She’s a 54-year-old grandmother raising two grandchildren. She got a GED rather than a traditional high school diploma in 1979. How can she inspire those who think a degree from Texas A&M University is too expensive and out of their reach? — By example.
Sally Ryan is a 2016 Magna Cum Laude graduate in Interdisciplinary Studies. She will begin her teaching career at Anson Jones Elementary in Bryan this fall. One of the over 1,300 graduates from the college this past year, Sally worked hard to achieve her diploma, overcoming obstacles that many might think insurmountable.
Hard work has been the hallmark of Sally Ryan’s life. As a six-year-old child she dreamed of being a teacher, but as she puts it “life got in the way”. She started working in the fast food and restaurant business and had success moving into management positions. While the work paid the bills, it wasn’t fulfilling unless she was training new employees.
“I always loved training the new people,” Sally explained. “Anytime I was in a teaching or training situation, I loved it.”
Her life took an unexpected turn when she took custody of her one- and three-year-old grandsons and found herself raising children all over again. She placed the oldest in College Station ISD’s Head Start program and conversations with the staff soon opened up another pathway. The staff talked to her about an Intensive College Readiness Program at Blinn College that offered classes to non- traditional students to help prepare them to take college classes.
Sally didn’t jump at the offer right away, struggling with the dilemma between the need to work and earn money and the time required to take classes. However, during a late-night Christmas Eve shift, Sally remembered the six-year-old girl who dreamed of being a teacher.
“At that moment, I decided to go to school,” she said. “The only problem was I still didn’t know how I could afford it.”
She started working part-time and taking the classes to transition back into college. Her husband, who works security at Texas A&M, started working over-time.
“I didn’t feel like things came to me quite as fast,” explained Sally. “I had to spend so much time on school that it took away from everything else.”
“The readiness program really helped,” Sally confessed. She took her initial classes at Blinn College. While she acclimated to the new learning environment, the cost of tuition was never far from her mind. Her dream was to complete her degree at Texas A&M, but she wasn’t sure that would be possible until a friend told her about scholarships available to her.
“When I found out about the scholarships available to me if I kept my grades up, I knew I could fulfill my dreams,” she said.
The professors and other students at Texas A&M were totally accepting of, and encouraging to, Sally as she followed her degree path. Of her much younger classmates, Sally said they got along great.
“I knew I could learn from them and thought they could probably learn from me as well,” she explained.
Her professors wouldn’t let her be hard on herself and told her that she could do it. One inspired her to teach science, something she never imagined she would do. This August, she will begin teaching third grade at Anson Jones Elementary in Bryan, Texas.
Her student teaching experience solidified her choice of profession. She fell in love with the students and made it her mission to make a difference for those who were difficult to reach whether on an educational or emotional level, or both. She encouraged them to think about college by letting them try on her Aggie ring which resulted in squeals of “Yay! I’m going to be an Aggie!”
After all these years and all the hard work, Sally now feels that she will be doing what she is supposed to be doing.
“Now I am living my dream and I could not have done it without my scholarships,” Sally stated.
Nor could Sally have inspired others to live their dreams. Both of her own children have begun taking college classes after witnessing her experience, and her grandsons, who are now eight and ten, are determined to pursue their education at Texas A&M when they are older.
Sally continues to serve as a role model, teaching others who are in the college readiness program. The majority of these students are also first generation students whose financial situation should improve with a college degree. She tells them not to make excuses and assures them it’s not too late. And she always encourages them that there are people who will help them if they work hard.
Establishing a scholarship may be your way of helping the next Sally Ryan and inspire the next generation of dreamers. Contact Jody Ford to learn how you can help support students like Sally.
Jody Ford ‘99
Sr. Director of Development