Through education, economics major Curtwin Bismark prepares for the challenge of transforming a nation.
“Overcoming adversity has refined me into an ambitious and more driven individual.”
Indeed. In just the last two years, economics major Curtwin Bismark has accumulated an impressive list of achievements. Among his recognitions include recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer scholarship, recipient of the Newman Civic Fellows Award, All Texas Academic Team recipient, UT Arlington Honors College student, Goolsby Leadership Academy scholar, UTA President’s Roundtable member, Federal Reserve Bank Intern, and Vice-President of the UTA chapter of Toastmasters.
It was only a few years ago that the prospect of a university education was uncertain for Curtwin.
"I remember like it was yesterday, staring out my window. I watched a yellow bus take children to school,” he says. “Tears would roll down my cheeks. I knew that I was academically capable; I just didn't have the financial resources nor the opportunity to further my education. Today, times are different. I am a UTA scholar and I have a chance to turn my dreams into a reality."
At 26, the native Zimbabwean has overcome a lifetime’s worth of difficulties and disadvantages. The economic and humanitarian crises that occurred in Zimbabwe over the last decade led to a catastrophic breakdown of a once prosperous nation. Over the last few years, more than four million Zimbabweans have been displaced or have fled to neighboring countries.
With wisdom that belies his age, Curtwin’s perspective of success has been shaped and burnished on his journey out of poverty and into a world of opportunity and unlimited possibilities.
Growing up in Zimbabwe, Curtwin walked almost eight kilometers—nearly five miles—to and from school with holes in his shoes and many times without any food. By the time he was 15, Curtwin was teaching illiterate men and women, adults deprived of an education during apartheid, how to read and write in night school.
When he was 19, Curtwin’s parents gave him their life savings totaling $300 so that he could pursue a college degree in the United States at Houston Baptist University.
Though soon after arriving in Texas, he was forced to withdraw from classes after his sponsor lost his business during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. After having to sit out of school for a year and a half, Curtwin was able to attend Houston Community College, where he earned an associate of arts degree. It was at HCC where Curtwin’s efforts paid off.
Recognized for his great potential, Curtwin was selected to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, a program that honors excellence by supporting outstanding community college students with financial need as they transfer to and complete their bachelor’s degrees at the nation’s top four-year colleges and universities. The foundation selects up to 50 community college transfer students each year and awards each scholar up to $30,000 annually. He received scholarship offers from UT Arlington, Texas A&M Commerce, Cornell College, and King's College.
Once Curtwin made his choice to attend UTA, he wasted no time assimilating to a fast-paced and challenging learning experience at the College of Business, which included becoming a scholar in the Goolsby Leadership Academy, a leadership development program for a select group of high-performing undergraduates in the College of Business.
“Curtwin’s drive is quite impressive,” says Dr. David Mack, assistant dean and director of the Goolsby Leadership Academy. “He is a natural leader who has set a very high standard of performance within the Goolsby cohort. He has earned respect not only from his peers, but also from his professors.”
Last spring Curtwin added another accomplishment to his resume when he was selected to intern with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas through a highly competitive process. “I strived to leave an impression that UTA students can perform just as well as, if not better than, students from Ivy League institutions,” he says.
Curtwin at the 2011 All Texas
Academic Team awards ceremony
Next month he will be one of two students to represent UTA at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Two UTA students will also attend the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Florida.
“I am humbled and honored to be one of two students who have been selected to represent the University at the Democratic National Convention. Participation in this program has distinguished us from a majority of other schools and demonstrated to the community that we value our nation’s history and encourage them to be politically involved.”
For certain, Curtwin’s aptitude and savvy take a significant share of credit for his achievements. His persistence, however, is ultimately what makes the difference between having potential and achieving results. “I have taken advantage of the resources available to students, which increased my marketability and opened up a window of possibilities,” he says.
Set to graduate in 2013, he’s focused on his next move. “I am now looking at a number of prestigious scholarships and fellowships, symposiums and think tanks, graduate schools within some of the elite universities across the U.S. and abroad, and employment within a number of organizations,” he says. “I look forward to making my decision as I get closer to graduation.”
While he has much to look forward to, Curtwin considers himself still in the “becoming” stage, where the next few years hold possibilities that are yet unknown. Ultimately, his journey will come full circle for the benefit of his beloved Zimbabwe. He bears a responsibility to make his homeland better than when he left it more than six years ago.
“Growing up in Zimbabwe, I experienced the horrific impact of the mismanagement of our resources and ineffective governmental decisions which led to hyper-inflation and the eventual collapse of our economy. I’ve committed my life towards the progression of Zimbabwe and the continent of Africa,” he says. “We are an industrious, humble and ambitious people, who are devoted to education. A new group of young leaders with fresh ideas are being groomed at foreign universities. We are committed to the notion that our people have the capability and desire to become economically self-sufficient. The emergence of Zimbabwe rests upon the shoulders of its future leadership. I am fortunate that many people consider me to be one of these emerging leaders.”
Curtwin chose UT Arlington for the same reasons that compel most students. “UTA is a university full of promise,” he says. “It provides its students with a great education at an affordable price. Its diversity allows one to interact with people from all over the world, ensuring a more global perspective in the classroom. It is a reservoir of opportunity that can propel its students to academic and professional accomplishment, if they are willing to pay the price of success.”
Curtwin knows well the price of success. He also recognizes that his current ventures will make its most meaningful impact long after he leaves UTA.
“Honestly speaking, there are days when I would rather sleep in and miss that 8:00 a.m. class or watch the game rather than study, which is why I constantly remind myself of who I am, what I have been through, and why I need to live with purpose,” he says. “Like many international students, we have sacrificed the luxury of being with our families so that we can further our education. The price of my schooling in the U.S. has cost me six years away from my family, but I understand that this is a small sacrifice that I need to pay in order to graduate and fulfill my purpose. Therefore, I keep a picture of them on my desk and another one in my folder to maintain my focus and keep my eye on the prize.”