In their senior years of high school, one day late in April 2015, students from different schools across the state were having nearly identical experiences. Each incident started with a single email.
“Waiting for that email to load was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life,” says Angelica Creevey, now a nursing major at The University of Texas at Arlington. “I peeked my eyes open and faintly saw ‘Congratulations,’ and I almost screamed.”
“I burst into tears in the middle of class,” says Salma Badeh, a business administration major at UTA. “All dramatics aside, it was one of the best moments of my life.”
“I jumped into the air and screamed in joy,” says Brandon Berens, a current music education major. “I hadn’t felt that level of happiness in a long, long time.”
The email that spurred these life-changing moments was from the Terry Foundation, an organization that provides students with four-year scholarships covering the full cost of tuition, fees, books, and on-campus living expenses. The Terry Foundation was established by Houston philanthropists Howard and Nancy Terry, and it’s the largest private source of scholarships in Texas.
To be considered for the Terry Scholarship as an incoming freshman, a student must have a record of leadership and be able to demonstrate financial need, among other requirements.
When Creevey, Badeh, and Berens accepted their scholarship offers, they also became three of 20 to make UTA history: Together with their peers, they formed the first cohort of Terry Scholars at UTA.
The University was designated a Terry site in 2015, becoming one of only 13 institutions in the state to offer the program. To be chosen as a Terry site, universities must demonstrate the ability to offer students well-rounded academic experiences and the support they need to succeed.
“We are pleased to partner with an institution so widely respected for excellence and student success,” says Yvonne Moody, executive director for the Terry Foundation.
Given UTA’s focus on dedicated student support, joining the Terry program was a foregone conclusion, says William Gunn, director of programs at University College: “This is a chance for us to provide interested students with educational experiences they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. The additional level of support these students receive, which extends well beyond graduation, means our Terry Scholars will have every opportunity for success.”.
MORE MONEY, LESS PROBLEMS
Ask anyone associated with the Terry Scholars program, and you’ll inevitably hear that word again and again: opportunity. The most obvious opportunity the Terry Foundation provides is financial. At UTA, the cost of a four-year undergraduate degree, including housing, books and supplies, and cost of living, will roughly total $96,000. From the moment Terry Scholars receive those congratulatory emails, they know they don’t have to worry about a single penny of it.
For students like Berens, the relief that provides is enormous—not just for him, but for his family as well.
“The fact that my parents won’t have to struggle to help put me through college—that’s the best thing I could’ve dreamed of,” he says.
And for families with several children, a Terry scholarship for one child can mean the opportunity to help other children in the family financially when it’s time for them to go to college. In this first cohort of UTA students, several come from very large families. Badeh is one of seven children. Dagoberto Pozos Jr., an exercise science major, has five brothers and sisters.
Brandy Butler, an active member of the North Texas Terry alumni chapter, says that with five children in the family, her parents couldn’t afford to help her with college at all.
“Being awarded this scholarship gave me the opportunity to attend my dream university instead of community college,” she says. “As a Terry Scholar, I was able to graduate debt-free.”
The Terry Foundation scholarships also allow UTA the opportunity to help more students. Since many in the inaugural cohort also qualified for additional institutional scholarships, UTA was able to offer those awards to other incoming freshmen. In 2015, UTA reallocated about $150,000 to other students in need.
Another area of financial support comes in a stipend for study abroad expenses. Gunn notes that as UTA pushes to become a leader in global education, enabling students to experience study abroad opportunities is crucial. For its scholars, the Terry Foundation offers stipends ranging from $1,000-$5,000.
Should a Terry Scholar wish to pursue a master’s degree, the Terry Foundation can help as well. If a student manages to graduate early, he or she can have the remaining undergraduate funds distributed toward the pursuit of a master’s degree at a participating Terry school.
“To go from stressing out about what to do next with your life and how you’re going to do it in one moment to finding out your hard work has paid off and you don’t have to worry anymore—it’s breathtaking,” says Courtney Jaekel, an industrial engineering major. “The Terry experience so far has been life-changing.”
THE TERRY FAMILY
But the Terry Scholars program doesn’t just issue a check once per semester. It also provides students with a sense of family and community. For the first year of study, the Terry Scholars are required to live together on campus. At UTA, the inaugural cohort lives at the newest campus residence hall, Vandergriff Hall in the College Park District. While the Terry structure is similar to other living/learning communities on campus, the program is different in that it brings together students from a wide range of majors. In fact, each college on campus has at least one Terry Scholar in the group.
“I was really amazed at how quickly all of us bonded,” Creevey says. “Being able to live with my favorite people is great, and it’s been so nice to surround myself with other leaders who really want to make a difference. They never cease to impress and inspire me.”
Veronica Valdez, a bilingual education major, says that the group’s closeness has made UTA feel like a home away from home. “Everyone gets along,” she says. “We’re a little family.”
Aside from close living quarters, group bonding is facilitated by monthly events just for the Terrys. Gunn says the group spent their first semester planning the activities and traditions that will set the tone for future generations of Terry Scholars on the UTA campus. The group events include everything from relaxed social hangouts to studying to community service.
“Service is something that is near and dear in the minds of our Terrys,” Gunn says. “They know they have been blessed with a unique opportunity, so they want to do things to benefit others.”
BEYOND A DEGREE
That sense of service typically stays with Terry Scholars as alumni. Butler says that continued involvement with the Terry program in particular is not unusual.
“During my initial interview [to receive the scholarship], I was asked if I would be willing to give back, and my answer was yes—and it continues to be so,” she says. “The Terry Foundation has blessed me in a huge way, and anything I can do to help the Foundation or other Terry Scholars is more than worth it.”
The North Texas alumni chapter of Terry Scholars seeks to provide area alumni with the same family atmosphere that so many of them enjoyed in college. There are social events, volunteer opportunities, and fundraising efforts. The group also provides support to local collegiate Terry Scholars. The chapter’s participation with the UTA Terrys has several of the collegians thinking ahead to how they’ll maintain involvement after graduation.
“Every university that the Terry Foundation touches shares in a Terry Scholar’s joy.”
“I definitely want to find a way to give back to the Terry Foundation for this great opportunity,” Valdez says. “I want to be involved in any way I can.”
Jaekel concurs: “The people I have met here have and will continue to change my life forever. I’m confident I’ll remain friends with my fellow Terry Scholars for the rest of my life.”
Myra Zimmerman, an administrative assistant at the Career Development Center, is a Terry alumna from Texas State University. While she agrees that “opportunity” is a key word for describing the Terry Scholars program, she’d also add another word: joy.
“Every university that the Terry Foundation touches shares in a Terry Scholar’s joy,” she says. “Joy in an education without the burden of financial stress. Joy in a possibility that might not have been available otherwise. Joy in a group of students who are unified and grateful for this wonderful opportunity.”
She notes that such joy can have a transformative effect that echoes well beyond the UTA campus.
“Will UTA benefit? Absolutely. Will it affect the surrounding community? How could it not? Joy breeds life into people. And that’s what the Terry Foundation does. It’s giving a new lease on life to students and allowing them endless possibilities with their educations and beyond.”