October 3, 2016
Hilltop Volunteers serve as campus tour guides for visiting students during Pony Preview Days and are involved in a host of other service activities.

Hilltop Volunteers serve as campus tour guides for visiting students during Pony Preview Days and are involved in a host of other service activities.

SMU alumni Desiree Brown ’06, ’10 and Astrud Villareal ’10 introduced scores of prospective students and their parents to campus while serving as tour guides during their undergraduate years. Now they’re helping map out a path to SMU for visiting youth as Hilltop Volunteers.

The volunteer program gives Mustangs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area a platform to support their alma mater in personal and meaningful ways. Alumni may choose from a variety of hands-on opportunities covering a wide range of interests.

“Volunteering is free and fun,” says Desiree. “I feel like this is how I can continue to give back to SMU for making my college dream come true.”

Now a business architect IV with Fannie Mae – “I support all Real Estate and Credit Operations’ reporting, analyses, data strategies and infrastructure” ­– Desiree was in the University Honors Program as an undergraduate majoring in political science and math in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. She was able to attend SMU thanks to scholarships, financial aid and work-study jobs, including three years in the Office of Undergraduate Admission.

In addition to the bachelor’s degrees she earned in 2006, she also received a master’s degree in operations research from the Lyle School of Engineering in 2010 and a Certificate of Management from the Cox School of Business in 2013.

As a volunteer she has distributed SMU “swag” during the Mayor’s Summer Reading Program launch and represented the University as a Student Recruitment Volunteer (SeRVe). Her favorite activity, however, is being a Pony Preview Days tour guide. Pony Preview Days offer an inside view of SMU to local elementary and middle-school children, many of whom have never before visited the University or factored higher education into their futures.

Over the summer she assisted with one of three tours led by former Mustang football and NFL star Reggie Dupard ’99 for Garland Independent School District students.

“During lunch I sat at a table with about 10 girls and had the opportunity to really talk to them about their future plans – we have fashion designers, teachers and doctors coming soon!” Desiree says. “One girl, in particular, was so excited to learn that SMU was a possibility for her. The whole event only reinforced why I loved my years at SMU.”

Likewise, Astrud has many fond memories of her student days, which she looks forward to imparting as a Hilltop Volunteer. Chief among them was going to Rwanda for Professor Rick Halperin’s human rights class. “It was an incredibly humbling and enlightening experience,” she says.

“I also enjoyed attending Tate Lectures and got to shake Anderson Cooper’s hand during one of our Hunt Scholars dinners,” she adds. “That remains a highlight of my time at SMU.”

She majored in biology, with minors in chemistry, human rights and international studies, and is now a busy family medicine resident at UT Southwestern Medical School. She credits her experience at SMU-in-Copenhagen, where she was enrolled in the DIS Medical Practice and Policy Program, with igniting her passions for medicine and travel.

“I do feel like SMU provided me with four amazing ‘unbridled’ years in the sense that I felt very supported in whatever path I chose,” she says. “The incredible opportunities that SMU brings are truly outstanding, and there is no better way of giving back than to share this message with others.”