Texas A&M Athletics
45 Years of Women’s Sports
Female student-athletes have been making their mark at A&M and beyond for four and a half decades
By Charean Williams ’86
Texas A&M offered some women’s sports in the early 1970s, but it wasn’t until June 15, 1974, that the Athletics Department began oversight. Women joined the Corps of Cadets that same year.
Vicki Brown-Sobecki was one of the first females to receive an athletics scholarship at A&M, and also was one of the school’s first female All-Americans. She later became the first female swimmer inducted into the Texas A&M Athletics Hall of Fame and the first female president of the Texas A&M Lettermen’s Association Board of Directors.
Female student-athletes have set many firsts – and won many firsts – since then. The Aggie women have won seven NCAA titles, another in the AIAW, which predated the NCAA for women’s sports, and 13 equestrian national titles.
Since joining the Southeastern Conference in the fall of 2012, A&M has 14 conference titles in women’s sports.
The Aggies have produced winners on the court, field and track and in the pool, but they have an even better track record of sending leaders into the workplace.
The remarkable women featured in this article highlight a few of the many incredible female student-athlete success stories over four and a half decades of Texas A&M Athletics.
DESSIE SAMUELS '77
Dessie Samuels comes from an Aggie family. She wanted to follow her father and brother to A&M, but the Aggies didn’t offer women athletic scholarships. So, Samuels went to Tyler Junior College to play tennis. Two years later, in 1975, she became one of the Aggies’ first scholarship tennis players.
“Since it was the beginning, we were the trailblazers,” Samuels said. “We didn’t have anything to compare to, because there hadn’t been anything before. My first year we didn’t have any uniforms. We just played in whatever. That’s what they had done before. Then my senior year, my mother was a seamstress and she had a fabric shop, and she got everybody’s measurements and made us these maroon skirts that wrapped around and buckled. That’s what we played in.”
For Samuels, it was an honor to represent Texas A&M as a student-athlete.
“That was what was cool for me,” she said. “My dad was Class of ’50, and he was pretty proud that I was playing for Texas A&M.”
Samuels earned her degree in physical education in 1977 and returned to get a teaching degree in biology. She became a certified official for the United States Tennis Association in 1982 and, in more than 30 years, officiated matches at Wimbledon, the Australian Open and the U.S. Open.
From 2000 to her retirement in 2019, Samuels served as a supervisor for the USTA’s pro circuits. It entailed more than 200 nights away from her home in Terrell, running pro tournaments all over the U.S.
“My experience at A&M is one I’m glad I had,” Samuels said. “Tennis has been really good to me. I never thought when I started playing as a sophomore in high school that it would end up being my career.”
“It was an honor to be an athlete playing for Texas A&M. That was what was cool for me. My dad was Class of ’50, and he was pretty proud that I was playing for Texas A&M.”
SHAWN ANDAYA-PULLIAM ’88
Shawn Andaya-Pulliam grew up in Stockton, California, 1,818 miles from College Station and a world away from A&M.
“In a million years, I never thought I would end up somewhere like Texas A&M,” Andaya-Pulliam said, “and then to win a national championship, too. It was just far-fetched for me from the childhood I had.”
Andaya-Pulliam pitched for the Aggies from 1984-87, leading them to the NCAA Women’s College World Series three times and winning the national championship her senior year. She finished her career with a 114-28 record, an 0.43 earned run average and a then-NCAA record 1,234 strikeouts.
“I never thought I’d be a starting pitcher,” said Andaya-Pulliam, the first softball player ever inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. “I never thought I’d play in three national championship games. To finish your career – the last game you ever play in – where you’re considered the best in your sport at the time, that’s the stuff of storybooks.”
Andaya-Pulliam, who remained in College Station after earning her degree in Sociology in 1988, coached softball for five years before going to work for non-profits. She has spent the past four years with the VOOM Foundation, the past three as the Executive Director of Foundation Development and Sustainability.
VOOM is a private international medical humanitarian organization with a primary mission of raising the standards of healthcare in Africa through education and training. U.S.-trained medical staff participate in organized mission trips to Nigeria twice yearly, teaching local doctors open-heart surgery and providing impartial sustainable healthcare programs that support the underserved.
“The greatest thing VOOM does is provide hope,” Andaya-Pulliam said.
The scholarship to A&M provided Andaya-Pulliam with hope.
“This is how my life was supposed to go,” Andaya-Pulliam said. “I had a very, very tough upbringing. From a broken home. Very poor. I was born into a neighborhood where criminals would run through the backyard on a frequent basis. We had SWAT teams come through our house before, looking for people. That’s the type of environment I grew up in, so leaving that environment and coming to Texas A&M was a serious, true blessing, and life-changing.”
Andaya-Pulliam thought softball was everything she was about until she began working with VOOM Foundation.
“I realized that growing up poor taught me how to fight for the poor,” she said, “because I understand the poor and understand what it’s like to be trapped in your environment and want to be out and not know exactly how to get out.”
Playing in three national championship games for the Aggies taught Andaya-Pulliam that you can’t quit if you want to achieve a goal.
“My spirit and grit to work hard for others comes from my experiences as an athlete at A&M. Every hardship in my life was a catalyst to prepare me to work in this tough third-world environment where quitting is not an option.”
“My spirit and grit to work hard for others comes from my experiences as an athlete at Texas A&M,” she said. “Every hardship in my life was a catalyst to prepare me to work in this tough third-world environment where quitting is not an option. I also understand how opportunities can change your life. It was the opportunity to come to Texas A&M to get an education and be on a national championship team that pushed me to this type of career.”
ANDREA WILLIAMS ’97
Andrea Williams didn’t know she wanted to play volleyball in college. She also didn’t know she wanted to go to A&M. It was San Antonio club volleyball teammates Suzy Wente and Dana Santleben who convinced Williams to play volleyball and do it at A&M.
“When I visited, it felt like home,” Williams said.
Williams played volleyball four seasons, ending her career with 343 kills, a .301 hitting percentage and 281 digs, while lettering two seasons in basketball as a reserve. The Aggies went to the Sweet Sixteen in both sports while Williams was there.
She graduated from A&M with a degree in Speech Communication in 1997, leaving without knowing what she wanted to do. But things worked out just as well in the workplace as they did in College Station.
Williams has spent almost two years as the Chief Operating Officer at the College Football Playoff, a job that tops a full, four-page resume. She primarily is responsible for managing the national championship game.
“When I arrived at A&M, I think I was just trying to live up to the expectations that were around me, without having a sense of direction,” said Williams, who lives in Dallas. “I didn’t know I wanted to be a commissioner of a Division I conference at the age of 22. I’m not even sure I knew what it was then. But I knew whatever job I got, I had to work hard if I wanted to advance. Sports teaches you so many things. You have to be a team player. You know what it means to set goals and how hard you have to work to achieve them. You learn to manage conflict, and you understand time management. All of that pushed me into where I am and the direction I went, even though at the time, I probably didn’t have a path in mind.”
"Sports teaches you so many things. You have to be a team player. You know what it means to set goals and how hard you have to work to achieve them. You learn to manage conflict, and you understand time management."
Williams, who has a master’s in Sport Administration from Ohio University, worked in the A&M Sports Information department as a student and had internships at CBS Sports in New York and at KYLE-TV. Internships at the Southern Conference and the Big Ten followed graduation.
Her career has included being Commissioner of the Big Sky Conference, Associate Commissioner of the Big Ten and Director for the Women’s Basketball Championships for the NCAA. Her time at the Big Sky made her the first African-American woman ever to lead a Division I conference.
“Because I had such strong leaders in my life, they positioned me to advance in my career,” Williams said. “They positioned me in a way that I could elevate within our profession. With everything, it always comes back to people. You watch and you learn.”
AMBER REYNOLDS-JACKSON ’01
Texas A&M offered Amber Reynolds-Jackson everything she wanted. Everything, that is, except a scholarship in 1997. She earned that after one season on the Aggie soccer team.
“I was sold on A&M with the traditions,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “It’s a huge school, but it feels like family.”
Reynolds-Jackson joined the Corps of Cadets, earned a three-year scholarship and left in 2002 with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. After 14 years of active duty in the Air Force, Reynolds-Jackson now serves in the reserves while flying full time as a first officer for Delta Air Lines.
“I do love to fly,” said Reynolds-Jackson, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with her husband, Mike, and their two children. “It’s not like I grew up wanting to fly, but now, during this pandemic thinking I might not fly, it’s really put things in perspective for me. I can’t really think of anything else I want to do. I think maybe I took it for granted before, but I get to go to new places, and I get to see the sun almost every day I’m flying.”
Reynolds-Jackson’s desire to fly nearly prompted her to leave Aggieland for the Air Force Academy after the 1998 season before coach G. Guerrieri informed her of how many pilots A&M produces. She joined the Corps of Cadets, with placement in the V-1 outfit, an off-campus unit that caters to students with special circumstances.
“You have to picture this: I had just gotten my hair cut really short, and it was bleach blonde,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “I had a nose ring, and I’m interviewing with this commandant in the Corps. Flying just kind of happened after that.”
Reynolds-Jackson was a team captain her senior season, earning the program’s defensive MVP award as well as the Athletics Department’s Distinguished Letterman Award, given annually to one female and one male student-athlete.
The San Jose CyberRays drafted Reynolds-Jackson, and she played six months with the Women’s United Soccer Association before returning to school to complete her degree. That was followed by flight training.
“I loved soccer,” said Reynolds-Jackson, who is originally from Missouri. “I never wanted to stop playing. I want my kids to have something in life they love like I loved soccer. I just think soccer set me up for life. I was not the best player, but I worked really hard and enjoyed doing it.”
Reynolds-Jackson graduated from pilot training in 2004, earning the Distinguished Graduate Award, the Commander’s Trophy and the Academic Excellence award. While stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, she flew C-21 leer jets and then piloted C-17s at Charleston Air Force Base. Reynolds-Jackson also was stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. She started with Delta in 2016 and recently flew her final flight in the MD-88 as the company retired the “Mad Dog.”
“It’s been a great life,” Reynolds-Jackson said.
“I want my kids to have something in life they love like I loved soccer. I just think soccer set me up for life. I was not the best player, but I worked really hard and enjoyed doing it.”
JESSICA BEARD ’11
Jessica Beard once dreamed of being a dentist when she grew up. Now, she’s working toward becoming a high school athletics director. Beard, who received a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2011, is halfway through a master’s degree in sports management from A&M and is a graduate assistant with A&M’s Coaching Academy.
“I just want to create culture and a new climate around sports,” said Beard, a native of Euclid, Ohio. “It’s great that you can run fast, jump far, throw far, but what are the things that are going to get you through these certain doors? I don’t want so much of the emphasis to be on the athlete aspect that they don’t grow and nurture the academic side. I want to have the resources available to the kids, so they can be their best selves and excel beyond sports. I love to see it happen in sport, but I don’t want it to stop there. If sports stop, I don’t want it to mean life stops.”
One of the most decorated student-athletes in Texas A&M’s history, the 16-time All-American helped the Aggies win three consecutive outdoor track and field national titles and claimed the prestigious Bowerman Award in 2011, the top individual honor in collegiate track and field.
“So many people have to take student loans and get into debt, but for me coming all the way from Ohio, if it wasn’t for my athletic scholarship I don’t know that I would have ended up at or been able to afford a school like Texas A&M,” Beard said. “Getting an athletic scholarship, first and foremost, allowed me to get an education and also do something I love – run and compete at a high level.”
Beard’s athletic career hasn’t ended at age 31, but it is in limbo. She began training last November for the now postponed 2020 Olympics. The 400-meter sprinter has hopes of competing in the Tokyo Games in 2021.
“It was disheartening,” said Beard. “You want what’s best for everybody, but at the same time, we had our sights set on July 2020, and now it’s like what do you do?”
Beard has five gold medals and a silver in World Championship relays, but she has never run in an Olympics. She hopes 2021 is her year.
Regardless of her future opportunities to compete on the track, the Aggie legend is determined to make a profound impact on the next generation of athletes.
“Getting an athletic scholarship, first and foremost, allowed me to get an education and also do something I love – run and compete at a high level.”