Hibbett Neel: A Long Way from Coal and Fertilizer

W. Hibbett Neel, BE’63
W. Hibbett Neel, BE’63


“When you love what you do, it’s not work,” says Hibbett Neel. “I still get excited about coming to the office and helping to improve my community. If there’s ever a point when I’m not excited about it, then I’ll quit.”

Neel, 69, insists that time won’t be coming soon. As president and CEO of Neel–Schaffer Engineers, based in Jackson, Miss., he heads a multidiscipline engineering and planning firm of around 400 employees in 30 offices in eight states—a firm known for its leadership in adopting “green” practices by engineering sustainable communities.

In 1992, Neel started creating scholarships for disadvantaged minority students at several universities, including Vanderbilt. He also began a mentoring program at Neel–Schaffer for rising minority firms, subcontracting work to those firms whenever possible.

“Fifteen years ago there was not one African American in private practice in engineering in Mississippi,” says Neel. Thanks to his efforts, this is no longer the case.

Neel and his brother, Roy M. Neel, BA’72, were the third generation of their family to attend Vanderbilt. “My grandfather graduated from Vanderbilt in 1902, also in engineering, and his specialty was in coal and fertilizer. Isn’t that something?” says Hibbett Neel, who in 2010 was named to the Vanderbilt School of Engineering’s Academy of Distinguished Alumni. “I’ve been so blessed to serve on the Engineering Alumni Council at Vanderbilt, and through it I’ve learned about innovations like nanotechnology and biomedical engineering. We’ve come a long way from coal and fertilizer!”

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