A national leader in the automotive industry, Mr. Sewell is chairman of Sewell Automotive Companies. He serves as co-chair of The Second Century Campaign, co-chair of The Second Century Celebration Organizing Committee and SMU trustee. Mr. Sewell was chair of the Board of Trustees from 2006 to 2010 and received the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1993. This Campaign Q&A is the second of six interviews with campaign co-chairs that will appear in Campaign Update leading up to the campaign’s conclusion.
Campaign Update: What do you think has been a defining factor in SMU’s rise in rankings and national prestige?
Sewell: It is important to remember that first and foremost, SMU is an academic institution. We attract very bright, young people to Dallas. When they are added to our ever-improving faculty, we make a significant contribution to Texas. Our graduates become essential building blocks for Texas as we become a more sophisticated player on the world stage.
CU: How did SMU achieve this accomplishment of transforming its student body?
Sewell: The simple answer is that we focused on it as a priority and we raised significant funds for scholarships that addressed student need as well as student merit. More outstanding students want to attend SMU every year. Unfortunately, we do not have enough scholarship funding to compete with other excellent universities. If we had more scholarship money to match the offers these exceptional young people receive from other quality universities, SMU would become an even better university very quickly.
CU: Do you have a particular example of how this scholarship investment has had a positive impact?
Sewell: Among many examples is the Cox BBA Scholars Program. Several years ago Dean Al Niemi conceived that if we added a business school scholarship to the general financial aid package of an incoming business undergraduate student, then many of the top applicants would select Cox and SMU. This was proven time and again, and many donors stepped forward to fund these scholarships on a yearly basis. And then, Ed Cox stepped forward with a $5 million challenge grant, encouraging us to endow the program in perpetuity – and that has been done, and the results are outstanding. The average SAT score of entering first-year students has risen more than 100 points over the last decade, to an all-time high of 1310, and the BBA Cox Scholars’ average score is an even higher 1452.
CU: Do you have any concluding remarks as a co-chair of the campaign and former chair of the SMU Board of Trustees?
Sewell: I’d like to say “thank you” – to the many donors, volunteers, alumni ambassadors and friends in the community who have provided sustained support and encouragement; and particularly to our president, R. Gerald Turner, who led this campaign and focused SMU on excellence. What we have accomplished over the past years, and especially during the campaign, is remarkable in U.S. higher education. We couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support. And we’re just getting started. SMU is in a much better position to continue to improve the academic quality of our University. We’re setting our sights on achieving an average SAT score of 1350 as we watch SMU become an important part of the growth of Texas and an influential global institution.