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Preparing Texas Teachers

In honor of the educational legacy left behind by his parents, Ryan Sitton '97 and his wife Jennifer '97 established the Jim and Betty Sitton Award for Aggie Science Teachers to aid students involved in the aggieTEACH program.

Growing up, Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton ’97 watched his parents inspire young people to unlock the mysteries of the universe through science education. Although they’re now retired, Jim and Betty Sitton taught science subjects to thousands of students for a combined total of 82 years.

Not only were they exceptional educators and mentors, but they were also incredibly passionate about their subject matter. “My father holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics while my mother holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry, so they knew their stuff,” Ryan said. “Many of their former students have shared how inspired they were in their classrooms.”

To honor his parents’ teaching legacy, Ryan and his wife Jennifer ’97 established the Jim and Betty Sitton Award for Aggie Science Teachers to support Texas A&M undergraduates involved in the aggieTEACH program.

Bolstering the Education Pipeline

The aggieTEACH program began in 2001 as a collaboration between the College of Science and the College of Education and Human Development to meet the rising demand for highly-qualified secondary mathematics and science teachers in Texas and across the nation. Through this unique program, students can obtain a Texas Secondary Teaching Certificate in math or science while earning a bachelor’s degree in their STEM-field major.

“The aggieTEACH Program was born out of the realization that we have a responsibility to prepare the next generation of mathematics and science teachers,” said Dr. Timothy Scott ’89, Texas A&M assistant provost for academic affairs and professor of biology and science education policy. “Many future teachers are currently pursuing STEM majors. We must do everything possible to fit teaching courses into their schedules along with their discipline’s coursework to ensure timely graduation, excellent preparation and the support necessary to retain them in the classroom.”

Since its inception, aggieTEACH has produced more than 400 mathematics and science teachers certified to teach in Texas high schools—a significant number given that Texas is experiencing a shortage of people entering the teaching profession. Students who pursue the certification don’t have to teach, but it gives them the additional employment option.

Mary Kate Wilkin '19 is a recipient of one of the Sittons' aggieTEACH awards. She's following her dream to be a STEM teacher and will graduate this year with a certification to teach science in grades seven through 12.

Dr. Jennifer Whitfield ’00, director of aggieTEACH, notes that even though the program is housed within the College of Science, many of the 80 to 90 students served annually are enrolled in the colleges of geosciences, engineering, agriculture and veterinary medicine. Students participate in preparatory services, including seminars and hearing from guest speakers, and have regular advising appointments. The mentoring support provided by aggieTEACH is particularly important because the attrition rate of teachers, especially middle and high school STEM teachers, is high.  

“AggieTEACH teachers tend to stay in the classroom—approximately 88 percent of our graduates who enter the teaching profession stay in the profession,” Dr. Whitfield noted. “This is higher than national rates, and we attribute much of our success in teacher retention to the work we do in helping our graduates transition into the profession as well as mentoring them during their first few years of teaching.”

After graduating, students from aggieTEACH are connected with regional coaches—retired teachers or individuals who stepped out of the profession for personal reasons, but who are still heavily invested in education. Located in the Houston, Dallas and San Antonio areas, these coaches visit with aggieTEACH graduates during their first five years of teaching to offer insight and support.

A Ripple Effect

A key way to attract STEM majors to the aggieTEACH program is to make the teacher certification process an affordable and attractive option. Several aggieTEACH scholarship opportunities exist, like the award created by the Sittons, but additional funding is needed. Scholarships for students enrolled in aggieTEACH can be established with a $25,000 endowed gift, payable over a five-year period.