2024 Alumni Spring/Summer 2024

Planning a trip?

If you’re planning to take a trip to cheer on the Mustangs while on the road, take some pointers from a few of our graduates in our new ACC cities. 

San Francisco, CA

As a proud SMU alum and with my wife being a Berkeley alum, we’re intimately familiar with the excitement of college rivalries. We’ve curated a list of some of our favorite spots in San Francisco for SMU ponies and Cal bears to enjoy during game week. For brunch or coffee, head to Café Reveille or Red Bay Coffee. For happy hour, we love a Mano. And for dinner, our favorites include La Mar and KAIYO

–Elie Nabushosi ’19 and Allison Nabushosi 

Hadley Doyle ’23

Louisville, KY

When I visit friends in Louisville, some of my favorite spots are the Omni Louisville Hotel for a cocktail, Haraz Coffee for some caffeine and Volare for great Italian food. I also recommend Eggs Over Frankfort for breakfast and the 21C art gallery for some contemporary art. 

–Laurie Ann Ross, Director of Development for SMU Libraries, SMU-in-Taos and Academic Affairs 

Knut Ahlander ’21, ’23

Durham, NC

I recommend going to get coffee at Cocoa Cinnamon or Joe Van Gogh with small bites from Monuts or Isaac’s Bagels, which are all near the campus. For dinner, there are several different places to go like Juju, Rose’s Noodles or Nikos. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens are relaxing and peaceful to walk through. 

–Brooke Sullivan ’18 

Charlottesville, VA

I attended UVA for my MBA, and I highly recommend a visit to Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, which has the best view in town. Also, for those Mustang fans who frequent Shug’s, I recommend Bodo’s Bagels located across the street from “Grounds” (UVA speak for “campus”). Grab a bagel and coffee and walk around campus including the famous “Lawn” where you’ll see the precursor to Dallas Hall. 

–Stephen Reiff ’10, Alumni Board Member 


The Mustangs have arrived

It’s a new era in SMU Athletics. This July, the Mustangs will officially join the Atlantic Coast Conference, meaning a whole new lineup of competitors and host cities. 

After beginning the season against Nevada in Reno on August 24, SMU football will host the home opener against Houston Christian University on August 31, followed by BYU on September 6 and the “Battle for the Iron Skillet” against TCU on September 21. 

Then, the eight-game slate of ACC competitors begins with Family Weekend on September 28 versus Florida State. 

During the month of October, the Mustangs hit the road, first in Louisville on October 5; then, against Stanford on October 19; and Duke on October 26. 

For our first ACC Homecoming, SMU will host Pittsburgh on November 2 before a rematch with Boston College on November 16. 

Finally, one last away game takes the team to Virginia on November 23 before closing out the season at home against Cal on November 30. 

Though times and televised information may not be out yet, it’s never too early to start thinking about season tickets to support the Mustangs at Ford Stadium – especially with the new Weber End Zone Complex ready to welcome fans. 

Stay up to date with all your favorite SMU sports and watch for more schedules to be announced at

The ACC is a highly competitive league with a commitment to comprehensive excellence across all sports. … Our programs are competing at a national level and affiliation with other like-minded programs will push us to even greater heights 

Director of Athletics Rick Hart 
Lucrezia Napoletano ’26

In anticipation of our transition to the ACC, our goal is to reach 3,500 members in the Mustang Club by May 31 – a new department record.Can you help us? Show our student-athletes that you support them by making a gift of any size to any athletic program. 

Donations help our 484 student-athletes succeed in the classroom and in competition. Your support will assist in a variety of ways, including team operations, travel, recruiting, nutrition, academic support and more. Mustang Club members can be alumni, fans, coaches and friends who want to support our 17 sport programs. 

Visit for more. 

2024 Alumni Spring/Summer 2024

Enterprising alumni

Todd Andrews ’96

In the last three years, the booming athleisure company Tasc (stylized lowercase “tasc”) has doubled in size and expanded its footprint to include a new storefront on Lovers Lane in Dallas, Texas. CEO and co-founder Todd Andrews ’96 has grown the company to 55 employees and almost $100 million in annual revenue.

Yet the company is still having Christmas parties at his mom’s house. 

Even the company name, Tasc, is grounded in the family: T for Todd; A for his dad, Al; S for his brother, Scott; and C for his mom, Cindy. Al Andrews, the beloved patriarch of the family who passed away last summer, was the company’s forerunner who got his start in the apparel industry while attending law school in New Orleans. 

“He came down to Tulane on a basketball scholarship in the early ’60s, graduated, went to law school, passed the bar, but was renting an apartment from a family that had the largest U.S.-based tie manufacturer,” says Andrews. “And so that’s how he started his career. He didn’t practice law; he got into the apparel business, for better or worse.” 

It was for the better. When Andrews graduated from SMU in 1996, he moved back to New Orleans to interview for jobs in a range of industries, but when he walked into his dad’s office to see what new industry ideas he had up his sleeve, Andrews never looked back. 

Andrews says the influence of his father’s passion is why Tasc has been so successful: “That spirit is what we’ve kept going forward in our company.” 

“Our dream was always to build a brand,” he adds. 

Tasc now sells products wholesale in all 50 states, has established partnerships with the PGA Tour and the U.S. Open, and is looking at long-term storefront growth with four locations now open across the South and a fifth location coming to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2024.

Brittany Cobb ’04

Over the past 15 years, Brittany Cobb ’04 has built a brand celebrated for many things. 

“Somebody told me curiosity and consistency are the key to success,” she says. “I now know how true that is.” 

In 2009, a then 27-year-old Cobb was launching a new business: The Dallas Flea, a quarterly pop-up shopping event featuring various vendors. 

Figure it out she did, and in 2015, she rebranded to Flea Style, a name the California native chose because she says, “it embodied the brand’s love for flea markets.” 

Cobb, now 41, is slated to open two new sets of doors: one in Prosper, Texas, and one in Nashville, Tennessee. In September 2023, Cobb’s Hat Bar, which offers customers a hands-on experience to create their own hat, opened inside the Omni Louisville Hotel in Kentucky. Cobb also owns Wide Brim, a specialty boutique inside Hotel Drover in Fort Worth, Texas. 

She credits her journalism degree for her marketing ideas, communication skills and ability to stay curious. Cobb embraces the “bevy of perspective, knowledge and new ideas” she has gained. 

One thing, though, has remained steadfast: a coping tactic she inherited from her father. 

“Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I go back to my dad’s favorite saying: ‘Inch by inch, everything is a cinch.’ I still tell myself this mantra daily,” she says. 

Brooks Thostenson ’09

After spending summer 2009 at SMU-in-Taos, Brooks Thostenson ’09 fell in love with the town. After reconnecting with lifelong friend Kyle Hawari in Taos after college, the duo decided to explore northern New Mexico — but they struggled to find nutrition bars that didn’t contain bad ingredients. So, Taos Bakes was born. 

“We choose to build our products from the ground up with taste, texture, mouthfeel, moisture content and nutrition equally balanced,” he says. “While it is much more expensive to be picky about the quality and overall nutrition of ingredients, it is an ethic we’ve always held. Additionally, we do not outsource our manufacturing, meaning that every product is made in house in northern New Mexico.” 

Though neither went to business school, their college experiences prepared them to get their company off the ground. 

“I chose a markets and culture degree because the course selections seemed like a better fit for my overall interests,” he says. 

Perhaps of equal importance is the friendship between Thostenson and Hawari, which plays a part in the company’s prosperity. 

“The best part about owning a business with a lifelong friend is that we already knew how each other worked,” he says. 

One challenge they had to learn as they went along was the importance of delineation of roles and responsibilities and clarity on each other’s work-life balance philosophies. 

“If you can do this, you will have a much higher chance of protecting the friendship and, ultimately, business,” he adds. 

Wim Bens ’00

Alum left big-brand advertising firm to pursue his garage hobby – and Lakewood Brewery is serving up sips all across Texas. 

Originally an advertising major at SMU and an advertising professional at Tracy-Locke, Wim Bens ’00 took a chance on his “garage hobby” in 2011 and channeled his marketing expertise to take the North Texas craft beer scene to the next level. 

When his homebrewing operation turned into winning national brewing competitions, Bens left his advertising job to start Lakewood Brewing Company. The business has since grown from three to 25 employees, and the craft brewing scene in North Texas has grown with it. 

Having found success, Bens is giving back to his alma mater by setting aside $1 from every sale of the Pony Pils, Lakewood’s special 4.5% American lager, to fund scholarships for SMU students. 

Inspired by his time at SMU, Bens hopes future SMU students will benefit from the same outstanding educational opportunities he received and that helped him succeed in the brewing business. 

“We really want to inspire the next generation of brewers,” he says. “Whether you’re going into food science, engineering or logistics – those are things we think are important to really have an educated next generation of brewers.” 

Bens, who designed the Pony Pils can himself, glows with pride: “It’s not just an homage. Pony Pils is a beer for SMU things – for Mustang fans, for Mustang alumni or any Mustang over the age of 21.” 

He hopes to begin awarding scholarships next year. 

2024 Alumni Spring/Summer 2024

A born connector

Everyone thinks Rogers Healy ’03 is a real estate guy – for good reason: In the 23 years since Healy became a licensed real estate agent while studying at SMU, he’s launched and grown an independent real estate company into one of the largest in the country. Today, Rogers Healy and Associates Real Estate has over 500 agents and reached over $1 billion in sales transactions in 2022. 

But if you ask Healy, his strength isn’t real estate – it’s his ability to connect with people. “Everyone’s got a superpower, and mine is giving people confidence,” he says. “So that means I’ve got a decent eye for seeking talent.” 

Which is why Healy knows he’s found his true calling with the new venture capitalism firm he launched in September 2022: Morrison Seger Venture Capital Partners. 

Healy first got a taste of venture capitalism thanks to SMU. A few years after he graduated, SMU put together a group of alumni and partnered them with undergrad students to provide mentorship. Healy was partnered with Kevin Lavelle ’08. They became close friends and years later, Lavelle approached Healy about an idea he had to make a men’s dress shirt out of dry-fit material. Healy loved the idea and became the first seed investor for the business, Mizzen+Main. 

SMU builds winners, and if you can get access to the winners, if you can find a way to build relationships, then by proxy, you’re going to win, too. 

Rogers Healy ’03

“I fell in love with connecting the dots,” Healy says. “Finance really is about who you know and who knows you. If you can earn their trust and help them create revenue, then that’s really the qualification.” 

Healy quietly invested in more than 100 startups since 2011, but his decision to launch his own venture capital fund came after a serendipitous evening. 

About seven or eight months before launching Morrison Seger, Healy’s wife, Abby, who was pregnant with their first child, gently told him one evening that he was bringing home too much negativity. At dinner with his high school friends that night, one of them mentioned another friend started a company called Winwood Collins, after Steve Winwood and Phil Collins. Winwood Collins was never a real company, but it inspired Healy. He declared he was going to launch Morrison Seger, in honor of two of his favorite musicians, Van Morrison and Bob Seger. 

At that moment, Healy didn’t know what Morrison Seger was going to be – he added Venture Capital Partners to the name later – but he knew it was the next step in his career. Since launching the fund, Healy has essentially retired himself from a role in real estate to focus on venture capitalism full time. 

“It felt natural, which is really not my story with real estate,” he says. “It was like God telling me I’ve got to really bet on myself differently.” 

Since Morrison Seger launched, the company has raised over $30 million and invested in over 25 companies, including Siempre Tequila, G.O.A.T. Fuel and Tiff’s Treats. 

Just like his reason for launching his real estate business – “I just wanted to be proud of the people I was surrounded by versus just being around people who were making money” – Healy’s focus with Morrison Seger is all about partnering with great people that the fund can add value to. 

But Healy takes it a step further and aims to build connections between his startups by introducing the founders to each other and getting them in the same room with the investors. He says this creates a more interactive experience and brings dimension through everyone’s personality. 

Healy’s ability to connect people stems back to SMU. 

“SMU gives you so much access to people,” Healy says. “SMU builds winners, and if you can get access to the winners, if you can find a way to build relationships, then by proxy, you’re going to win, too.” 

Healy gives SMU a lot of credit for his success. With his mom being an alumna, Healy knew from a young age that he wanted to attend SMU. When he was a high school freshman, he went to the SMU admissions office every week and told them he probably wasn’t going to have the best grades or test scores, but if given the chance, he thought SMU would change his life and help him change the lives of others. 

“SMU is the first place that I think really gave me the chance and just said ‘I believe in you,’” Healy says. “I think it gave me the ability to hone in on being a leader and appreciating the potential about people that others can’t really see – because SMU did that to me.” 

2024 Alumni Spring/Summer 2024

Grads in the garden

When Mary Brinegar ’69 stepped into the role of president and CEO of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden in 1996, the arboretum was in dire straits. In its 12 years, the 66-acre garden had gone through four presidents and was struggling. 

But Brinegar’s background in fundraising for organizations like The Dallas Opera, The Science Place and KERA-TV was exactly what the arboretum needed. Despite no background or knowledge of horticulture, Brinegar kept the Dallas Arboretum operating in the black for nearly three decades and oversaw improvements worth more than $100 million, turning it into one of the most popular public gardens in the nation. 

One of the most notable improvements involved SMU: the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden. The arboretum partnered with the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development to create exhibits that meet the state and national curriculum standards for children K–6. That collaboration benefitted the arboretum in more ways than one. 

“I could take that to different foundations and corporations, and more money came from it because you have a source evaluating the work you’re doing at the highest standards,” Brinegar says. 

After 27 years, Brinegar stepped down last fall. A special committee chose fellow SMU alumna Sabina Carr ’89 as her replacement. 

Brinegar is impressed with Carr’s track record with previous gardens, particularly her role in marketing at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. 

“If you can get people through the gate, you can maintain relevance with the community,” she says. “There has to be a reason for people to cross the city and say, ‘I want to pay to see this.’” 

Brinegar hopes that everyone will give Carr all the support to take the Arboretum to the next level, and she’s confident Carr can make that happen. 

“That’s what I would want more than anything from the time I spent there,” Brinegar says, “that it will be in better shape in the future.” 

Mary Brinegar really built a world-class botanical garden, basically from nothing. Now my job is to magnify the excellence she’s left here.

Sabina Carr ’89 

Sabina Carr didn’t intend to end up in horticulture. 

After graduating from SMU in 1989, she had a successful career in marketing for companies like Condé Nast in New York City. 

But when her husband’s career relocated them to Atlanta, Georgia, she felt a little lost. So, her mother offered some advice: Take two organizations she felt close to and volunteer. Carr always loved nature, thanks to the time she spent as a child on her family’s 40 acres in New Jersey, so she volunteered at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. 

As fate would have it, the garden soon hired a new director, who brought on Carr to lead marketing. Together, they quintupled every metric over 15 years, turning Atlanta into one of the top 10 gardens in the U.S. 

But Carr had a gut feeling she’d return to Texas one day. That came in 2019, when the San Antonio Botanical Garden hired her to be its new CEO. She spent four years doubling metrics, including visitation, household memberships and the annual operating budget. 

When the Dallas Arboretum approached her about becoming Brinegar’s successor, it was an opportunity she couldn’t refuse. Carr says the arboretum has been “the garden of my dreams” since she first visited it in 2002. 

Carr’s passion for public gardens stems from their ability to build communities and connect people with nature. One of her favorite moments of this happened to be on her last day at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Just as she was leaving, she saw a Muslim woman on top of the green roof above the gift shop on her prayer rug, performing the Salah. 

“I said, ‘Good. My job is done. I can go now.’ That she feels that comfortable to do her prayers at sunset in a place that brings joy and happiness and love to so many people, that just filled my heart.” 

Now Carr’s sights are building upon the legacy that Brinegar has left. 

“[Brinegar] really built a world-class botanical garden, basically from nothing,” Carr says. “Now my job is to magnify the excellence she’s left here. I’m so humbled to follow in her footsteps.” 

2023 Fall/Winter 2023

Top of the class


Amber Bay Bemak

Associate Professor of Film and Media Arts, Meadows School of the Arts


Robert Gregory

Professor of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences


Heather DeShon

Department Chair and Professor of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences


Edward Glasscock

Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences


Nicos Makris

Addy Family Centennial Professor in Civil Engineering, Lyle School of Engineering


Austin Baldwin

Department Chair and Professor of Psychology, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences


Devin Matthews

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences


Ruben Habito

Professor of World Religions and Spirituality, Perkins School of Theology


Barbara Hill Moore

Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Professor of Voice, Meadows School of the Arts


Rita Kirk

Professor of Corporate Communication and Public Affairs, Meadows School of the Arts

William F. May Endowed Director, SMU’s Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility


“When our faculty receive high-profile
fellowships, society memberships,
leadership positions and honorifics, it
demonstrates the expanding scope of
our impact. SMU’s faculty are truly world
changers in their fields – at the local,
national and international levels.”

Elizabeth G. Loboa
SMU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow
2023 Fall/Winter 2023

Hungry for change


A significant amount of food is wasted every year, but what if there were an affordable technology that could give a much closer sense to how far food is from spoiling than a freshness date? A tiny pH sensor may hold the answer.

“The pH sensors have long been used commercially, but ours is small, disposable and flexible to be integrated with circuits – and much cheaper,” says Khengdauliu Chawang ’24, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering at the Lyle School of Engineering who developed the sensor. “The ones presently in the market, I would estimate, cost $100 to $2,000.”

Higher pH levels mean food is increasingly moving toward going bad, but not all foods have the pH, she explains. “Fruit juice, for example, is usually more on the acidic side,” Chawang says. “The biggest challenge for this is that pH sensors are very calibration-dependent, so they need to adjust, for example, to viscosity. Even liquid-based foods have different viscosities.”

The idea of the sensor, which is 10 millimeters wide and 2 millimeters in length, is that when it passes different points in food distribution, the pH level could be tracked to monitor its present freshness. The sensor has been tested successfully thus far on fish, berries and many liquid-based foods. Chawang saw firsthand the effects of food waste growing up in Nagaland, India, and hopes the sensor will improve the situation globally. “This is something thatmaybe can contribute to many communities hurting in the world,” she says. “Wasted food has sad consequences.”

There are other potential applications, as well. One is research in electronic bandages.

“The idea here is to integrate sensors to study wound status because a wound condition is also directly correlated with pH level,” Chawang says. “If a wound is healed, then the pH level gets more acidic.”

Another potential application is to monitor sepsis, a large, potentially life-threatening response to infection.

“The blood becomes infected and spreads throughout. The problem with today’s medical diagnostics is the diagnosis is usually too late because it has spread over your muscle and tissue and your entire body is infected with virus,” she says.

“There are indicators in research that show blood pH level changes before it spreads into your tissue – the sensor could possibly make a difference before it’s too late.”

2023 Fall/Winter 2023

A new era


The energy was palpable as students, alumni, athletes, donors, staff and faculty gathered in the Armstrong Fieldhouse to celebrate. A cloud of red and blue confetti filled the air.

The Mustang Band played Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now while the pom squad and cheerleaders danced along. The rumors had proven true: SMU was joining the Atlantic Coast Conference by invitation.

“We’re finally back where we belong,” said SMU Board Chair David B. Miller ’72, ’73 to a cheering crowd on September 1. “I firmly believe that the conference just got stronger – a lot stronger – with the addition of the SMU Mustangs.”

But the celebration wasn’t just confined to those who found themselves in Armstrong Fieldhouse that Friday afternoon. The buzz online generated a reach of 13 billion, including 526 million impressions.

In just three days, SMU experienced a 103% increase in visitors to the undergraduate admissions homepage – people were talking.

“As a child who was born into being an SMU fan in 1988, this is lifechanging,” Andrew Conwell ’11, ’17 shared via Instagram. Sara McKenna ’03, another proud Mustang, commented on LinkedIn: “It’s about time!!”

SMU will officially join the conference on July 1, 2024, while the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University will follow on August 2. The ACC boasts 15 members, including Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

Founded in 1953, the conference is in its 71st year of competition and enjoys a reputation as one of the strongest and most competitive intercollegiate conferences in the country. ACC schools have won 173 NCAA team championships, 196 NCAA men’s individual titles and 181 NCAA women’s individual titles. And now, SMU is taking its place within this esteemed conference.

“From early on in my tenure here on the Hilltop, we had a vision to reestablish SMU Athletics as a nationally recognized and relevant program, one to complement our outstanding academic reputation,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner.

“In addition to its influence on our Athletics programs, being formally associated with the outstanding academic institutions in the ACC will also be beneficial to the academic community of SMU.”

Over the past decade, all of SMU’s 17 athletic programs have reached postseason, and 15 of those programs have won conference championships.

Since 2013, SMU has invested over $250 million to develop and enhance championship-caliber facilities.

“We have a great story to tell institutionally and athletically,”

SMU Director of Athletics Rick Hart told the crowd at the announcement celebration.

“If you want to accomplish big things, you ride with the Mustangs. I’m blessed every day to ride with the Mustangs.”

And it didn’t take long to accomplish some of those big things.

In just seven days, a group of 30 donors, including trustees and key supporters, raised an unprecedented $100 million to support the transition to the ACC. This first effort launched a drive for all Mustangs to financially support SMU’s move to the ACC.

“When we announced on September 1 that SMU would be joining the ACC, I was highly confident that we would be able to cover the cost of the transition into what is one of the top three collegiate athletic conferences in the country,” said Miller. “To be able to raise this level of support in such a short period of time is astounding.”

Donations aren’t the only way fans are showing their excitement. Just two weeks after the announcement, men’s basketball season ticket sales jumped by 30%, and hundreds of new football season tickets were sold.

“The news has energized not just our fan base, but the Dallas community,” said Hart.

2023 Alumni Fall/Winter 2023

Normalizing kindness one coffee cup at a time

If you walk out of a La La Land Kind Cafe satiated by the bet coffee of your life, the cafe’s founder and CEO will say, “That’s an utter failure.”

Certainly, Francois Reihani, the 27-year-old entrepreneurial visionary behind the café chain – with 11 stores spanning Texas and California – wants customers to enjoy their sip of choice. However, it’s kindness over coffee that he and his dedicated team aim to brew from the heart.

“We really truly believe [that] when you do the right thing with the right intention, magic happens,” Reihani says.

When Reihani arrived in Dallas in 2016 to study business at SMU after transferring from the University of Southern California, he says he was “focused on building something – I saw opportunity.”

Reihani co-founded a poké restaurant in West Village, and while the business found success, he realized something was missing.

“The human connection is so important,” he says. “And at the end of the day, all we were doing was serving raw fish.” Reihani’s guiding question became:“How do you normalize kindness?”

His answer: La La Land Kind Café, a café committed to, in addition to spreading kindness, hiring and mentoring foster youth. The first location opened in 2019 in a 100-yearold house on Bell Avenue in Dallas.

“From the moment we opened, the people proved the concept,” he says.

In four years, the café’s growth has exploded, now boasting 11 locations, including Houston and Los Angeles, with plans for more on the way.

Notably, the spike in stores occurred during a global pandemic and, perhaps even more impressive, all that growth has been achieved without the company ever paying for a single ad.

A worthwhile investment

In June 2023, La La Land Kind Café announced it had received a $20 million investment from two SMU graduates: John Phelan ’86, cofounder and chairman of Rugger Management LLC, and Andy Teller ’86, a private investor.

The path to such a significant investment – which is expected to yield expanded operations and new locations throughout the United States – all began, ironically, with a cup of coffee. In 2022, Teller began receiving frequent notifications on his phone showing that his daughter, Cameron Teller ’21, ’22, was a devoted La La Land customer; he was clued in by her credit card transactions linked to his phone. Curious to see what could be so special to warrant his daughter’s repeat business, Teller visited the location on West Lovers Lane in Dallas. As he was leaving, he received a call from his son, Preston Teller ’21 – who was friends with Reihani when both attended SMU.

When Teller casually mentioned where he was, Preston informed him Reihani was the man behind the café chain. This led to Andy Teller and Reihani being engrossed in a three-hour conversation.

“Andy was so passionate about our mission,” Reihani recalls.

Prioritizing what matters

Given La La Land’s surge of success, Reihani says he has fielded many investment offers, including amounts higher than the $20 million investment now in place.

“This business has never been focused on the numbers,” he says. “We didn’t want big venture capitalists to come in with their normal tactics. … We never wanted to be controlled, being told what to do away with this and do away with that. Those offers were rejected immediately.”

Teller introduced Reihani to Phelan, and the three engaged for several months, threaded by the “cool bond,” as Reihani calls it, stemming from the Mustang connection.

“La La Land Kind Cafe is raising the standard of what we should expect from companies,” Phelan said in a statement. “A business can give back, care about the community and serve high-quality products while being profitable.”

The café chain also weaves in another passion of Reihani’s: the nonprofit he founded in 2016, the We Are One Project, whose mission is to provide the right tools for businesses to come together and employ foster youth. With La La, which funds the nonprofit, he is able to fully realize his vision to empower youth and young adults who have aged out of the foster care system and provide them job training and employment, and especially, a kind community to feel secure.

“We’re building to make something special – not building to sell,” Reihani says. “It’s about how we, as a brand, can deepen human connection.”

2023 Fall/Winter 2023

Lessons for living

Rich and Mary Templeton sit at the dining room table of their home, which serves as a central gathering place for their extended family, bantering easily as they reflect on how – and why – they became some of the most passionate supporters of SMU and the Lyle School of Engineering.

The sciences have long been a passion for both Rich and Mary – they met at Union College, a private liberal arts school in New York that they recalled felt a lot like SMU.

When they married in 1987, Mary was a financial analyst for General Electric and Rich was starting his career with Texas Instruments. He became president of TI’s semiconductor business from 1996 through 2004. He was president and chief executive officer of TI from 2004 through March 2023 and continues to serve as chairman of the board.

The couple has given generously over the past decade to support education and research at Lyle, but the family connection with SMU began in 2008 when Rich joined the SMU Board of Trustees, where he now serves as vice chair. He is vice chair of the Lyle School of Engineering Executive Board and served on the Cox School of Business Executive Board.

The Templetons celebrate a landmark gift to the Lyle School of Engineering.

They’re bullish on the Lyle School because its students graduate with skills that enhance a traditional engineering degree.

“The breadth of classes students are required to take, the variety of students they meet and the projects they undertake make them well prepared for a work environment,” Rich says. What’s more – it prepares them to lead, he says.

It’s the liberal arts tradition at SMU that makes the difference, they believe, having experienced it at Union College and through the eyes of their own family members. Their son Jim graduated in 2014 with an electrical engineering degree and earned an MBA in 2020.

His wife, Allison Hawks Templeton, also earned a degree in electrical engineering in 2014. Their nephew, William, earned an electrical engineering degree in 2016, while his brother, Charles, earned an MBA in 2023.

“My feelings for SMU were enriched by Jim’s positive experience, both academically and socially,” Mary says. “His friends are still involved in our lives.”

The Templetons have given more than $30 million to the Lyle School, creating an endowed research fund, the Mary and Richard Templeton Centennial Chair in Electrical Engineering, and an endowed deanship. Most recently they have funded scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellowships to increase the school’s research capacity.

But they’ve been equally generous in sharing their life lessons – delivering a joint Commencement address in 2016 that explored the hard lessons they learned after Mary was paralyzed in 2013 after she was hit by a rogue wave during a family beach vacation.

“If you asked me for the list of personal characteristics that I believe are crucial must-haves, resiliency is now among the top few. I learned that from my wife,” Rich told the graduates. “Her resiliency reinforced mine and the kids’. It made us more aware, appreciative, stronger, and I think it made us better.”

Mary candidly described her emotions and actions after the accident: “Deal with it, start with small steps, and get on with it,” she said. She also challenged the graduates to build their own resilience by focusing on others and “leaving everything you touch or person you meet a little better than you found them.”

Her words – and their impact – came back to her at the February 2023 event celebrating their most recent gift to the Lyle School. One of the guests approached her at the end of the event, carefully keeping his distance because he was receiving chemotherapy for cancer. He’d been in the audience attending his daughter’s graduation when the Templetons spoke.

“When I got sick several years ago, I looked up my notes on your speech,” he told Mary. “I’ve read them many times, particularly about taking small and steady steps each day. Thank you for giving that speech.”

It’s resiliency that carries you through challenges, Mary concluded.

“You’ll understand that life doesn’t end, but it does change. And sometimes those changes make you better in ways you never imagined.”

2023 Alumni Fall/Winter 2023

Achieving their goals


Getting Americans to refer to soccer as “futbol” may never happen in this lifetime, much to the dismay of fans of the world’s most popular sport.

The lesser-known futsal (or small-sided soccer) may be just unique enough, however, to get called by its proper name.

Futbol and futsal share many similarities, but the main difference has to do with team size, and also the location and equipment. Futsal teams feature four players and a goalie, whereas futbol requires 10 players and a goalie. Athletes compete on a hard court versus grass or turf, and the smaller ball used in futsal has more density than futbol’s sphere.

“Futsal is like playing basketball with your feet,” says Manuel Mariel ’09.

Together with his twin brother, Esteban Mariel ’09, Manuel Mariel came up with the idea to open City Futsal after their father, Federico, said they could use the sport as a training tool for youth development. They had already been leading soccer sessions to train kids, but without dedicated futsal courts in the region, the brothers transitioned their program’s focus and turned to area gyms to host.

Demand forced the brothers to find a permanent location, which eventually turned into three. The first two were indoor, and the most recent at Dallas Farmers Market is entirely outdoors. That turned out to be a saving grace for the family business during the pandemic when they had to close their indoor facilities. The outdoor farmers market location thrived because people could play futsal in a safer way.

“As a small business, you are used to having to pivot. The pandemic was a restart for us; we saw it as an opportunity to reallocate resources and move toward a different direction,” says Mariel.

To find creative solutions to their problems, Mariel took inspiration from his time at SMU.

The rigorous schedule of being a student-athlete and working at the same time he was attending school turned out to really help in making this concept a success.

“It was tough,” he says. “It’s not your typical college experience, but it does prepare you to work within teams, understand that there is a process in everything, and find out where you are the most valuable.”

City Futsal started as a family idea, and it continues in that tradition. Mariel is also joined by his sister, Ximena, and younger brother, Felipe, in addition to his twin brother and dad.

The Mariel family now has their sights set on opening two new facilities: in The Colony, Texas, this fall and in Richardson, Texas, at Dallas International School in early 2024.

2023 Fall/Winter 2023

A career for change


Esteemed human rights lawyer Amal Clooney joined the Mustang community to discuss her storied career advocating for the rights of marginalized people across the globe. Clooney came to the Hilltop as part of the renowned Louise B. Raggio Endowed Lecture series, which has hosted senators, first ladies, New York Times editors and Supreme Court justices, among other speakers.

Clooney met exclusively with Dedman Law students before taking the McFarlin stage with law school professor Natalie Nanasi to discuss the trajectory of her life and the power of lawyers to make positive change. Born in Lebanon, Clooney emigrated to the United Kingdom with her family to escape the ravages of the Lebanese Civil War at the age of 2. She attended the University of Oxford and then began her legal career in New York City, arguing cases that would change the world for the better – a fundamental function of the law, according to Clooney.

“I’m not a world leader … [I] don’t have the power to pass laws,” Clooney said. “But as a lawyer, there are things you can really do to make a difference to the people on the front lines.”