There are two great ways to get immediately oriented to West Texas. First, drive into Palo Duro Canyon under threat of a toad-strangling thunderstorm; second, spend a couple of hours in the open trail to the past that is the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.

Members of the Chancellor’s Century Council did both to kick off the annual meeting April 16-18 hosted by West Texas A&M University.

Add to that an extended voyage through the best, the brightest and the latest on the fast-expanding Canyon campus and the event turned out to be one of the most entertaining and productive to date.

Throughout the three-day session, the robustness of WTAMU and the enthusiasm of the council members combined to generate strong confidence in the role of the CCC and the direction and growth of The Texas A&M University System. “We have made great strides in the past year, and we will make even more progress this year in meeting our core mission of providing education, research and service to the people of Texas,” said Chancellor Michael D. McKinney, who addressed the group at its annual banquet and also detailed the system’s financial status at the annual business meeting.

McKinney said the questions from members about system expansions in research, construction and other areas showed a true interest not only in the CCC’s activities, but in the system as a whole. The CCC also was briefed by Dr. Brett Giroir, vice chancellor of research for the system; Vergel Gay, associate vice chancellor for facilities planning and construction; Dr. Bix Rathburn, president of Texas A&M University-Texarkana; and Dr. Bowen Loftin, who is now interim president of Texas A&M University.

The keynote speaker for the banquet, Dr. Patrick O’Brien, president of WTAMU, outlined the history of the university from its earliest days through its future plans to become a powerhouse of the region.

Joe and Patty Mueller, who serve as co-chairs of the CCC, said that the conference “was one of our most successful” and that the many events on the WTAMU campus allowed members to see a true portrait of a system university in action. “We saw our future in the faces of the students and we felt secure,” Patty wrote in a letter to members.

The role of the students was always in the forefront, beginning with a tour of the university’s Fine Arts Center demonstrating student achievements in performing arts such as dance, theater and music. A tour of WTAMU’s impressive broadcast facilities included time to sit on the school’s TV newsroom set and sneak a peek at the new HD studio under construction.

The most dramatic and uplifting moment came from a special presentation by students who had spent 11 days in Lundazi, Zambia, as part of WTAMU’s acclaimed freshman readership program. The trip followed the reading of Dave Eggers’ novel, What is the What, which recounts the life of Valentino Deng, one of the “Lost Boys of the Sudan.” The trip gave the students an opportunity to interact with village life in Zambia and learn of the many needs of the local people, including protection against diseases such as malaria. On their return, the students announced a plan to raise money for mosquito nets, and CCC members immediately donated more than $2,000.

Student achievements were also noted as the CCC members joined in close-up looks at campus facilities and programs WTAMU’s Meat Laboratory and Teaching Facility. The CCC members also learned that while WTAMU is justly proud of its many athletic programs such as women’s volleyball and basketball, the university also is home to a three-time national champion equestrian team and nationally known equine program. Student riders proved why the school is top-ranked with riding demonstrations in the WTAMU Horse Center.

WTAMU’s faculty also got a star turn at a luncheon Friday featuring the research and programs of the Cooperative Research, Education and Extension Team. Led by Jim Clark, assistant vice chancellor for agriculture and life sciences for the A&M System and dean of the College of Agriculture, Science and Engineering at WTAMU, the members of the team outlined their work in conservation and agricultural innovations. Dr. Ken Starcher, director of the Alternative Energy Institute, followed with a timely discussion of expanded efforts in wind energy research.

President O’Brien’s review at the annual banquet of the history and forward momentum of WTAMU had a special resonance as the university celebrated its centennial founding in 1909 (first classes held in September 1910). Taking as his theme “accessibility and affordability in the A&M System offer tuition rates below the median for public universities in Texas. “We’ve heard about the cost of education getting out of control,” O’Brien said. “I’m here to tell you that The Texas A&M University System is doing its part to insure affordability to the citizens of the state of Texas.”

 And he said education is about more than numbers, calling for universities to “teach morality and ethics” in search of “a humane society.” That education will be relevant, O’Brien told CCC members, “which ensures our students develop critical thinking skills” to become independent and creative.

At the closing business meeting, Patty Mueller noted that the CCC has grown to 196 members whose “dues go for very, very worthwhile things,” such as the faculty travel fund. Dues also go to funding of important programs undertaken by the chancellor’s office, she said, citing the honoring of 140 members of the U.S. Army’s Wounded Warriors Program last fall at the Reed House and hosting by Lou Ann McKinney of “Legislative Ladies Day” for spouses of members of the Texas Legislature.

The council also provides the recognition gifts awarded to recipients of the Regents Professor and Fellows Service Awards, funding of two “Outstanding Employee Awards” for System Office employees, and travel expenses for members of the Chancellor’s Student Advisory Board to Austin to visit members of the legislature.

Concluding its annual business, Patty announced a newly revised mission statement. New members were recognized and a round of applause was given to the Muellers for their service as co-chairs for the past year. Charlie Mattei, chair of the nominations committee, presented new officers Tina and Paul Gardner, at-large vice chairs, and Kathy and Don Mauro, vice chairs.

“Our thanks to all who made this event one of the most successful,” Patty said, and then with an eye to future friends and members, added, “It could only have been made better by your presence. Hope to see you next year.”