KU Engineering to honor 2 alumni with Distinguished Engineering Service Award

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas School of Engineering alumni Zack Holland and Brian McClendon will receive the school’s highest award in a ceremony set for 6 p.m. May 2. The Distinguished Engineering Service Award (DESA) is given each year to individuals who have maintained close association with the school and have made outstanding contributions to the engineering profession and to society.

“Beyond their groundbreaking achievements in their respective fields, this year winners each have a track record of remarkable service and generosity to the School of Engineering,” said Dean of Engineering Mary Rezac. “We are honored to recognize their accomplishments and grateful for their continuing support.”

The School of Engineering Advisory Board has given the Distinguished Engineering Service Award annually since 1980. The award is made on the basis of an individual’s contribution to the public good, governmental service or the educational system, or contributions to the theories and practices of engineering, research and development in new fields of engineering or direction of an organization that has made exceptional contributions in design, production and development.

About the honorees:

Zack Holland

Over the course of his professional journey in the oil and gas industry, Zack Holland has made significant contributions at multiple companies in Kansas and Oklahoma. In addition, his good humor and conscientious engagement make him a model advocate and champion for all things KU.

Zack Holland
Zack Holland

Holland earned his bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from KU in 1996 and later received a master’s in business administration from Oklahoma State University.

After earning his degree from KU, he spent the next 17 years as an engineer for five different oil and gas companies (Anadarko, Samson, Dominion, Chesapeake Energy and Devon Energy). 

Because of his ability to work with diverse groups, he was consistently given higher levels of responsibility — leading teams of geologists, geophysicists, production engineers, landmen, drilling engineers and regulatory personnel.

With that experience as a foundation, in 2013, he left private employment to become a co-founder of Felix Energy, a private-equity backed startup venture in the oil and gas industry headquartered in Denver. He served as vice president for engineering for the new company and was involved in staffing and project acquisition.

Under Holland’s direction, Felix Energy identified its first significant project in 2013 in the Anadarko Basin, targeting stacked reservoirs using two-mile horizontal laterals coupled with large, hydraulic fracture treatments. The culmination of that project was a sale to his former employer, Devon Energy, for $2.5 billion in 2015.

Immediately recapitalizing, Felix Energy was on the hunt for another project and landed in the Delaware Basin in West Texas, where once again, utilizing similar technologies, it cracked the code in the Wolfcamp formation. That project was sold to WPX Energy for $2.5 billion in 2020. 

After Felix came to an end in 2022, Holland traveled with his family and also became an angel investor in a few small projects in areas of interest to him, including agriculture and finance.

In 2023, Holland founded Batavia Energy to invest in a startup founded by another KU petroleum engineer, Daniel Ott, focusing on mining bitcoin. That project has been operational since late 2023 and remains active today.  

Beyond his career in industry, Holland has demonstrated passion for his alma mater. 

In 2021, he provided $600,000 to elevate a previously established fellowship in Professor Emeritus Don Green’s name that was initiated and funded mainly by former students. With Holland’s support, that fellowship is now the Don W. Green Chemical & Petroleum Engineering Professorship, which is awarded to a faculty member in promotion of excellence in teaching. The fund is also used to support undergraduate research, teaching fellowships and graduate student fellowships.

Holland shared his insight on the needs and direction of the petroleum engineering profession through his service on the advisory board for Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering from 2006 to 2010, coinciding with a period of growth for the department. Additional faculty were coming on board, and planning was under way for new buildings (Ritchie and Slawson halls) which came to fruition in 2018. 

Beyond the engineering school, Holland’s philanthropic contributions to the university are significant. He received a music scholarship as a student, was a member of the KU University Band, and he remains a passionate supporter of the School of Music.

He established a scholarship to honor the memory of Thomas Stidham, professor emeritus of music, who directed the KU University Band when Holland was a student. He has also supported KU Music students by sponsoring international travel opportunities and partnering with the school in its exchange relationship with the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory of Music in Milan.

In addition to his aforementioned support of the schools of Engineering and Music, Holland provided a $1 million gift to the KU Alumni Association. His support was critical in getting the new Jayhawk Welcome Center off the ground and into reality.

He also established the Terry Wilson leadership award at KU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and in his hometown of Sublette, he established a scholarship program in honor of his high school math teacher, Richard Duncan, for graduates pursuing STEM-related programs.

Holland resides in Denver with his wife, Melissa, an Emporia State graduate. They have been married for 25 years and have three daughters – Meghan (college graduate, working in Denver), Zoe (attending college in Chicago) and Reese (a high school senior and future Jayhawk).

Brian McClendon

Brian McClendon has changed the way we view and interact with geographic information. As co-creator of Google Earth, he made Lawrence the literal center of the digital globe.

Brian McClendon
Brian McClendon

He is dedicated to excellence in engineering and to innovation in technology. He has been a lifelong friend to KU and the School of Engineering, generously giving his time, talent and support to many KU programs over the years.

McClendon earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1986. He then spent eight years at Silicon Graphics developing high-end 3D graphics workstations, laying a foundation for his later achievements.

In 2001, he co-founded Keyhole, where he co-developed the Keyhole Earth Viewer and Keyhole Markup Language (KML) — an XML schema for expressing geographic information. This became an open standard for GIS data in 2008, and 13 of McClendon’s 41 patents are related to KML. Keyhole was later acquired by Google and released as Google Earth, revolutionizing how we interact with geospatial data.

McClendon led Google’s geospatial division for 10 years, driving the development of Google Maps, Street View, Google Earth and Google Earth Engine — a program allowing researchers to detect deforestation, classify land cover and estimate forest biomass and carbon.

His commitment to innovation continued at Uber, where he served for two years as vice president of mapping. It continues now at Niantic, where he leads engineering in mapping and augmented reality. For 30 years, he has advised and invested in hundreds of technology founders, helping them on their own journey to innovation.

In addition to his trailblazing career, McClendon has shown a remarkable commitment to his alma mater. He has funded graduate and undergraduate engineering scholarships, the LEEP2 atrium bears his name, and he has given substantial support to the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science faculty retention fund. He served on advisory boards for the engineering school and EECS.

As a research professor in the EECS department, McClendon hosted open office hours and taught Startup School, a six-week course to help technology founders realize their vision. He has provided assistance, access, inspiration and support to future engineers by giving talks to students at all levels of education.

McClendon’s career achievements have earned him national and international recognition. He was given the United Nations Champions of the Earth Award in 2013. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2015 and the National Academy of Inventors in 2023, and he received an honorary doctorate from KU in 2016. In addition, Google Earth is now displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the British Science Museum in London.

Mon, 04/22/2024


Cody Howard

Media Contacts

Cody Howard

School of Engineering