James L. Ketelsen

James L. Ketelsen

James L. Ketelsen graduated from Northwestern University in 1952. He is the retired chairman of the board of Tenneco, Inc., and a former director of Sara Lee Corp., GTE Corp., and J.P. Morgan & Co. and its principal subsidiary, Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. of New York.

He is a former regent of the University of Houston System, a member of the Business Council, and a trustee of the Houston Grand Opera Association, Northwestern University, and the Texas Heart Institute. He is a member of the Texas Business & Education Coalition. He was a member of the 1994-95 Texas Commission on Children and Youth, a member of the Texas Head Start Collaboration Task Force, a member of the State Board of Education Task Force, and chairman of the Texas 2000 State Coordinating Team.

During his tenure as Tenneco’s Chairman and CEO, James Ketelsen founded Project GRAD in Houston, Texas. Beginning in 1988, Tenneco funded a four-year college scholarship program, the Tenneco Presidential Scholarship Program, to eligible graduates of Davis High School, at the time Houston's lowest-performing high school.

By 1991–92, the number of Davis graduates entering college had more than quadrupled. Yet, Ketelsen was frustrated because this was still far from his goal of having 50 percent of entering 9th graders enrolling in college. There was a need to do more. It then became apparent that if the program were to reach its ambitious goals, it would be necessary to develop and implement a comprehensive set of interventions that would begin in kindergarten (or even before) and span all the grades through the 12th. This led to the development of the full Project GRAD model.

When James Ketelsen retired from Tenneco in 1992, he and his wife, Kathryn Ketelsen, spearheaded a search for a solution to the challenges facing Houston's inner city schools. With associates, he looked for curricular, methodological, and student and family support programs that would help build basic skills, improve student behavior, and catch children before they found themselves at risk of dropping out. This search resulted in the current Project GRAD model adding to the already-existing scholarship program.