Michelle Pittenger 2018

'Broad Shoulders' Michelle Pittenger
Fierce dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures thrilled the young imagination of Michelle Pittenger. The sunny blonde, an El Paso native, excelled in math and science and dreamed of one day becoming a paleontologist or an archeologist. Her parents, a firefighter and a church employee, supplemented her education by teaching her important life lessons in philanthropy. They instilled in her the values of helping others and giving back.

“My parents have always been very generous,” said Pittinger. “My father is quite handy and is constantly offering to perform mechanical work on friends’ cars. My mother worked in a church. This is my upbringing. This is my DNA.”

Indeed, it is due to Pittenger’s character and dedicated friendship to others that she is the worthy recipient of the 2018 Broad Shoulders Award, nominated by Sabrina Martinez, a work colleague and former  HER Award recipient.

The Broad Shoulders Award was presented by Houston Woman Magazine to Pettinger at its 12th Annual Nominate HER Awards Luncheon, held August 22 at the Junior League of Houston. The honor is bestowed annually to a woman who demonstrates an unusual act of friendship.

Pittenger completed high school and moved to Abilene, where she studied natural science and geology and met her future husband, Garret. She then returned to El Paso to pursue graduate work in geology. This decision came after she was became convinced by a beloved advisor to consider sedimentology and the oil business for prospective jobs. So, she temporarily shelved the idea of dusting off old bones.

Now, some 25 years later, Pittenger is married, the mother of two children and a long-time ConocoPhillips employee. She  serves as a staff geologist for the Permian Reservoir Characterization group.

“It’s very rewarding for me to describe what’s going on in the basin, with the shale plates,” she commented.

Her eyes sparkled as she elaborated. “We are collecting data from the wells and seismic information to better understand production and determine where to drill for oil.”

Pittenger’s career and home life were abruptly interrupted in 2012, when a serious, life-changing decision was presented. David, the son of a close friend and neighbor, was critically ill and in need of a kidney transplantm, due to damage from a prescribed medication. While David’s parents were matches, they did not meet donation health requirements. Word then spread through the neighborhood that David was in trouble.

“I kept thinking of my children and how I would feel if this were happening to them,” Pittenger recalled. “David was on dialysis and couldn’t go to school. I just couldn’t find a reason not to get tested to see if I was a match.”

In early 2013, Pittenger answered the call for help and went for testing. After learning she was a match, she graciously consented to donating a kidney.

“When the doctors determined I was a match, it all of a sudden became very real,” recounted Pittenger. “But technology is so advanced now, and the laparoscopic surgery went fine; I just have a small incision. The team at St. Luke’s Hospital did a wonderful job.”

The transplant surgery was successful for Pittenger and David, and the two patients quickly resumed their day-to-day life paths. Today, they remain good friends and closely connected.

“David recently married,” beamed Pittenger. “He is doing great. I’ve really just had some minor changes to make — no ibuprofen or contact sports.”

In 2014, ConocoPhillips presented Pittenger with the prestigious Lifesaver SPIRIT Award. The honor recognizes the extraordinary efforts taken on the part of an employee or group that results in the saving of a human life. Pittenger exemplified the commitment to act above the call of duty in her personal life.

Pittenger continues giving her time and talents to help community members by organizing the ConocoPhillips Houston Women’s Network Dress for Success clothing donation drive. The effort has expanded to include men’s clothing for military veterans and items for homeless teens.

Pittenger also volunteers as a Houston Geological Society presenter for the gem shows and teaches  science programs to local girl scouts and Sally Ride Festival students.
Balancing a busy schedule with fun family travel is enjoyable for Pittenger. A summer trip to Colorado was the lastest such adventure.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the Jurassic-plated dinosaur, Stegosaurus Armatus, is the Colorado state fossil. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Colorado features mountain climbs actually named after different dinosaurs. One thing for sure, there’s nothing and no one quite as fierce and heroic as Houston’s Michelle Pittenger.

Lisa Bunse is a freelance journalist and staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

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