Cardinal Cadence Spring/Summer 2013

Sharing success

Larry and Cynthia NorwoodA successful engineering career starts with a strong engineering education. Larry Norwood ’73 credits his industry success to the foundation he received as a chemical engineering major at Lamar University. That’s why he and his wife, Cynthia (Smesny) Norwood ’72, decided to create the Larry and Cynthia Norwood Chemical Engineering Scholarship.

“We wanted to give something back to the university and to add some scholarships that hopefully will help undergraduate and graduate students pursue a career in chemical engineering, have successful careers and be really great contributors to our society,” Norwood said.

The Austin couple’s $1 million gift to the Investing in the Future campaign creates an endowment to provide scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students in chemical engineering.

Cynthia Norwood said it was important to her to ensure that at least half the scholarships benefit undergraduates. “Graduate students have more opportunities to work as teaching assistants and other avenues. A beginning student needs more help. We wanted to give them a leg up,” she said.

As a former teacher, Cynthia understands the value of encouraging students to persist in their educations. She completed her studies at Lamar in three years, graduating with honors in English and history with teaching certifications in both. She then taught junior high English for eight years in Dayton, her hometown.

Larry started his studies at Lamar in 1968, attracted by the strong engineering program, availability of a cooperative education program and the proximity to Cynthia, who was a senior in high school while he was a freshman at Lamar. They had begun dating the year before while he was a senior at Liberty High School. Larry and Cynthia married while both were Lamar students and moved into married student housing on campus, an older building removed about 10 years ago to make room for campus improvements. “It’s really interesting to see all the progress and improvements and changes on campus,” he said.

During his days as a Lamar student, Larry took a co-op position with Lubrizol Corp. He continued working for Lubrizol through the co-op program, alternating semesters at work with those in the classroom, until graduation when he went to work for the company full time. Larry advanced steadily through the company from section superintendent to operations manager to works manager to corporate vice president of operations. He retired last year, soon after they relocated from Cleveland, Ohio, to Austin, but he continues to do consulting work for Lubrizol, particularly on projects in China that he had been involved in initiating. “I’ve been spending probably 50 percent of my time for the past year in China, but we’ve just about completed the plant. I’ll probably continue to do a little consulting on a couple of other projects,” he said.

Cynthia took a break from teaching in 1980 when a promotion for Larry prompted their first move from Texas to Ohio. A chance encounter there inspired a new passion, and she never returned to the classroom full time. “We went to the apple butter festival. There was a lady making a rug, and I was mesmerized. That’s where it started. I studied under several different teachers and became somewhat of an expert in rug hooking and turned it into a small business,” she said.

Cynthia began teaching rug hooking workshops across the country in 1986 and serves on the national board of the Association of Traditional Hooking Artists. Her first book on the art, “Creating an Antique Look in Hand-Hooked Rugs,” was published in 2008, and she is working on her second, for which she recently signed a contract, tentatively titled “Primitive Rugs for the 21st Century.” Her specialty and favorite style is primitive antique-looking rugs. The art involves dying fabric then cutting or tearing it into strips before using specialized tools to pull the fabric through a linen base to create a unique work of art. “I was always interested in art growing up, but I didn’t see that as a career. I didn’t want to be a starving artist,” she said. “When I got the chance to do art, I was back into it.” Cynthia creates her own design and has shared her knowledge with hundreds of students, including an adult niece who is also “hooked” on the craft.

Both Larry and Cynthia have fond memories of the excellent teachers they encountered at Lamar. She cited Winfred Emmons in the English department and Ralph Wooster in history in particular. Larry said Jack Hopper, dean of the College of Engineering, was probably his favorite professor. “I really felt like the professors I had really wanted the students to succeed. That came across to me,” he said. “That was what made Lamar special.”

With the scholarship in the Norwoods’ name, students now will have an additional tool to help them succeed. Hopper said the fact that it will be available for students pursuing not just bachelor’s degrees, but those working toward master’s and Ph.D. degrees “makes it a very different and special major gift for us.”

“Having support for Ph.D. fellowships will be a first step in a major move toward more support for research,” Hopper said. “The university is moving in a direction of more scholarly activity and more research. For that to happen, you have got to have faculty who come in with the expectation of carrying out research and you’ve got to have significant resources to hire Ph.D. students.”

Hopper said he appreciates the Norwoods’ support both financially and through Larry’s service on the College of Engineering Advisory Council. “Anybody at his level of management can make extremely valuable contributions to giving vision and direction to the college,” Hopper said.

The Norwoods said they are happy that, through the scholarship and through Larry’s service, they are able to give something back. “Lamar was a place where we felt like we got a great education,” Larry said. “It enabled us to have a really good career, a challenging career. We’re hoping to help students have a chance to have a successful career like we did.”

by Beth Gallaspy