Why your support matters: A “valley kid” comes to Austin
Kristin N. Ramos, 2015-2016 John and Jennifer Gates Endowed Scholarship in Social Work Fellow
I’m from the minute town of San Benito, in the Rio Grande Valley. Nothing has ever been expected of “valley kids” besides graduating high school and working to provide for our families. I’m proud to be a first-generation college student who always tries to go beyond what is expected, challenging the system and creating my own views.
I entered The University of Texas at Austin as a nursing major. I went through the motions, even made decent grades, but my passion was just not there. My true desire was to help people on a more emotional, psycho-social level. I quickly redirected my career to social work and knew that I was in the place I needed to be.
After I graduate I want to help pioneer new programs in schools to teach adolescents about healthy relationships—a necessity in under-served community like the one I was raised in.
Back to the roots
Denise and Ray Nixon Fellowship for Excellence in Social Work
When Denise Nixon first graduated from UT Austin, she went back to her hometown in Dallas and started out as a case worker—knocking on doors and connecting families to much-needed resources. Years later, she and her husband Ray continue to care for their community by supporting nonprofits such as Serve West Dallas, where she has volunteered fro more than 20 years.
In 2016, Denise and Ray created a fellowship for eight master’s students, and when meeting them for brunch they emphasized the importance of giving back to the community you come from.
The message resonated with master’s student Marisa Ortega: “I grew up in a low-income area in Dallas and I am a first-generation college student. I want to go back and help people with the same roots I have in the same neighborhood I grew up in.” When asked about the fellowship, Ortega said: “For them to invest in my education… it’s not just the money… it means a lot and helps us succeed.”
A secret campaign
Schwab Family Scholarship in Social Work
When Jim Schwab announced he was retiring from the social work faculty after a career of more than three decades, his family wanted to give him a meaningful gift.
“As my dad’s children, we feel very grateful for all he did for us and wanted to show him how appreciative we are,” says Jim’s youngest son, Casey Schwab. “We know how much he cares about the university. We thought that the best way to show our gratitude was to ensure the continuation of his influence on social work education after he retired.”
Casey, his siblings A.J. and Emily, and their mother Ruth launched a secret campaign to raise funds for a permanent endowment in Jim’s name. Thanks to contributions from more than seventy donors, the Schwab Family Scholarship in Social Work was established and announced at Jim’s retirement party last May.
“If you know my dad, you know he is quite humble and a man of few words,” Casey says. “At the party, when he said ‘thank you, this means a lot,’ we knew we had done something truly meaningful for him.”
The “scholarship dean”
Dean’s Endowed Scholarship Fund
Increasing student scholarships has been one of Dean Zayas’s top priorities since he arrived at the School of Social Work in 2012. He has good reasons for this choice: less than fifteen percent of master’s students receive scholarships, and they graduate with an average debt of $48,000.
“I want to be known as the ‘scholarship dean’ when I’m done here,” Zayas says. “My goal is to leave a sustainable pool of scholarship support through endowments.”
Endowments provide sustainable support because the donated funds are invested, never spent. Each year, a distribution—just as dividends on a mutual fund—is awarded to deserving students.
Thanks to a few generous donors, in 2016 the Dean’s Endowed Scholarship Fund was established with $25,000—the minimum amount needed, per university regulations. Anyone can help grow this endowment over the years. All gifts, no matter how large or small, are added to the principal, which in turn increases the dividends generated each year. Higher dividends mean, of course, more scholarships for deserving social work students.
Why I Give
Evelyn Neely (MSSW ’67) remembers that when she was in school, tuition at UT Austin cost $25 a semester.
“That was the cheapest part!” she says. “The most expensive part was room and board. Back then, there were only two houses for African American students. I lived there during the week, and on weekends I went back to Houston, where my family was taking care of my two children.”
To pay for room and board, Neely relied on personal savings and a School of Social Work stipend that was earmarked for black students.
“Since that time I’ve always believed that you should help others when you have received help. My contributions to the school, though small, represent my commitment to that belief.”
Let’s bring UT Austin social work students to D.C.
A word from Jessica Shahin
We social workers are among the most valuable professionals because we can do anything. We are problem solvers and critical thinkers, we can take on policy and implementation challenges, and we know how to present a full picture of impact on vulnerable populations and communities.
Because I believe in the value of these social work skills, I want to encourage current UT Austin students to think of careers in public administration, program development, policy and budget analysis. That’s why I’m excited about Washington Week, a program-in-the-making at the UT Austin School of Social Work.
During one week every year, the school will bring selected students to the nation’s capital to engage in intimate discussions with officials in federal agencies, policy think tanks, national advocacy organizations, and legislative policy makers. Many competing schools offer programs of this type, and I believe that UT Austin students should not miss out on their chance to explore this potential career path.
The School of Social Work needs our support to make this program real and affordable. Our donations for Washington Week will help deserving students see themselves in these critical policy roles, allow them to ask tough questions to people making decisions that affect millions of Americans, and discuss with professionals how careers happen and what might be the best path for themselves.
As a proud alumna, I ask you to please join me in supporting this exciting venture. Donate today by visiting socialwork.utexas.edu/giving/washington.
Jessica Shahin (MSSW ’93, BSW ’91) is associate administrator of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service in Washington, D.C.