UTA Magazine
Generations of Education
Children of UT Arlington alumni follow in their parents’ footsteps

The enthusiastic crowd supporting UT Arlington volleyball almost always includes Steve and Twila Dacus. Steve played club volleyball on campus as a student in the 1970s and Twila was always there, cheering him on. Today the pair cheer for their daughter, Torie, a sophomore outside hitter on the women’s team.

Photo of Steve Dacus,Torie and Twila
Attending UT Arlington is a family tradition for Steve Dacus ('77 BA), daughter Torie, an outside hitter on the volleyball team, and wife Twila ('79 BA).

An all-state player at Red Oak High School, Torie helped propel the school’s 4A state championship squad in 2002 and was named the state tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She was twice named to The Dallas Morning News all-area team and, as a senior, was the newspaper’s area Most Valuable Player.

Several schools recruited her, and still she chose her parents’ alma mater.

“It didn’t really matter so much to us where she went to college,” Steve said. “We just wanted what was best for her.”

That turned out to be UT Arlington, which offered Torie a full scholarship and the chance to refine her volleyball skills in a respected Division I program. She started all 31 matches as a freshman and recorded a team-best 23 service aces in her first collegiate season.

Despite the team’s on-court struggles in 2005, a behind-the-scenes “battle” helped the players build camaraderie.

“One morning, the coaches brought out water guns and balloons and were shooting at us,” said Torie, a sophomore nursing major. “We didn’t really know what to do, so we didn’t do anything back for a while. Then they gave a speech on how we weren’t competitive enough—so the war was on.”

First the players loaded up the coaches’ trash can with tuna. Then there were the cars stuffed with shredded paper and Styrofoam peanuts and the door handles coated with toothpaste.

“We had a water balloon raid planned, but one of the coaches found our stash and took all of it,” Torie said. As the team continues off-season training, a victor has yet to emerge.

The Dacus family volleyball legacy began with Steve, who played in high school and on club teams in college. “We tried several times to get UTA to make men’s volleyball a collegiate sport,” he said, “but it never worked out.” He played for several years on a team sponsored by the Dallas YMCA, traveling to tournaments throughout the United States, including a couple of trips to Hawaii.

Steve and Twila grew up in Duncanville, met in high school and attended UT Arlington primarily because of its ideal location. Originally a math major, Steve switched to physical education when he realized he might want to coach and teach.

Today he’s a firefighter in Arlington. Volleyball helped with his career choice, though. A college teammate worked as a firefighter and told Steve the department was hiring. “I just went in on a whim and applied,” he said.

Steve graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. He and Twila married the following year, and Twila, who had taken a year off to work and make money to fund those volleyball trips to Hawaii, earned her bachelor’s degree in art in 1979. A flight attendant, she has worked for Southwest Airlines since 1981.

While sports played a role in the Dacus’ UT Arlington legacy, academic opportunity was the reason Kevin and Debra Nelson picked the University. A mechanical engineer with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brigham Young University, Kevin was fascinated with the emerging field of biomedical engineering.

“The reason I chose mechanical engineering in the first place was that it was a way to eventually get into biomedical engineering,” he said. “At that time (1980s) there were no undergraduate programs in biomedical. I had to begin somewhere, and mechanical engineering seemed to be the easiest route.”

Initially, Kevin planned to continue with his career at General Dynamics and pursue a doctorate part time at the University of California, San Diego. Then his church bishop, respected neonatologist Devon Cornish, advised him against a part-time commitment.

“Dr. Cornish told me, ‘A Ph.D. is a full-time undertaking, and you want to go to UT Southwestern Medical School and work with Bob Eberhart. He’s the best biomedical engineer in the world.’ ”

The UT Southwestern program is a joint offering with UT Arlington, with Dr. Eberhart holding appointments at both universities. But at the time those details didn’t matter. Kevin was afraid to even approach his wife about moving from San Diego. It took him a year to broach the subject.

“I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t coming to Texas,” Debra said. “I finally came kicking and screaming.”

The family arrived in 1989 and, despite Debra’s misgivings, soon settled in to life in the Lone Star State. Kevin earned the Ph.D. in 1994 and began teaching at UT Arlington and UT Southwestern. Debra also graduated that year, having transferred her college credits in 1992. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and elementary education. She taught in Arlington schools for five years and now is a sought-after substitute who enjoys not working full time.

Dr. Nelson left UT Arlington in 2005 and heads his own biomedical firm, TissueGen, one of the first start-ups to join the Arlington Technology Incubator. Now on its own, the company makes peripheral vascular stents, tiny tubes used in arteries other than those in the heart.

After a balloon angioplasty, which opens a clogged artery, surgeons place a stent in the artery to help keep it open. But problems have arisen with the metal stents currently in use. TissueGen’s stents, made of a biodegradable polymer, deliver healing medication and eventually disappear, leaving behind a stronger artery and no irritating metal. Approximately 10 million Americans suffer from some form of peripheral artery disease, which can ultimately lead to organ failure or amputation. This patient population has been largely underserved.

When both parents have degrees from UT Arlington and your dad teaches there, it might seem logical to go there, too. When son Joe graduated from high school a year early, he considered several options, but UT Arlington made the best scholarship offer. Soon he was completely wrapped up in a double major of physics and music composition. A college junior by the time he was 19, Joe is currently on a college sabbatical, serving in Thailand as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“He always planned on a mission,” his mother said. “So getting two years of college in beforehand was a great blessing. He found out that he could graduate early during his (high school) junior year, so he took dual credit classes at UT Arlington during the following summer, graduated in August and started college in September.”

Two families. Four parents with UT Arlington degrees. Two children about to add to that total.

Call it a family tradition

— Sherry W. Neaves

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