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Terry Scholars Gather to Celebrate, Honor Founders

Since 1987, more than 1200 students have benefitted from scholarships from the Terry Foundation, which encourages students to support and mentor each other.

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Since 1987, more than 1200 students have benefitted from scholarships from the Terry Foundation, which encourages students to support and mentor each other.

Daniela Herrera was an active, engaged high school student in El Paso who knew she’d need financial aid to attend college.

She devoted the little free time she had during her senior year to researching and applying for scholarships. “For every scholarship I heard about,” she said.

In April of her senior year, she learned she had received a scholarship from the Houston-based Terry Foundation and one from the Gates Millennium Scholar Program.

The scholarships allowed her to attend The University of Texas at Austin without the worry of working or loading up on student loans.

“I consider it a huge blessing to be able to go to school and devote all my energies, not to a job or stressing out over money, but to doing everything in my power to get to the next step,” said Herrera, a senior who is to graduate in four years in spring 2013. “For this reason, I’ll never stop thanking Mr. and Mrs. Terry.”

Herrera is one of 208 Terry scholars on campus who can thank Howard and Nancy Terry, the founders of the Terry Foundation, for financial support and for fostering a tight-knit community of students who support one another throughout their college careers and beyond.

Howard and Nancy Terry

Howard and Nancy Terry 

The university thanked the Terrys by lighting the Tower on Oct. 18, the night of the foundation’s annual dinner on campus. The lighting honored the memory of Howard Terry, a 1938 alumnus of the university who died in April at age 95. The lighting took on added significance with the death of Nancy Terry at age 85 on Oct. 13.

The lighting also marked the foundation’s 25 years of guiding students toward success at The University of Texas at Austin.

The foundation’s scholarship recipients have higher four-year graduation rates and higher grade-point averages than the average UT Austin student, according to the university’s Office of Student Financial Services.

Ninety-two percent of Terry scholars graduate in four years from their universities, compared with 50 percent of all UT Austin freshmen. Terry scholars at UT Austin have a 3.45 GPA, compared with the 3.11 campuswide GPA.

“These students are 21st century versions of the foundation’s creator, Howard Terry, in that they come to the university with proven records of leadership, industry and perseverance the very traits they need to make a significant impact on the future of our state and nation,” said Thomas Melecki, director of financial services.

The foundation’s criteria for granting scholarships are academic achievement and leadership qualities as well as financial need.

Since 1987, the foundation has provided $49 million for tuition, room and board and some living expenses to 1,226 students at the university. It has provided another $58 million to 1,568 students at seven other Texas universities.

Brian Carroll, a Terry scholar who graduated in 1998, has helped interview and select scholars for several years. The applicants have impressed him.

“These kids are phenomenally intelligent, phenomenally driven,” he said. “They really are game changers.”

The interviews of the applicants are conducted by former and current scholars and foundation officials. Ed Cotham, the foundation’s president, says that is the key part of the process.

“We believe that talking to students directly helps us find students who are really dedicated to being successful, both academically and later in life,” he said. “That shows up in their academic records at school and shows up later in the many ways they continue to give back to the foundation and the communities in which they live.”

The scholars give to each other while they’re in school.

It starts when they enter the university and each freshman Terry scholar is paired with a mentor who is an upperclassman.

Eric Wong, a senior set to graduate in May 2013, said that when he was a freshman, his Terry mentor helped him navigate the Forty Acres.

“She helped me out on a lot of questions I had,” he said. “Trying to figure out what organizations I should join and how to get around Austin.”

He said Terry scholars often team up on projects when they’re in the same classes.

Casie Wenmohs, a former Terry scholar, said that the foundation encourages the scholars to help one another and others.

“The Terry Foundation bestows an important life lesson on its scholarship recipients: Success is not a one-way street,” she said. “We all have a duty to be mentors and supporters of those working their way up and trying to improve their lives and communities.”

Should a student’s academic performance show signs of dropping, Terry Foundation officials stepped in to offer advice. Howard Terry was known to contact students directly.

Herrera, who is president of the Terry Scholars Student Association, said it comes down to the direction set by Howard Terry.

“Mr. Terry knew what he wanted: not only to award Terry scholars with financial support, but to have a tight-knit community of students and mentors,” she said.