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These Hallowed Halls

By Ana Gutierrez '17

Texas A&M Foundation Maroon Coat
Senior biomedical sciences major Ana Gutierrez '17 received financial assistance to attend the Stark Northeast Tour from an endowment managed by the Texas A&M Foundation.

On a tour through the quiet hallways of Harvard Law School, my echoing footsteps slowed to a pause beneath a grandiose, marble archway. Growing up in South America, Harvard had always seemed more like a fictional idea than a real place. Yet, standing there, I felt a lifelong dream materialize into reality.

My story began in Caracas, Venezuela, as the only daughter of parents who worked in the oil industry. I grew up surrounded by friends and family who encouraged me to dream big, without fear. Unfortunately, the political unrest and corruption that plagued early 21st-century Venezuela changed the course of my future as my family fled to America.

Eleven years after our arrival, I am now a senior biomedical sciences major looking to attend law school. As my time at Texas A&M comes to a close, dreams of attending graduate school on the East Coast have resurfaced. This is why, in fall 2015, when I heard about the Memorial Student Center Stark Northeast Tour—a trip that takes students to visit reputable business and law schools—I applied without hesitation and was accepted. Fortunately, I received financial aid to partially cover expenses, thanks to an endowment managed by the Texas A&M Foundation.

After months of preparation, 16 other students and I embarked in January 2016 on a 10-day excursion to Chicago, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, where we visited the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania.

At each university campus, we learned about the application process and what makes each program unique. Graduate students, most of whom were Aggies, gave us tours of each school and shared their personal stories. We also sat in on real classes to gain a truer sense of each college and its faculty.

In addition to the trip’s outstanding educational value, we shared meals with former students in each city, learning about life after graduation. Seeing their genuine interest in my background, academic experience and career aspirations was empowering and uplifting.

Overall, the Stark Northeast Tour gifted me with a renewed assurance that has lasted long past the trip. It sealed my professional identity and reminded me of the power of my story. I now have access to contacts who are willing to provide guidance for my career, and I came away with friendships that I hold dear to my heart.

After the trip, I held a summer internship with the Harris County District Attorney in Houston that further solidified my desire to practice law. My sights are now set on pursuing a career in management consulting after graduation and then attending law school after a few years of real-world experience. Upon completing a legal education, I hope to one day return to Venezuela and work toward dismantling its corrupt policies by helping rebuild its diplomatic and legal structure.  

If I had not stood below that marble archway long enough to visualize myself as a student someday, Harvard would have likely remained a far-fetched dream. Now, I know it can become my reality.

J. Wayne Stark '39

A Vision for the Stark Tour

The Memorial Student Center’s first director, J. Wayne Stark ’39, created the Northeast Tour to give high-caliber students the opportunity to visit top law and MBA programs on the East Coast. More than 700 students have participated since the inaugural tour in 1970.

To combat student expenses associated with the tour, the Division of Student Affairs hopes to create a $1 million J. Wayne Stark Society Endowment. Funds from the endowment will reduce the maximum cost of the trip to $500 per student and provide full-ride scholarships for students financially unable to cover expenses. Another goal is to create an additional trip during which students would visit elite graduate schools on the West Coast.

Jon Hagler ’58 and Ray Rothrock ’77 jumpstarted the endowment with lead gifts. Rothrock, who was influenced by Stark to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School, hosted students on the Stark Tour for many years after beginning a venture capital career in New York in 1988.

“The Stark Tour’s concept of exposing young enterprising kids to the world beyond Texas A&M is a worthy cause that makes investing in the trip a no-brainer,” he said. “The future is all about the students and what they decide to pursue.”

While working in investment management, Hagler hosted Stark Tour luncheons and receptions in the ’80s and ’90s at Harvard Business School, which he also attended at Stark’s urging. He believes that supporting graduate education is an exceptional opportunity for former students.

“Few things are as empowering in life as an excellent education,” he said. “For Texas A&M students whose horizons are expanded by a graduate program they visit on the Stark Tour, the odds are high that they will bring additional credit and distinction to our university as their lives and careers reflect the value of this additional education.”