December 22, 2010

Bijan Mohraz, a professor in the Lyle School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Cecil Smith, professor emeritus, meet with engineering graduates for lunch.

These are conversations that the self-described “Engineering Lunch Bunch” has carried on without skipping a beat for more than three decades.

“We get together a few times a year at different restaurants near campus,” Mohraz says. “There’s no set agenda; we talk about everything.”

Both Mohraz and Smith call Margaret Pawel-Moore ’77, ’86 “the glue that keeps the group together.” Pawel-Moore, who also earned an M.B.A. from Cox School of Business, is now an asset management specialist. She says that “in the Engineering School, class sizes were small, so you went to most of your classes with the same people. By sharing the experience, many of us became friends for life.”

Before the meal begins, Sam Basharkhah ’77, chief executive officer of BEI, his own construction and consulting engineering firm, and Kelly Williams ’77, who was an estimator for Austin Commercial on the construction of Caruth Hall, pull out visuals on recent projects to show the group. However, the talk soon shifts from the 9-to-5 arena to life off the clock.

Laughter erupts as Smith shares an anecdote – it’s apparent to everyone in the café that the engineering klatch is having a ball. Pawel-Moore laments that one loyal member of the Lunch Bunch, Jerry Capstick ’75, missed the get-together because of travel.

Great teachers who also are good friends “make a difference,” says Bill Hanks ’75, chief executive officer of Rosebriar Corp., a real estate investment firm. “Dr. Mohraz was always willing to give students the extra help they needed. Dr. Smith taught everything from hydraulics to soil mechanics (dirt) to environmental science (bugs). He also played a pretty good game of tennis, and he taught lessons in that subject if you were willing to try him.”

The opportunity “to truly get to know your professors is a big part of what SMU has to offer and separates it from many other engineering schools,” he adds.

After an hour, the group disbands without good-byes; their conversation isn’t over yet.