In the United States, the national literacy rate has remained at the 99% mark since the late 1960s. Public education and high expectations for reading ability in the workforce have catapulted literacy among Americans to almost total ubiquity. In this environment, it is easy to forget that literacy is a gift, not a given.
For an increasing number of students—especially first- and second-generation Americans for whom English is a second language—true reading and writing proficiency can be difficult to achieve. Thirty-two million American adults are functionally illiterate. Young learners need confidence in English literacy not just for vocational opportunities but also to enjoy a true connection to the vast culture around them.
Drs. Betsy ’72 and Robert “Bob” Carpenter ’70 ’71 ’72 understand this need, and they are providing support for literacy initiatives through a planned gift to the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) at Texas A&M University.
The Two Doctors
Betsy and Bob met on a blind date on Sept. 12, 1969. Betsy was attending Baylor University, while Bob was enrolled in the veterinary professional curriculum and earning his bachelor’s degree in veterinary science at Texas A&M. The two were united through Bob’s sister, a close friend of Betsy’s at Baylor. Less than a year after their first date, they married on June 13, 1970.
Around that same time, Texas A&M had recently opened admissions to women and, seizing the opportunity, Betsy transferred to the college to study education curriculum and instruction. “Texas A&M was very different in those days,” she recalled. “You didn’t see many females, and there weren’t as many amenities as there are now; however, our memories from our time at Aggieland are unforgettable.”
Bob arrived at Texas A&M as a Baylor transplant in 1968. Having grown up in rural Karnes City, Texas, Bob felt that his country upbringing made him an outlier among the more metropolitan student body at Baylor. He found his way to Aggieland through an unlikely connection to the then-current Aggie football coach, Gene Stallings ’57. “It turned out that my high school football coach, Lloyd Taylor ’58, was on Coach Stallings’ staff,” Bob said. With a letter of recommendation from his old coach, Bob moved to College Station to study veterinary medicine.
After completing their undergraduate degrees at Texas A&M, the Carpenters continued their postgraduate education. Both earned master’s and doctorate degrees—Betsy in foreign language education and in special education from The University of Texas at Austin, and Bob in veterinary medicine and in laboratory animal medicine from Texas A&M.
The two became impactful contributors and researchers in their respective fields. Betsy taught students ranging from kindergarten to college for more than 40 years, while Bob served four years in the U.S. Air Force, authored dozens of patents and participated in countless prestigious research projects across a variety of companies. Today, Bob serves as president and CEO of Texas EnteroSorbents Inc., the first Texas A&M University System-funded biotechnology company based upon research from the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Maroon and White Missionaries
Even before the Carpenters graduated with their first degrees from Texas A&M, they were self-identified Aggie missionaries, spreading the spirit of Aggieland to prospective students wherever they went. While they were living on campus in 1971, the couple hosted young relatives for the summer, showcasing the university’s unique atmosphere. Almost needless to say, both of their two children are Aggies as well as their spouses, and the recruitment process has already begun for their five grandchildren.
Today, Bob and Betsy both serve on the CEHD Dean’s Development Council, where they provide direct input and support for the college’s academic initiatives. During a presentation given to council members, the couple was inspired to contribute to the college’s child literacy initiative.
To combat illiteracy in the surrounding Brazos County, the CEHD has established the Texas A&M Reading Clinic at Jones Elementary and Fannin Elementary schools in Bryan, Texas. Twice per week, undergraduate students from the college visit the two schools to offer additional reading mentorship. The program allows undergraduate students to gain much-needed firsthand experience teaching children and encourages local elementary school students to love reading. Moved by the Reading Clinic’s mission, the Carpenters decided to create a generous planned gift.
A Promise for Future Readers
In July 2019, the Carpenters agreed to give an estimated $500,000 through their estate toward the establishment of two endowments: a fund for early childhood literacy and an endowed scholarship for undergraduate students in the CEHD. The couple created both gifts through a bequest in their wills, allowing them to give generously while maintaining control of their assets during their lifetimes. “We want to give future students the opportunity to experience Texas A&M and support the programs that are developing in the college of education,” Betsy said.
Bob noted a personal connection to the program, particularly for students learning English as a second language (ESL). Raised in South Texas, he grew up among the children of migrant workers who struggled at first to learn English. He explained that thanks to a dedicated local teacher, those students became proficient enough to give him and other native English speakers “a run for their money” within a year.
“A big challenge for many ESL kids is that they may not have help with reading at home because they may read better than their parents,” Bob said. “If we can help teach children better reading skills through this program, they can teach their parents and grandparents in return, ultimately creating opportunity and positive change throughout their communities.”
Worlds from Words
Between Betsy’s successful career in education and Bob’s lauded achievements in veterinary medicine, the Carpenters have proven themselves to be an Aggie power couple unlike any other. They are both living examples of the power of education, and they share a commendable enthusiasm to use that power to help others in need.
Though most Americans may take their literacy for granted, no dollar amount can define the value of even one child’s ability to explore the world around them through books. “When children learn to read, it opens up a world to them that might not have been possible otherwise,” Betsy said. The Carpenters’ gift not only promises to give children better opportunities, but by diving deep into the pages of a book, it will also propel their imaginations to places they’ve never known.
If you are interested in supporting the College of Education and Human Development and its initiatives through a planned gift, contact Angela Throne ’03 at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-5638.