From youth, Steve Pickett ’80 was reaching for high goals and refusing to be overcome by cerebral palsy. His family, father Wesley, mother Carol Ann, and sister Susan, moved to Houston where Wesley worked for Exxon.
“At that time, HISD had certain schools for people with disabilities – I was bused throughout my academic career. I really feel fortunate in that I was exposed to different areas of Houston, and much like people of minority status or color in the 1960s, I experienced busing and went to areas that weren’t always the most renowned. I had a broader exposure to the world and I think it served me well,” Pickett remembers. “Luckily, through the support of my parents and wonderful teachers, I was able to stay on grade level – and all of this was during the time I was in the hospital having knee and hip surgeries. And it just so happened that, just as I was ready to go to high school, they built this new high school and it had elevator access and so I could go to any classroom, the library, and cafeteria.”
As a teenager, Steve was one of the first in the nation to receive a Bronze Palm Eagle Scout designation in 1973. At Sharpstown High School, he was a member of the National Honor Society.
Living in the area near HBU, Pickett’s first exposure to the school came unexpectedly. “I was riding on the school bus one day and my bus driver misjudged and happened to hit the car in front of us,” Pickett said. “The young man got out and asked if we were alright. He happened to be a student at HBU; he was a really kind and caring individual.”
After graduating high school with honors in 1975, Pickett chose HBU and double-majored in Elementary Education and History with endorsements in Language Learning Disabilities. “I had a great desire early on to become a teacher. I have a long family background of teaching,” he said. “HBU was known, and still is known, as one of the best places to get a solid educational background for a teaching career.”
Long before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, many schools and businesses were not adequately set up for wheelchair accessibility. Upon Pickett’s entrance as a student his freshman year, the men of the fraternities all got together. With lumber purchased by administration, the fellow students built ramps to each area Pickett needed access to. Spanish language lab was up a flight of stairs, so for that, a group of guys met him every day to carry him up and down the stairs.
“They built a series of ramps, and when I had another building added to my schedule, they always made sure I had something adapted,” Pickett said.
Pickett was involved in student life, serving as vice president on the Student Council and serving several terms on the Student Senate. He cheered at basketball games and gymnastics competitions. He even won a contest that raised money for missions. He remembers being inspired during Convocations, and between classes, getting a “Bertha Burger,” named for the legendary campus cook, Bertha Wilson.
“It was a really, really good time, and I have many, many close friendships with faculty and students and so forth. I don’t know that you could find that on other campuses,” he said.
After graduating, Pickett worked as a hospital teacher for convalescing students in HISD, then earned his MS in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of North Texas in 1988. He spent his career working to help college students in disability services and academic advising at UNT and the University of Oregon.
Now, 40 years after graduating from HBU, Pickett has established endowed scholarships at his alma mater in Education and Counseling for first-generation students and veterans. “I was the first in my family to attend a four-year school and my dad also served in the military; those are two areas close to my heart,” he explained. “I think my health struggles made me a better person in the long run and made me appreciate what I had more. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this for future students – I realize the value of education and how it can open the doors for so many who didn’t have opportunities early on, but who have shown potential and who really want to better themselves. I feel like HBU gave me the core foundation to be able to help other students share the value of education. All of this, of course, is a God-thing because I really feel like Jesus has been my copilot throughout all this. Hopefully throughout my life, I’ve been able to help other people understand that, despite any difficulties they’ve had, they can always overcome them.”