Big Ideas in the Texas Panhandle

Seventh in a series on the Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle

West Texas A&M University is focused on big ideas. Communities of the Texas Panhandle sharpen this focus. The Panhandle is a big place, with challenges and opportunities that require big approaches to problems in response to community expectations. Ideas in WTAMU’s long-range plan, as explained below, are the foundation of WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

Water is the Panhandle’s most important resource. It’s big. Without water, agriculture withers and economic prosperity wanes. WT recognizes the sustaining power of water. The agricultural heart of the nation, of which the Panhandle is a significant part, is one of the ten most challenged regions of the country for water scarcity. WT plans to systematically focus on the water needs of the top 26 counties of Texas. The Texas A&M University System Chancellor, John Sharp, committed $1 million to West Texas A&M University to support water research: conservation, extraction, importation and purification challenges. Chancellor Sharp is a man of big ideas and recognizes, as do the citizens of the Panhandle, addressing water scarcity is a big challenge and requires new, big ideas.

Beef is a big idea in the Panhandle. It’s tough to produce, creates challenges in the production cycle in terms of water consumption and waste production, and requires a diverse labor force. WT’s vision for the Panhandle is clear. The region needs to support beef production efficiently to help feed the state and nation. The U.S. leads the world in producing beef, and no region in the United States feeds and produces as much beef as the Panhandle and high plains of the state—about one-third of the total U.S. production within a 100-mile radius of Canyon.

Energy resources in the Panhandle are vibrant. Carbon-based fuels have been important for over a century. In the coming decade’s renewable energy, especially wind, will contribute to meeting the state’s energy needs. The treacherous cold wave endured in the winter of 2021 caused concerns regarding the durability of renewable resources. One disastrous cold snap is an anomaly. Amarillo, the closest and most important neighbor of Canyon, Texas, is one of the four windiest cities in America. Tough on hairdos, to be sure, but distinctive in the opportunity our location provides to understand wind energy and the science and prospects for its effective use.

Distributed healthcare, absolutely necessary in sparsely populated places, requires big ideas. The Panhandle’s future regarding healthcare? WT will continue to focus health industry efforts on rural population healthcare initiatives and the people of the Texas Panhandle who need access to healthcare, healthcare education or healthcare resources. Increased capacities for innovative health care are provided by innovative people. It is essential.

A constellation of small, dispersed educational institutions provides Panhandle communities stability. Rural towns are losing population, yet, are home to one in five Texans, two and five people on the planet, and are desirable places to live and raise families in a wired world. Digital communication reduces the distance by the speed of light. Thomas Friedman advances a similar notion in” Why the World Is Flat.” These future connectivity demands lie on the steps of the schoolhouse. Supporting Texas Panhandle educators in various ways has defined WT since its inception. WT will continue to expand and adjust its work to provide high-quality educational leaders who live and work across this region. WT’s new doctoral program is focused on educating leaders for smaller schools and unlike any other in the state or nation.

Community life and values animate the human experience, on the coasts and deep in the nation’s breadbasket. WT relentlessly pursues the big idea that all communities, no matter size or location, need a rich cultural life through the Sybil B. Harrington College of Fine Arts and Humanities. The heart of the Texas Panhandle, home to dozens of small communities, relies on Amarillo and Canyon for cultural, human and community sustenance. WT remains committed to the cultural appreciation and values of the region; they contribute immeasurably to life in the Panhandle.

WT’s Panhandle mandate is to meet regional needs with big ideas—homegrown rather than imported—enlivened by our world-views and experience.

Persistent pursuit of place, people and purpose is the Panhandle’s provision to WT.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His reflections are available at

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