June 14, 2021

Joshua Rohleder ’13 was inspired to give back to Texas A&M University in the form of an endowed scholarship because of the deep bond he has with his youngest brother, James, who has Down syndrome. 

Many 13-year-old brothers naturally inspire annoyance, roughhousing and even fights when things get out of hand. However, for Joshua Rohleder ’13, his teenage brother, James, has inspired him to give back to Texas A&M University in the form of an endowed scholarship and fellowship.

The oldest of four siblings, Rohleder shares a deep bond with his youngest brother, James, who has Down syndrome. Due to the brothers’ wide age gap and James’ genetic disorder, Rohleder feels a sense of responsibility for his brother that has created a stronger connection between them. “It’s a bond that is more than a brother but not quite a parent,” he shared.

During the last 13 years, Rohleder, his sister Emily and brother Joe have witnessed the challenging lifestyle their youngest brother has faced. Having seen their parents reshape their schedules to include regular therapist visits, whether physical, occupational or speech, the close-knit family has learned the support needed for a family member with special needs. This has also inspired a deeper understanding of the patience and dedication required of those working in roles to help individuals like James live as successfully and independently as possible. 

Giving Meets Passion

After graduating from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a minor in chemistry, Rohleder worked in ExxonMobil’s project management division for four years prior to enrolling in Harvard Business School to earn his MBA. While working with ExxonMobil, the company’s generous three-to-one employee donor-matching program—which tripled an employee’s gift of up to $7,500 for a maximum gift of $30,000 per year—piqued his interest. 

“I wanted to take advantage of this unique opportunity, so I focused first on a gift to the College of Engineering. I owe my career to the education I received, and it afforded me the financial position to make these gifts in the first place,” Rohleder said. “The scholarship support I received from the university paid for everything I needed and then some. That lifted such a weight from me knowing I could focus on my coursework, build relationships and lay the pathway for my future career.”

But the young professional had a vision to use this matching program for much more. In deciding how to approach another gift, he sought feedback from Brock Nelson ’90, a friend of the Texas A&M Foundation and his father’s longtime colleague, who opened Rohleder’s eyes to Texas A&M during high school. 

“Brock was instrumental in pushing me to support things that are close to me that don’t necessarily receive an abundance of funding,” he said. “I thought, ‘What is better than honoring my brother and sister with scholarships supporting areas in special needs education and care?’” 

A Maroon Christmas

The decision was made to support the College of Education and Human Development. Rohleder established one scholarship endowment in honor of James to assist Aggies pursuing a degree in special education. He also created a second graduate fellowship endowment in honor of Emily to support students in the educational psychology graduate program pursuing a certification in applied behavior analysis to help special needs individuals.

Rohleder worked at ExxonMobil for four years prior to enrolling in Harvard Business School to earn his MBA. While working with ExxonMobil, the company’s generous three-to-one employee donor-matching program piqued his interest. (Shown left to right: Mary (Josh's mother), Emily (Josh's sister), Josh, Paul (Josh's father), Joe (Josh's brother) and James.)

“Knowing I was going to honor my youngest brother, I felt compelled to honor my sister, too,” Rohleder said. Emily, a recent University of Kansas graduate, received a degree in applied behavioral science in efforts to help special needs children like their brother. “Emily lived with James longer than I did, so she witnessed all his therapies,” Rohleder added. “That drove her to give her life to his cause. She’s created an entire career around giving back to others who have the same struggles.” 

On Dec. 25, 2019, Santa Claus brought the Aggie Spirit to the Rohleder Family’s home in Wichita, Kansas. “On Christmas, I gave James and Emily the papers recognizing the gifts I made in their honor,” Rohleder said. “My sister teared up, but unfortunately, I don’t think James understood the impact. He recognized and liked the Texas A&M header,” Rohleder laughed. “Upon explaining to him that this scholarship will help people like his therapists, he became excited and wanted to meet the student receiving his scholarship.”

Rohleder said he hopes one day he will be able to give James and Emily the satisfaction of meeting the recipients of their gifts. “For me, the money is only half of it. The potential personal relationships that this process can establish is invaluable,” he explained. “I would love for these gifts to inspire those interested in this career path and for Emily to serve as a mentor to provide advice from her own experiences as further encouragement.”

True Aggie Potential

In describing his brother James, Rohleder used a statement his mother often uses. “Mom says, ‘He just exhibits pure unconditional love for everyone,’” he said. “He really does bring a smile to the face of anyone in a room, and his presence helps remind me that life can be simple. You just have to be willing to stop and realize all you’ve been blessed with.” 

In addition to the scholarship endowment in honor of James, Rohleder also created a graduate fellowship endowment in honor of his sister, Emily, to support students in the educational psychology graduate program. 

James attends a Catholic school and also a public school, where he attends regular classes with kids his age. Because he is considered high functioning, Rohleder said this environment has a positive influence on him. “He takes cues from those around him. He will pick up bad habits if placed in an environment with kids who have social issues. However, if you put him in a class with his regular peers, he wants to be like them, so it drives him to work harder on certain skills.”   

Outside of the classroom, James is a tremendous Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band fan. “He loves watching Aggie football, but the band is his favorite,” Rohleder said. “He watches videos of the band’s performances on YouTube all the time,” he laughed. The proud big brother also bragged on his brother’s amazing ability to name almost every college football team in the NCAA and its mascot.    

Rohleder, having plenty of Aggie pride himself, said he was encouraged by the university’s recent introduction of Aggie ACHIEVE, a new four-year, residential inclusive postsecondary education program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “My family and I were both really excited at the potential of James having the opportunity to participate in this program someday,” he said. “I think Aggie ACHIEVE really reflects the university’s commitment to making the world a better place. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that provides the opportunities that Texas A&M does.” 

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