This month’s installment of SWE Scholar features The Lonnie Lee and Maria Elena Abernethy Endowment for Native Americans in Engineering Scholarship. Lonnie Lee Abernethy is a man who led, along with his wife, SWE Student Sections and left multiple scholarships to students in the engineering disciplines.
The University of Texas at El Paso Student Section (now known as a Collegiate Section) was chartered at the February 8-9, 1969 meeting of SWE’s Executive Committee (now known as the Board of Directors). The section’s faculty advisor at the time of its charter was Lonnie Lee (L.L.) Abernethy, P.E., UTEP Dean of Engineering.
Margaret “Peggy” Abernethy, who had a B.S. and M.S. in Ceramic Engineering from The Ohio State University, was the section's counselor and his first wife. Although there were only 15 women enrolled in engineering at UTEP in 1971, the SWE-UTEP section was extremely active and engaged, winning SWE’s national Best Student Section Award for 1971 and 1972. Peggy was also a member of the SWE Texas Section until the early 1990s, and a UTEP section Counselor for much of the 1970s and 1980s.
L.L. Abernethy was Dean of Engineering at UTEP from 1964-1969. He was a professor until he retired in 1984. Peggy taught in high schools and in the math department at UTEP. She died of cancer in 1995. That’s when L.L. established a scholarship fund in her name at UTEP, and has funded a number of scholarships at other institutions in Peggy’s name. He later married his second wife, Maria Elena (Guerrero) Abernethy (UTEP, B.A., 1957), and now, his scholarship is endowed in their name.
The Abernethy scholarship was first awarded in 2013 to a SWE Member — Savannah Martinez, University of New Mexico, Senior, Civil Engineering.
Abernethy endowment memorializes son
Fast forward to 2007 — Three Native American students enrolled in New Mexico State University’s Department of Civil Engineering became the first recipients of the Lonnie Lee Abernethy III Memorial Scholarship. This endowment was established by Dr. Lonnie Abernethy and his wife, Maria Elena, in 2007 — memorializing L.L.’s son.
Abernethy, a longtime friend of NMSU’s civil engineering program, had been trying to find an appropriate way to honor the memory of his eldest son who had died in an accident at age 12. One night while watching a television program about the WWII Navajo code talkers, he thought that a scholarship to support Native American students may be the perfect answer.
A retired professor and Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Texas El Paso, Abernethy used the Internet to research subjects that interest him. That internet search put him in contact with Peter Iverson, regent’s professor of history at Arizona State University, whose area of interest is “American Indian, North America, Western U.S.”
An exchange of e-mails between the two men resulted in Iverson pointing out New Mexico State’s outstanding American Indian Program for students. Abernethy already knew about the caliber of the civil engineering program, and plans to install his third and final scholarship moved forward quickly after that.
“A parent never gets over the loss of a child,” Abernethy said, “but this new award will preserve his memory in a way that I think would have pleased him.”
Did you know? Abernethy’s scholarship winners are required to live or attend school within miles of his home so that he can personally mentor the recipients.