representing Texas A&M that makes us all proud to be Aggies.
Article by Jessica Schaeffer
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