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Rising Up

First-generation college students get a unique opportunity to explore UT and McCombs — and a shot at a full scholarship

By Samantha Harris

Subiendo: First-generation college students explore UT

Zayda Lopez, BBA '20, stepped onto The University of Texas at Austin campus this fall as a first-year student with a full scholarship. An earlier visit a year ago when she was still in high school made all the difference.

No one in her family had attended college, but her visit as part of Subiendo ("rise" or "advance" in Spanish) gave her a glimpse of what it might be like.

Now in its eighth year, Subiendo: The Academy for Rising Leaders is a weeklong, no-cost, summer leadership program hosted by the McCombs School of Business that brings more than 80 economically disadvantaged high school students from across Texas to campus. Students selected for the program are rising seniors who display leadership qualities in their high schools. Nearly all are in the top quarter of their class.

Subiendo participants get a real college-life experience. They sleep on campus at Jester dormitory, and spend each day taking part in a packed schedule of lectures, career fairs, etiquette dinners, campus and Capitol tours, and leadership workshops. 

Students also work in small groups on an assigned policy challenge, with topics ranging from health care and higher education to energy and the environment.

"Subiendo's leadership and team-building activities helped me not only to discover my potential as a leader but also to learn about the rich network the University of Texas has to offer," says Lopez, who grew up in Dallas. "Ultimately, Subiendo helped me realize that I was meant to be a Longhorn." Since 2010, Subiendo has welcomed Lopez and more than 500 other high school seniors.

“It’s so cool to see a kid who won't look you in the eye on day one, and by day five they are handing out their business cards, shaking hands, networking, and they have presented a case study in the Capitol in front of a panel of business leaders," says Subiendo director Leticia Acosta.

The idea for Subiendo came to Kenny Jastrow, BBA '69, MBA '71, in 2009 as he was preparing to give his commencement speech to the graduating Texas MBA class. Jastrow began thinking about the demographics of Texas and how the population of the state was becoming more diverse, and he recognized the need to cultivate new leaders.

Jastrow contacted Sara Martinez Tucker, MBA '79, a former U.S. Department of Education under secretary and now a UT regent. Before long, an advisory council of business leaders had been formed, ready to help students across Texas find opportunities for a chance at a college degree that, for many, seemed beyond their reach. More than 90 percent of these students are bravely venturing into new territory — if admitted, they will be the first in their families to go to college.

"I have a piece of paper where I keep track of all the universities where our Subiendo students have been accepted," Acosta says. "It's covered in logos from Harvard, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Rice — and, of course, UT Austin."

An impressive 97 percent of Subiendo participants wind up enrolling in college, with about a third of them attending UT Austin. 

This year marks an important milestone for the program. Lopez was chosen to receive the first full four-year scholarship offered to a Subiendo alumnus to attend McCombs.

The CFP Foundation gave $1 million to establish the endowment for the scholarship that Lopez received, which provides full tuition, room, and board to students who have participated in Subiendo and attend McCombs. The donation was made on behalf of CFP Foundation’s founding trustees, Gary Crum, MBA '72, and his wife, Sylvie Crum, BA '74.

"It is clear that college graduates from diverse backgrounds are increasingly playing a larger part in the leadership and management of our state," Gary Crum said. 

The CFP gift will support two scholarship recipients through four years of college.

The Crum family gift to Subiendo inspired Carolyn and Preston Butcher. They recently gave $500,000 to establish a third endowed scholarship that will support a Subiendo student entering college this fall. The school's goal is to have four scholars (one per year) at McCombs, with the hope that another donor will step forward to establish one more endowed Subiendo scholarship.

"These scholarship opportunities will open doors for students who may not have perceived the college of their dreams as a possibility, and it's not because the talent wasn't there," says Acosta. "I have no doubt that these gifts are going to make a big impact in many students' lives."

If you are interested in more information about supporting Subiendo, contact Leticia Acosta at Leticia. Acosta@mccombs.utexas.edu.

From the spring 2017 issue of McCOMBS, the magazine for alumni and friends of the McCombs School of Business.

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