Texas Tech University

From Chance Encounter to Distinguished Career: The Terry Fuller Story

Lacy Oliver

Discover the transformative journey of Terry Fuller, whose life took an unexpected turn during a chance encounter with Dr. Herald Winkler, shaping his career in petroleum engineering at Texas Tech.

Terry Fuller was a high school senior in Amarillo with dreams as big as the West Texas sky who would embark on a journey that would redefine his life. Arranging a tour at Texas Tech University, he sought insights into civil and mechanical engineering, longing to grasp the opportunities these fields might offer. The chairmen of these departments graciously offered him lunch at the Student Union building. 

During the walk across the engineering key to head to lunch, an unforeseen encounter unfolded. He met with the well-established Dr. Herald Winkler, the chairman of petroleum engineering. This meeting led him to an invitation to Dr. Winkler's office to learn petroleum engineering, a field he hadn't known about before the visit.

While discussing career prospects and looking through the student catalog, a revelation struck him—engineering students shared common ground in their freshman studies, irrespective of their chosen field. It was an epiphany and one that paved the way for a decision that would change his life's trajectory.
Dr. Winkler confidently outlined the opportunity in petroleum engineering, painting a picture of a summer job opportunity and adding to the promise of a $500 scholarship.  At the time, that amount covered tuition, books, and fees for freshman year. 

Hard to pass up, to say the least. 

In a decisive moment, standing tall in Dr. Winkler's office, the young man extended his hand and spoke with certainty saying, "Dr. Winkler, you have yourself a petroleum engineer.”

The echoes of that day lingered and resonated through the corridors of time. 

“Meeting Dr. Herald Winkler changed the life of Terry Fuller; he made it happen for me,” Fuller explained. “No matter what I do in life, I can never repay what that meant to me and what it did for me that day. There's not a single time that I come to this campus that I don't get out and take a stroll across the engineering key.

“The key is sacred ground for me. That's how important it is to me to give back to students. I got a chance to make something different in my life, in my family's life, that nobody from my background had had before.”

That encounter charted a new course, a testament that chance meetings often wield the power to shape one's life.

Years rolled by, and the student, now a seasoned professional in the oil and gas industry, reflected on the seismic shifts that marked his career. From the days of laborious communication via distant payphones to the present era of rapid technological advancement, Fuller's career journey was one highlighted by adaptability and resilience.

His devotion to Texas Tech remains unwavering, deeply entrenched in the Red Raider spirit. From childhood dreams of witnessing the Masked Rider galloping down the field to his involvement with the Red Raider Club, providing a platform to support student-athletes through scholarships. His dedication to his alma mater was evident through his service on the RRC National Board and his role as president.

As the industry evolved, he imparted wisdom to future engineers, emphasizing the unwavering significance of oil and gas and the need to adapt to technological advancements.

Through personal anecdotes and professional milestones, Fuller advocates for students to broaden their horizons beyond the classroom – a guiding light for aspiring engineers, encouraging them to embrace diverse experiences and viewpoints, recognizing that true growth lies beyond the familiar confines of home.

“When I come back and talk to students, I tell them to pay attention to who you meet because you never know when that one person might be the one to change your life,” Fuller says.

Reflecting on his alma mater's influence, he acknowledged Texas Tech's role in shaping his character and career. The slogan "From Here It's Possible" resonated deeply, encapsulating the ethos that had propelled him forward.

“Texas Tech gave me all the tools I needed,” he said. “It allowed me to change other people's lives. It gave me that skill set and more importantly confidence. I have been beaten to the ground, been told that I can't do anything, but you get up off that ground and you say, yes, you can. That's what Texas Tech did for me, and I hope that it still does for students today.

“Tech teaches you life skills – not what's in the classroom but outside of it – and that's how you have a chance to be more successful in life than if you would just book learning. That's the beauty of Texas Tech.”

As we spoke to Fuller, memories flooded back of ski trips, student organizations, and forging bonds through shared experiences—all contributing to a rich tapestry of cherished moments at Texas Tech.

Receiving the Herald W. Winkler Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award was not just an accolade, but proof of a life dedicated to excellence, echoing Dr. Winkler's impact on generations of engineers.

To those aspiring to follow in his footsteps, he imparted timeless advice: “Embrace challenges, work tirelessly, and persist in the face of adversity.”  

As his story echoes through time, it stands as proof of the unforeseen intersections of fate and opportunity. An odyssey that began with a chance encounter, navigating through Texas Tech's halls, and culminating in a lifetime of achievements in the ever-evolving realm of Petroleum Engineering.