Cynthia Woods Mitchell spent a lifetime proving that actions speak louder than words. The iconic Houston philanthropist and mother of 10 passed away in December 2009 but not before amassing a hard-earned and well-deserved reputation as a champion of artistic and humanitarian causes far bigger than herself, from education and environment to community and culture.
In tribute to her memory and lifelong example of devotion to both personal and charitable interests, her daughter Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz has established the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Undergraduate Scholarship for Women in Physics at Texas A&M University.
The scholarship, created through the Texas A&M Foundation, will benefit full-time female students in good academic standing pursuing undergraduate degrees in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Lorenz’ gift will be matched equally by contributions from The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation and from faculty within the department.
“I am proud to sponsor a scholarship in memory of my mother, who believed that all people deserve the opportunities made possible by a good education,” Lorenz says. “Because this scholarship combines her love of astronomy and support for women in science, I think it would be deeply pleasing to her.
“I look forward to meeting the young women who will have the benefit of this scholarship in the future, and I am both grateful and touched by the generosity of the faculty members who have offered matching funding.”
The matching concept follows another deep-rooted Mitchell family tradition that has proved to be as inspirational as it is beneficial. Cynthia and her husband George P. Mitchell, a 1940 distinguished graduate of Texas A&M and former chairman and chief executive officer of Mitchell Energy & Development Corp., are longtime benefactors of Texas A&M and its programs in fundamental physics and astronomy. Since 2002 they have contributed more than $55 million to the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy — the vast amount through self-initiated matching challenges that have resulted in even bigger gains for the department and its programs. It’s a concept not lost on the department’s faculty, which has pledged more than $800,000 during the past decade to benefit a variety of student, academic and research causes.
“I am especially pleased to thank Sheridan and the Mitchell family for this latest in a long line of generous gifts to the Department of Physics and Astronomy,” says Dr. Edward S. Fry, distinguished professor of physics and astronomy and head of the department. “Sheridan’s gift is a perfect reflection of her parents’ vision and spirit. Overall, the Mitchell family’s generosity and guidance have been game-changers for our department, and our faculty’s appreciation of that support is broad and deep, as demonstrated by their rapid response when I provided them with the opportunity to match her gift.”
Fueled by the Mitchells’ visionary support and personal philosophy of helping those who help themselves, the department has gained nine academic chairs and professorships since 2002 — eight courtesy of the Mitchells and five of those as a direct result of their matching challenges. In 2004 the couple also provided the initial $1.75 million gift to establish Texas A&M as a partner in the $700 million Giant Magellan Telescope — an agreement that led to matching by The University of Texas at Austin, thereby bringing both of Texas’ flagship institutions into the 10-member international collaboration. Earlier this month, Mitchell agreed to a $25 million gift to the telescope, bringing his total support for the GMT to $33.5 million — a figure that includes more than $21 million on behalf of Texas A&M.
In 2005 the Mitchells pledged $35 million toward the construction of the George P. Mitchell ’40 Physics Building and the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy. Designed by noted architect Michael Graves and officially dedicated just weeks before Cynthia’s death, the $82.5 million buildings are the first on campus to be financed through a public-private partnership involving substantial donor funds.
“The fact that 11 physics and astronomy faculty members accepted the department’s matching challenge to this scholarship is great testimony to the commitment our faculty has to undergraduate STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education,” says Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science and inaugural holder of the George P. Mitchell ’40 Endowed Chair in Statistics.
For more information about memorial scholarships or other giving opportunities through the Texas A&M Foundation, visit http://giving.tamu.edu.To learn more about the Mitchell Physics Buildings or physics and astronomy at Texas A&M, go to http://www.physics.tamu.edu/.