When it comes to inspirational teachers, Texas Railroad Commissioner and 1997 Texas A&M University mechanical engineering graduate Ryan Sitton grew up with two of the best: his parents, Jim and Betty Sitton.
Partners in raising three children and the bar for science education, the Sittons dedicated their professional lives to teaching high school physics and chemistry, respectively, in the Texas Metroplex. Betty taught for 38 years at Ryan’s alma mater, Cistercian Academy, a private preparatory school in Irving, while Jim spent 44 years at Irving Nimitz High School and also taught college physics.
Ryan and his wife, Jennifer, also a 1997 Texas A&M mechanical engineering graduate, recently decided to pay tribute to his parents’ life’s work by making their own investment in the future of the profession that shapes all others with the Jim and Betty Sitton Award for Aggie Science Teachers.
The award, established last August through the Texas A&M Foundation, annually provides $5,000 scholarships to four Texas A&M seniors pursuing their undergraduate degrees in the Texas A&M College of Science and their own dreams of teaching high school science or mathematics. All four inaugural recipients — mathematics majors Stephanie DiCarlo ’18, Falyn Knebel ’18 and Lindsey Ray ’18, along with university studies mathematics for teaching major Anthony Rasp ’18 — are members of Texas A&M’s aggieTEACH Program and set to enter Texas secondary classrooms this fall after graduating later this week with freshly minted bachelor’s degrees.
Ryan, who once told the San Antonio Express-News he’d be a physics teacher if he had to pick an entirely different career in an entirely different industry, says he and Jennifer created the scholarship both to honor his parents and to raise the profile and prestige for teaching as a career option in the College of Science.
“Teaching is one of the most noble, selfless professions anyone can choose,” said Ryan Sitton. “Jennifer and I are so appreciative of the opportunity to assist young people pursuing science teaching careers. I truly believe this will be one of the most impactful ways we are going to positively shape future generations.”
After earning his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M in 1997, Ryan worked as an engineer for companies such as Marathon Oil and Occidental Petroleum before co-founding his own, Pinnacle Advanced Reliability Technologies, with Jennifer in 2006. He stepped down from that company to enter politics and was elected as Texas Railroad Commissioner in November 2014. Pinnacle ART now employs more than 700 people and has been recognized for three consecutive years by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest-growing, privately held companies in the nation. For his part, Ryan was recognized in 2015 as one of the 40 most influential leaders under the age of 40 in the Houston area and as the youngest Distinguished Engineering Alumnus in Texas A&M history.
As the first engineer to serve on the Texas Railroad Commission in 50 years, Ryan knows firsthand the value of perseverance and self-reliance — two qualities he says good teachers are key in cultivating, particularly at the secondary level, which he sees as fundamental during the critical make-or-break stage for career direction.
“Ryan and I have a passion for learning and a key appreciation for teachers now that we have three kids of our own,” said Jennifer Sitton. “Ryan’s mom and dad’s service to generations of Texans through classroom teaching would be hard to quantify, but we know it was tremendous.”
Ryan says he ran for Railroad Commissioner because he was driven to affect change and wanted the opportunity to impact the future of oil and gas in Texas, a sector that represents 40 percent of the state’s economy. He’s equally passionate about service, which for him includes board memberships on several energy trade associations as well as for the Texas A&M Energy Institute. He also is a member of the Texas A&M Engineering Advisory Council and several industry groups, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Petroleum Institute.
Each of the inaugural Sitton Award winners likewise embodies that record of service. Knebel and Rasp both worked as instructors at Mathnasium, a local math learning center that focuses on one-on-one tutoring and enrichment, while Ray spent two years as aggieTEACH treasurer and three semesters as a club counselor with Bryan-based Girlstart promoting STEM careers and assisting with activities for 4th and 5th grade girls. Rasp volunteered during his summers at the YMCA and Camp Double Creek, and DiCarlo, who began her college career as an engineering major like Ryan, considers her teaching mission “to be a role model for kids who need someone to show them what it means to be a good person.”
“Quality high school mathematics and science teachers are in high demand,” said Laura Wilding ’85, aggieTEACH assistant director. “Thanks to the generosity of the Sittons, this award raises the stature for teaching as a career option in the College of Science and supplies the students of Texas with outstanding mathematics and science teachers. Beyond providing a financial head start for beginning teachers, it is a wonderful gesture by a son to honor his parents, his first teachers who dedicated their own careers to mathematics and science education.”
Learn more about the aggieTEACH Program.
Find additional information about scholarships in the College of Science.