As the first in their families to attend college, Sydney Van Wyk ’13 and Ana Davila ’15 couldn’t learn from their parents’ higher education experiences. During their freshman year, these Aggies vividly recall being confused about certain aspects of college life—such as on-campus housing and credit hours—that many of their classmates took for granted. Yet, both women persevered to earn bachelor’s degrees in agriculture leadership and communication/Spanish, respectively, thanks to endowed Regents’ Scholarships funded by the Hygeia Foundation.
Both credit their educational achievement to guidance provided by the Regents’ Scholarship program staff and academic success programs. In fact, they were so inspired by the program that they are now its full-time coordinators, which gives them a chance to mentor, engage, and connect with Regents’ Scholars who are facing many of the same experiences they so recently lived.
Although the pair was not specifically recruited to fill their current positions, both women were well-prepared for their new roles by being a Regents’ Scholar. “The intentional programming and mentoring of the Regents’ Scholarship Program helped develop these two women into the type of people that the Scholarships & Financial Aid needed to run the programs,” said former Regents’ Scholar Coordinator Suzanne Sealey ’06. “Whether they stay in the positions for one year or 20 years, we can attest that both Sydney and Ana are there because of the relationships they developed and their dedication and selfless service, which we always encouraged in our student leaders.”
Giving Back While Moving Forward
In their new roles, the South Texas natives continually mine their own experiences as first-generation students to support Regents’ Scholars. “It definitely gives us an advantage,” said Van Wyk, who serves as program coordinator. “As time goes by, students have started seeing me as this older person, but once I start talking about my college experiences and tell them when I graduated, they realize, ‘Hey, it wasn’t that long ago that she was in these same shoes.’ ”
Van Wyk and Davila are already identifying ways to improve services offered to scholarship recipients. For example, they plan to coordinate an idea swap so that leaders of various Regents’ Scholar academic success programs can share best practices. Such an exchange will help these programs, which are based in different Texas A&M colleges, become more innovative in providing experiences to Regents’ Scholars.
“We want to make sure that all Regents’ Scholars network with each other across colleges and departments, despite the differences that exist between majors and the success programs that coincide with those majors,” Van Wyk said. “This will ensure that all Regents’ Scholars collaborate with their peers during their undergraduate experience so they will have a better understanding of and appreciation for the industries outside of their own which, in turn, can lead to collaborative, original work!”
Encouraging Diversity at Texas A&M
Since its inception in 2003, the Regents’ Scholarship program has provided financial and academic assistance to 5,936 students who are the first in their families to seek a college degree. Currently, more than 900 freshmen and 1,800 upperclassman attend Texas A&M on Regents’ Scholarships. Minority students comprise 84 percent of the 2014 Regents’ Scholar cohort, thus increasing the diversity of the student population.
“The Regents’ Scholars Program aims to shape these students into community and industry leaders at a level of expectation consistent with the Tier I research institution that they attend,” Davila said. “Many Regents’ Scholars have been told that they will likely never attend college, let alone Texas A&M University. They are facing tough realities at home and, in many cases, are defying the odds every day. They have big dreams and strong determination to make an impact and to pay it forward. Their stories inspire us as administrators every day. We believe in them and in the future of the Regents’ Scholars Program.”
Strengthening a Family Tree
Both Van Wyk and Davila vouch for the far-reaching power of the Regents’ Scholars program. “These students wouldn’t be at Texas A&M without this scholarship. It’s not just the money through the Regents’ Scholarship Program; you’re giving them the support to stay here,” Van Wyk said. “Because of this, the Regents Scholars are really fixated on giving back. They desire to give because someone gave to them and it made all the difference. You’re really starting a chain reaction when you give in this way.”
Establishing a Regents’ Scholarship
A $100,000 gift to the Texas A&M Foundation can establish an endowed Regents’ Scholarship that will permanently provide one student at a time with an annual scholarship of up to $5,000 per year for four years. Donors—whether individuals, corporations, foundations, A&M clubs or other organizations—may name scholarships in memory or in honor of a person, class or organization. Currently, 17 donors have endowed Regents’ Scholarships.
By Dorian Martin
Texas A&M Foundation
The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that solicits and manages investments in academics and leadership programs to enhance Texas A&M’s capability to be among the best universities.
You can support scholarship programs with a gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. For additional information about how to support or establish a scholarship, contact Marcy Ullmann ’86 with the Foundation at (800) 392-3310, (979) 845-6383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.