Seven students from the Dallas Independent School District attended the Jindal Young Scholars Program Signing Day festivities May 2 with their families to sign letters of intent signaling their commitment to enroll at The University of Texas at Dallas and major in an undergraduate degree program offered by the Naveen Jindal School of Management.
Christopher Adkins from W.T. White High School, Julio Tovar from H. Grady Spruce High School and five students from the School of Business and Management at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center — Jacob Gonzalez, Joshua Jernigan, Ariana Morales, Jenna O’Brien and Samuel Villalobos — will comprise the second cohort of Jindal Young Scholars.
Launched last year with four students, the outreach program was envisioned by Dr. Hasan Pirkul, Caruth Chair and dean of the Jindal School. A partnership between JSOM and Dallas ISD, the program’s purpose is to help economically disadvantaged high school students from Dallas ISD bridge the college-readiness gap. Participating students who meet eligibility requirements qualify to receive an annual award for up to four years that will cover any unmet need after federal, state and institutional financial assistance is applied for and granted.
“It’s really quite an achievement and very touching to see these families and students recognize their dreams and be able to come to a great school,” said Pirkul. “I’m amazed and blown away by their strengths and capabilities. It’s really quite stunning. I think as every year goes by, we’ll get more momentum behind the program.”
At the ceremony, which is modeled after NFL and NCAA sports signing days, JYSP Program Director Billy Schewee introduced Dr. Varghese Jacob, vice dean of the Jindal School, who was on hand to welcome the students.
“The last year has been great,” said Usamah Rodgers, assistant superintendent for Postsecondary Partnerships and Programs at Dallas ISD. “We’ve been continuing to strengthen the partnership and I think as a result of that continued planning and preparation, we have a larger group of students and a more diverse group of students. We have our first student from Spruce. We have our first two female students, and so it’s really, really exciting how the vision that Dean Pirkul had is truly becoming a reality. We are eternally grateful.”
Nearly 200 students in grades 9 to 12 from across five Dallas ISD campuses (Moisés E. Molina High School, Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, Spruce, Townview and W.T. White) have signed up for the college-readiness program. Jindal School undergraduates serve as JYSP mentors, conducting mentorship sessions at Dallas ISD campuses.
“A lot of our students come from families that didn’t go to college, so they don’t know how to do it,” said Spruce Principal Danielle Petters. “This program shows a path to college. Personally, having one of our students earn a scholarship means I’m doing what I set out to do. When I came to Spruce four years ago, my goal was to impact the community by transforming the school. By the things that our teachers are doing, the successes that our kids are having — it’s impacting the entire community.”
Dr. George Fair, vice president, diversity and community engagement at UT Dallas, said programs such as JYSP help the University better represent the community.
“The trajectory of growth we are seeing from cohort one to two is going to continue as we go forward — as more students in the Dallas Independent School District understand what it is and they really see this as reality, that this is something — and it helps the University in terms having good representation from DISD,” he said.
Ray Hemmig, a member of the Naveen Jindal School of Management Advisory Council and a financial supporter of JYSP, said he was happy to support the program because it is at the core purpose of what higher education should do.
“I think the Naveen Jindal School of Management and Dean Pirkul have gone beyond the norm in establishing this program,” he said. “It’s a community marketing effort that is pure to the purpose of UTD, which is educating those best and the brightest to be the best they can be. This is a way for us to reach those outside of our comfort zone but, more importantly, outside of the students’ comfort zones — economically, perhaps socially — to integrate us better into the community of Dallas and Fort Worth.”
Schewee laid out some of the program’s plans at the ceremony.
“Our goals for the 2019-2020 school year include accepting 200 JYSP students from our five Dallas ISD partner schools, holding monthly mentoring sessions on each campus, hosting or co-hosting SAT and ACT preparation sessions in the fall and spring — ahead of each administration of the exam,” he said.
Schewee said that Signing Day is his favorite day of the work year because it is a celebration of what the students were able to accomplish and it is a fun, ceremonial way to welcome them to the community.
“For the majority of the program, our goal is to get high school students ready for postsecondary education. However, this awards program is a secondary track that is huge for these students, and for us, because it is a way to quantify and show that students who are participating and working hard have this available to them if they earn it,” he said.
“We’ve been building momentum and are working through the challenges that starting a new program entails,” he said. “But I am very confident about us taking the next steps in making this even bigger and even better next year and the years to come.”
— Jimmie R. Markham