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Jay Still and Holly Ridings were both inducted into the mechanical engineering department Academy of Distinguished Graduates.
Jay Still and Holly Ridings were recently inducted into the J. Mike Walker '66 Department of Mechanical Engineering Academy of Distinguished Graduates | Image: Steve Kuhlmann/Texas A&M Engineering Communications

Holly Ridings, NASA chief flight director, and Jay Still, president, CEO and chairman of the board of Guidon Energy, were inducted into the Texas A&M University J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering Academy of Distinguished Graduates.

Established in 1992, the Academy of Distinguished Graduates recognizes the extraordinary impact and significant professional accomplishments of outstanding former students in industry, government or academia. It also encourages these leaders to act as role models for current students in the department. There are currently 56 members, representing less than 1% of living former students.

The 2019 inductees were honored at the department’s spring awards and recognition banquet.

Ridings and Still shared their thoughts on how their education in the department impacted them, as well as gave advice to current students preparing to begin their careers.

Q: What does being named a distinguished graduate of the department mean to you?

Ridings: Being named a distinguished graduate is truly an honor. I am humbled to be included in such a small and amazing group of accomplished Aggie mechanical engineers. Each of the distinguished graduates have affected their specific fields and industries in a meaningful and unique way, supplying leadership and vision. For the Texas A&M department of mechanical engineering to look at NASA and my role as the chief flight director and determine that it meets that criteria is something I never expected and will strive to represent with integrity as I continue my career. 

Still: It is a tremendous honor and something very much not expected. There are thousands of Texas A&M mechanical engineering graduates that have gone on to have productive careers and to be selected as one of the most successful or ‘most distinguished’ is really special to me.

Q: How did your education prepare you for your career?

Ridings: My education at Texas A&M was top notch and I have always felt prepared with a solid foundation of engineering skills. Along with the subject matter, my education at Texas A&M also prepared me how to approach and solve problems, and to be excited about solving them.  I was also fortunate to have many, many teachers that served as mentors. The opportunity to dialogue with them about academic pursuits and interests or simply about life is one of the most enduring benefits of my education. My time at Texas A&M gave me the many skills required to be successful at NASA, such as technical excellence, communication and teamwork.

Still: Since I was not blessed with brilliance, I had to work hard to get my degree as I watched my friends in less challenging majors have a lot more fun than I was having. This is no different outside of school where you have to put in the effort to be successful. The Corps of Cadets offered me leadership and time management skills that have been invaluable.

Q: What advice would you give current students?

Ridings: Become a student of learning, not one degree or one industry, but everything. You can learn something from anyone, anywhere if you keep your mind open and curious. Seek out the hard tasks even if they are not the most glamorous, you will learn the most because they are hard and you will also learn that the accomplishment is not all about you. Learn how to take and give feedback, good and bad. Find someone, a teacher or a friend, and practice, this skill will serve you well in everything you do.

Still: Your academic career is serious work that will prepare you for your next career, take it seriously and work hard. However, your time at the Texas A&M is a once in a lifetime opportunity that should not be squandered on just academics or wasting away the hours. Get involved in other meaningful and value-adding activities where you can take leadership roles. Internships are really valuable and you have to make the effort to secure those opportunities. Make new friends, but be selective about who you want to be associated with as they will be friends for a lifetime. Have fun along the way.

Q: Is there anything either of you would like to add? 

Ridings: Attending Texas A&M means much more than getting a degree, it means you are part of a family. Any time you are able to represent Aggieland or give back in some small way, it is an opportunity to hold your head high as part of the unbroken chain of duty and excellence. Thank you again for the tremendous honor.

Still: I have always lived by the simple principle of if you keep doing good things, good things will happen. It may not be on your time schedule, but they will happen. This recognition is a validation of this principle.