Ben Dickerson’s decision to attend Texas A&M University was a fated moment of serendipity. Up until his last-minute enrollment in the fall of 1957, Dickerson had his heart set on Baylor University. However, while working as a summer camp counselor for juvenile delinquent boys before his freshman year, he met camp director and devout Aggie, Bernie Lemmons ’52, who greeted campers every morning by playing the stately sounds of the Aggie War Hymn.
Despite his plans, Dickerson agreed to visit Texas A&M with Lemmons and meet with the president of the university. He left the meeting as the newest member of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of 1961. That same day, Dickerson received the surprise of a lifetime: He became the very first recipient of a $2,000 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo scholarship, generous enough to fund his undergraduate education at Texas A&M. Everything had fallen perfectly into place.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has awarded more than $70 million in scholarships to students in The Texas A&M University System.
While Dickerson had anticipated the open arms of the Aggie family, he didn’t expect the extended family that came with being a Rodeo scholarship recipient. Members of the Rodeo’s scholarship committee visited him during his freshman year as he adapted to university life. When his father passed away during his senior year, Dickerson’s mentors with the Rodeo became surrogate fathers to him.
“The big word is ‘community,’” he said. “I see the Rodeo as an extension of the Aggie family. It teaches students about serving the nation and the community around you. The volunteers are incredible: They practice what they speak, and they lead from their heart. The Rodeo is an unbelievable asset to the entire state. I’ve never seen or experienced anything else like it.”
Today, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has awarded more than $70 million in scholarships to students across all disciplines and backgrounds in The Texas A&M University System. The Rodeo’s scholarship program reaches almost every county in Texas, but the epicenter of impact is at Texas A&M: There are more than 800 Aggies on Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo scholarships, while more than 6,000 Aggies have been supported all-time.
Each year, approximately 750 scholarships are presented to Texas students, and the variety of awards available means there’s something for everyone. The organization’s Metropolitan and Opportunity scholarships (now named Houston Area scholarships) are reserved for students from Houston and surrounding county school districts. Other scholarships are available for students in additional surrounding counties to Houston, as well as to those who participate in programs such as 4-H, FFA or the Rodeo’s stock show and School Art Contest.
Chelsea Chmiel '19 was awarded the Rodeo's Opportunity scholarship in 2015.
For Chelsea Chmiel ’19, a management major in Mays Business School, being a Rodeo scholar means the opportunities are limitless. However, the road to her senior year at Texas A&M wasn’t an easy one. Chmiel knew that Aggieland was a perfect fit for her, but she worried about the cost of affording higher education. As a result, she devoted her high school career to being academically successful and volunteering in leadership and community service projects. Knowing she wanted to enter the health care field, she became a member of The Gathering Place, where she helped organize the collection of donations for a monthly social gathering for the elderly, disabled and handicapped. As a member of Young Life, she distributed food to homeless children and served as a camp counselor for students with disabilities.
Chmiel, who was first awarded the Rodeo’s Opportunity scholarship in 2015 and was more recently selected as an Achievement scholar—an additional scholarship opportunity reserved for current Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholarship recipients—could not have thrived without the support. “As a first-generation college student, I had no idea what to expect, and my first two years at Texas A&M were difficult,” she explained. “But, I remembered that nothing in life comes easy and that only hard work can get you what you want.”
Chmiel’s dedication yielded prosperous results. She has served as a Fish Camp counselor, joined Freshman Leaders Advancing in Service and Honor, and mentored children through Sports for Kids and Aggie Miracles. Support from the Rodeo has enabled her to invest in her college experience without worrying about financial security—something that is paramount, given her career aspirations. “Many of the internships available in the health care administration field are unpaid,” she added. “Receiving aid from the Rodeo will help me afford to take an unpaid internship and achieve my master’s degree.”
Community and ConnectioN
Applying for a Rodeo scholarship is simple: Students have between November and February to submit an online application, which includes essay and extracurricular activity portions. Supplemental documentation, such as confirmation of academic tests and official transcripts, are required to complete the process. Applications are reviewed and judged three separate times by members of the Show’s more than 34,000 volunteers. Additionally, students must be high school seniors planning to attend an accredited, not-for-profit university in Texas.
The selection process, on the other hand, is highly competitive. “We look for well-rounded students,” explained Amy Moroney ’03, the Rodeo’s executive director of educational programs and a 1999 Rodeo scholar. “We consider students’ extracurricular activities, work experience, demonstration of leadership and service, motivation, and their financial need.”
Grogan Matthews '19 said the Rodeo's scholarship support was "the main reason" he chose Texas A&M.
Industrial distribution student Grogan Matthews ’19 is a Metropolitan and Achievement scholar. “I am the first Aggie in my family,” said Matthews, “and this scholarship was the main reason I chose Texas A&M.”
Like Chmiel, Matthews is heavily involved in student service associations. He is currently the service director for Iron Spikes, an undergraduate men’s organization that drags the baseball field during Aggie home games. In his opinion, one of the most rewarding aspects of being a Rodeo scholar is the accompanying sense of community and connection. “Being a Rodeo scholar has helped me tremendously as an undergraduate,” said Matthews. “It provides so many beneficial resources and network connections.”
In its efforts to expand its alumni-scholar relations, the Rodeo has created its own alumni association. Over the course of two years, alumni membership has grown from 200 to more than 1,200 individuals, with four former Rodeo scholars on staff. Upon graduation, Rodeo scholars are eligible to receive a complimentary life membership to the Rodeo. The association allows for scholarship alumni to network with one another and reconnect with the organization in a new way.
“Corporate donors are always eager to meet student scholars,” said Moroney. “Our annual scholarship banquet in May is a terrific opportunity for donors to meet scholars and their families and for students to express their gratitude. It’s a rewarding experience all-around.”
An Immeasurable Impact
There are two main monetary sources that sustain the Rodeo’s scholarship funds. The Rodeo’s Corporate Development Committee is responsible for securing financial support to fund the organization’s four-year, $20,000 scholarships, while other committees also contribute to scholarship-specific funds.
The second source is the Rodeo’s auctions and sales program. Junior market auctions reward young Texas 4-H and FFA students for their hard work year-round by ensuring that all exhibitors who qualify for the auction receive above-market prices for their animals. Based upon placing, the Rodeo establishes a guaranteed minimum premium for each auction lot. After these minimum amounts are met, a portion of the excess funds raised at the auctions are paid as additional premiums to the exhibitors, while the remaining funds support the Rodeo’s Educational Fund to be used for scholarships and grants.
In turn, these scholarships provide thousands of Texas students with financial aid that enables them to pursue their dreams and establish careers free from university debt. “As I often tell our volunteers, we can easily quantify the total number of scholarships and dollar amounts that have been awarded,” said Joel Cowley ’95, president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. “But it is impossible to quantify the impact. Whether we’re supporting a first-generation college student or someone who can obtain a degree without working multiple jobs to make ends meet, there’s no doubt that we’re supporting amazing individuals who will change the world. The impact of even one scholarship is absolutely immeasurable.”