Ketelsen ES namesake, Project GRAD founder passes away

James Ketelsen

James Ketelsen – namesake for HISD’s Ketelsen Elementary School, Project GRAD founder, and a longtime public education champion and businessman – has died at the age of 86.

The retired chairman of the board for Tenneco, Ketelsen served as a University of Houston System regent and on a number of state education commissions and task forces.

During his tenure at Tenneco, Ketelsen and his wife, Kathryn, founded Project GRAD, which began in 1989 as a scholarship program that was offered to every graduating senior at Davis (now Northside) High School to help them attend college.

In 1994, the GRAD model evolved beyond a scholarship program to offer resources and support to assist students once they entered college and to support them along the way to graduation. The new model also offered a set of supports and interventions in K-12 to lower the risk of students dropping out.

Today, Project GRAD Houston serves five high school feeder patterns in HISD: Northside, Yates, Wheatley, Heights, and Sam Houston, in addition to operating a fine arts program in the Northside feeder pattern. The program reaches nearly 44,000 students with the promise of a scholarship offer and includes about 1,500 college students with active scholarships. Of those students, 97 percent are minority and 90 percent come from low-income households.

A memorial service celebrating Ketelsen’s life will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday, May 5 at Christ Church Cathedral (1117 Texas Avenue), with a reception following in Saunders Hall at the church. Those wishing to make memorial contributions can do so to the DREAM Scholarship Fund, Project GRAD 3000 Richmond Ave., Suite 400, Houston, Texas 77098.