TCU’s Ken Morgan energized by new digs

A. Lee Graham Ken Morgan is busier than usual these days. Whether dashing off to downtown energy conferences or hosting Brazilian visitors at the new Rees-Jones Hall at Texas Christian University, the energy educator and natural gas proponent finds every second of his days planned, prepared and prepped for all things energy.

“I’m happy to talk energy education at any time,” said Morgan, director of TCU’s Energy Institute, which occupies first-floor space at Rees-Jones Hall. The 62,000-square-foot facility also houses the university’s Institute of Child Development and the TCU Idea Factory, a unit of its College of Science and Engineering that provides space for student entrepreneurial education. What helps Rees-Jones stand out among the university’s academic facilities is technology, namely interactive classrooms that let students in a single classroom share their ideas. They simply connect their computers or tablets to the wireless software and display visual presentations, allowing the entire classroom to see their ideas come to life. “It’s quite unique and really exciting, a real advancement,” said Morgan, who occupied basement space at the Tucker Technology Center until this fall.

Named after Trevor Rees-Jones, founder and chairman of Dallas-based Chief Oil and Gas, the building’s interactive openness, Internet access and classroom flexibility offer a taste of things to come as administrators consider adding similar technology to more facilities. Between speaking at the recent Alliance To Save Energy conference in downtown Fort Worth and hosting Brazilian officials and private business people in town to learn more about natural gas, Morgan found time recently to speak with the Fort Worth Business Press.

Congratulations on the Energy Institute’s new home. What does Rees-Jones Hall mean for TCU and for the Energy Institute? There is so much more space for classroom teaching and seminars as well as a big office area and conference room that we can go into and have discussions with groups about energy in their countries.

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Like the Brazilian group visiting this week? Yes, that’s correct. We went from kind of squeezed-in space to a much larger area so we can host larger groups. Today, we have multiple guests here for a workshop.

What sort of workshop? It’s for royalty owners [as part of a certificate program offered through the Energy Institute and the National Association of Royalty Owners, providing education about energy and mineral rights]. More and more people want to be more educated about royalty issues. We do this in four cities: Fort Worth, Midland, Abilene and San Antonio. We have a royalty owner program that lasts for three days and is taught by legal experts and lawyers regarding Texas leasing law.

Rees-Jones’ wireless features and connection abilities appear to make things easier for students, but how do they enhance the learning experience? It helps facilitate learning because we can go out on the Internet easier, and we have multiple projection screens in our classrooms and white boards that we can go over to do diagrams if needed. The Internet connections allows us to Google out to Internet interfaces and, of course, Skype out to people as well.

And with Skype, the facility can effectively accommodate many more visitors. It allows us to bring in more visual and interactive learning for people, including those who are visiting for the first time. Visual learning is a powerful way to get across a message. Would you describe this as a prototype for similarly outfitted halls in the future? And are any existing halls expected to be retrofitted with this technology? Yes. The business building, Tandy Hall, will be next. It’s a major investment, a major expansion. Where did the Rees-Jones technology idea come from? Who thought of it? Credit goes to our chancellor and provost [Victor J. Boschini Jr. and Nowell Donovan, respectively]. It’s a fantastic building and attaches to the expansion of our library. You can think of it as a data hub, so this building is an extension of the library, which has changed dramatically with the next generation of kids.

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Let’s talk basic features. How many classrooms does this feature? Is this more or less than what’s offered at the average academic hall? It’s three floors of mostly classrooms. The furniture can interchange for different configurations.

What’s Trevor Rees-Jones’ significance to the facility, aside from the name? Rees-Jones was a big player and still is in the shales of this country. So the Energy Institute is a natural fit with Trevor Rees-Jones. The building also supports, on the third floor, the TCU Institute of Child Development. And the Trevor Rees-Jones family supports that, and sandwiched in between on the second floor is the Idea Factory for students to germinate new entrepreneurial ideas.