As vice president of corporate strategic planning at Exxon Mobil Corp., Bill Colton knows the important role of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in his professional life. But now Colton’s connection with STEM is personal — his daughter Lizzie is a UNT junior who plans to become a middle-school math teacher — and Colton is giving his financial support to make sure students like Lizzie have a place to grow and succeed.
Colton and his wife, Deborah, gave $2,500 to UNT’s Teach North Texas program, which provides specialized training for prospective secondary math and science teachers. Thanks to Exxon Mobil’s three-to-one corporate gift-matching program, that gift grew to $10,000.
The gift is a symbol of the Coltons’ appreciation for a program that helped their daughter find her calling in life. Born in Tokyo and raised internationally until the second grade, Lizzie developed a nurturing and outgoing personality that made her ideal teacher material, Colton says.
“This was a kid who had moved around a lot, and sometimes that’s hard. But in her case, it made her a real people person. She also developed a greater respect for other cultures,” he says. “UNT’s open culture and its roots in education made it the perfect fit for her.”
Lizzie, an Honors College student who also serves as president of the community-service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, says teaching middle school wasn’t her initial plan. She thought she would teach second grade, inspired by a second-grade teacher who eased Lizzie’s transition into her new American school.
“When I came to the U.S., I felt kind of lost. She was my first teacher here, and she really made me feel welcome, like I wasn’t that lost in the curriculum,” Lizzie says.
Then in high school, struggling with her math classes, a teacher encouraged her to join the math club — and something clicked.
“We did math exercises that were fun and that helped visual learners like me understand it,” she says. “I saw that I can teach math in different ways that work for all kinds of learners.”
During her first year in the Teach North Texas program, Lizzie was placed in a student-teaching position in a middle school in Lake Highlands, near Denton. Having switched her career goal from second grade to high school math, Lizzie wasn’t thrilled to be in a middle school — at first.
“I always said I’d never teach middle school,” she says, laughing. “Then I was assigned to a middle-school classroom, and I was dreading it. But it ended up being the best experience, like nothing I expected. Middle-school students fit my personality perfectly.
“I never would have known this was where I wanted to teach if Teach North Texas hadn’t given me that opportunity.”
Exxon Mobil has supported Teach North Texas with grant funding since 2008. Colton says the company wants to aid programs that develop scientists and engineers, something that ultimately helps Exxon Mobil and the community at large.
“The oil and gas business is very much a technical business, and many of the people who work here are engineers and scientists,” he says. “So it’s very important to us that the world continues to generate people who can do math and science.”
Lizzie says she’s had a very rewarding experience in the Teach North Texas program, building relationships with mentor teachers who give students career advice and feedback.
“The best thing is you know right away if teaching is what you want to do, because you get to work with kids in your first year,” she says. “The TNT program gives students firsthand experience, not just teaching them what to do from a textbook.”
And Colton says he and his wife are happy to support the university that has helped their daughter thrive.
“I knew Lizzie was going to do well, I didn’t have any concerns at all. But it’s very satisfying to actually see her doing things on her own, just balancing life,” he says. “College is the ultimate test of how you raised your kids. And UNT has so many services, tutors and assistance — she’s on her own, but she has a little safety net.”
Above, Michael Monticino, UNT vice president for Advancement; Bill Colton, vice president of corporate strategic planning at Exxon Mobil Corp.; UNT student Lizzie Colton; Jillian Fleming, public and government affairs representative for Exxon Mobil Corp.; and President V. Lane Rawlins celebrate the Coltons' gift with a check presentation.