2017 Alumni Fall 2017 Features

How SMU Alumnae Built A School Culture To Change The Lives Of Girls

A bouncy tune booms in the background as little girls with hair adorned in bright bows, barrettes and beads swarm the elementary school gym. It’s time for Sisterhood Circle at Solar Preparatory School for Girls. For the next 15 minutes, a lively mash-up of movement, song, patriotism and affirmation kicks off the morning.
Students direct the all-school assembly, and on this April day, a kindergarten class runs the show. Each Wednesday is College Day, and the pint-size emcee polls her classmates about their aspirations: “I want to go to SMU and become a lawyer … doctor … archaeologist … teacher … coach.”
Beaming from the sidelines is Nancy Bernardino ’01, ’04, ’05. She’s the principal leading the new single-gender campus, a unique startup developed through the Dallas Independent School District’s Choice School program, a pitch contest of sorts for educators to sell the district on their plans for new public schools.
“Everything we do here is designed to prepare our students for life,” Bernardino says. “They’re learning to write code and problem-solve. They’re learning to express themselves and support one another. We’re seeing our students blossom and become confident young girls.”

HAIR BOWS, HUGS AND HAMMERS  It’s just another day in the life of Solar Preparatory School for Girls and Principal Nancy Bernardino as she makes her morning rounds, checking in on classrooms; pitching in as parents and students build lemonade stands, where students will learn about finance as they compete to sell the most beverages; and watching light bulbs flick on as students learn new concepts in the school’s makerspace. Pictured at the top of the page are the Simmons School alumnae leading Solar Prep: (from left) Olivia Santos ’05, ’16, instructional coach; Principal Bernardino; and Jennifer Turner ’16, assistant principal.

From the girl power celebration that jumpstarts each day to the fusion of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) curriculum with social and emotional learning (SEL), this model school equips girls with the academic abilities and daring they need to unlock their full potential.

GIRL CODE Students use Tinkercad to create basic 3D digital designs. Coding is part of the curriculum that builds tech literacy and nurtures STEAM interest.

Conversations about the “super school” started in 2014 when Bernardino, assistant principal Jennifer Turner ’16, teacher Cynthia Flores ’00, ’17 and instructional coach Ashley Toole ’16 worked together at John Quincy Adams Elementary School in Pleasant Grove, a modest neighborhood in southeast Dallas. Like any entrepreneurs seeking venture capital, the team had to formulate a viable idea, identify data to support their concept and devise a feasible plan that could withstand DISD’s rigorous vetting process.
“When we started looking at the greatest need at the elementary level, we found compelling research about girls losing their voice in the classroom by the time they reach fifth grade,” Bernardino explains. “I started thinking about my own experiences as a very shy student and how things changed for me.”
Bernardino was born in Mexico but has lived in Dallas since she was a year old. She grew up in East Dallas, not far from Solar Prep’s location on Henderson Avenue.
“Neither of my parents had a formal education,” she explains. “My mother wanted us to have career options that she never had.”
Even though they didn’t speak English, her parents regularly attended school functions – demonstrating to Bernardino the importance of parental engagement. Solar Prep sponsors both a parent-teacher association and a club for fathers and other important men in students’ lives.
Poised and self-assured with a quick wit and sunny smile, Bernardino admits she wasn’t always comfortable wearing a leadership mantle. Winning a scholarship to the The Hockaday School, the prestigious all-girls private school in Dallas, was “life-changing,” she says.
“I feel like I found my voice at Hockaday. It was an empowering environment. We learned to speak up for ourselves, and I became my own advocate.”
She used that voice as a “super involved” SMU student. She was active on the Program Council and with Mustang Corral, and she served as layout editor for The Daily Campus while studying public affairs and corporate communications at Meadows School of the Arts.
“It was a great program for me. I still rely on the research skills I developed and tools I learned to use,” she says. “Even graphic design skills, which I didn’t think I would use again, have come in really handy.”
In 2001 she became the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, a milestone that thrilled her parents. While working in SMU Student Activities, she completed a graduate certificate in dispute resolution and a master of liberal arts degree, both offered by SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. She went on to earn a master of education degree from Texas A&M–Commerce before joining DISD in 2005, where she served as a teacher, academic coordinator and assistant principal before becoming an award-winning school principal.
Currently a candidate for the Ed.D. in educational leadership at Simmons, Bernardino says, “We learn practices in class that we can then apply immediately to improve our schools.” For example, a discussion about character-building and core values sparked the idea for the backbone of Solar Prep’s social- emotional learning component: the “Solar Six.” Students explore and discuss curiosity, self-awareness, empathy, humility, leadership and grit.
Simmons School programs also profoundly influenced Solar Prep’s assistant principal Turner and instructional coach Olivia Santos ’05, ’16. Both received master’s degrees in educational leadership with a specialization in urban school leadership.

MAKERSPACE A Lego wall sparks the imagination and encourages collaborative discovery in a space dedicated to hands-on creativity and interdisciplinary learning.

“It was career changing,” Turner says. “It opened my eyes to the pivotal role school leaders can play in creating a learning environment that supports student achievement across the board.”
“Before I completed my master’s, I thought education was mainly about curriculum,” Santos says. “Now I see the importance of implementing systems and practices that create a culture where all students feel welcomed and valued and that support students of all backgrounds, helping those who need it the most get up to speed. Addressing our students’ needs as an entire school has tremendous impact.”
Bernardino embraces the Simmons mission to find evidence-based solutions and to “roll out our successes to benefit other schools.”
Solar Prep made its debut in August 2016 with 199 students in kindergarten through second grade from neighborhoods across Dallas. The school will add one grade level per year until students can complete eighth grade at Solar Prep. They will have the option of continuing their public education in an all-girls setting at DISD’s nationally ranked Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership Academy.
The new school exemplifies the district’s first attempt at a socioeconomically balanced campus, a decision informed by mounting evidence that achievement gaps can shrink when low-income children learn side-by-side with their affluent peers. By design, 50 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch and the other half do not.
The student body is also racially diverse, comprising 51 percent Hispanic, 22 percent black, 22 percent white, 2 percent Asian and 3 percent other races.
Perhaps its most unusual pioneering step is a partnership with Girl Scouts of the USA. Solar Prep is the only public school in the nation to enroll all students in the organization. Once a week, as part of the regular school day, teachers become scout leaders as students focus on activities to earn badges in such areas as financial literacy, computers, inventing and making friends. The program ties to an extended day schedule adopted so that all students can benefit from enrichment activities.
Bernardino already sees signs that Solar Prep is living up to its ambition as an incubator for postmillennial trailblazers.
When an academically gifted student who is not athletically inclined joined the track team, Bernardino cheered. “We want students to push themselves because they know that even if something doesn’t work out, all of us – teachers and students – will help them push through it and figure it out.”
By the way, that little girl exceeded expectations.
“She didn’t do well in the 100-meter race, but she placed second in the 200 meters,” Bernardino recounts. “Afterward, she said, ‘See, I knew I just needed more time, and I would get there.’”
– Story by Patricia Ward and photography by Kim Leeson

2017 Fall 2017 News

To Our Readers: A Great Time To Be On The Hilltop

As the University makes final preparations for the arrival of new students and the start of fall classes August 21, I am more excited than ever about the opportunities ahead – for the Class of 2021 and for the University as a whole.
We invite you to be a critical part of all the great things that will happen on the Hilltop in the months ahead.
Our new students join peers from every U.S. state and more than 90 countries around the world. On the Hilltop, new first-year students will immediately find a home away from home in their Residential Commons. Read “Uncommon Life” to see what that experience will be like as they interact with peers who represent a cross-section of the student body and with Faculty in Residence who take an interest in their well-being, academically and socially.
The new students will be joined by new faculty members and administrators: new deans for the Cox School of Business and Simmons School of Education and Human Development, the University’s first-ever associate provost for continuing education, and new leaders for student affairs and information technology.
These outstanding leaders and their peers across SMU will enhance the abilities of our students and faculty to work together across disciplines to create new fields of knowledge and address tough problems. For examples of ways in which they change the world, read about the groundbreaking community partnerships forged by Meadows School of the Arts and the entrepreneurial alumnae who created an innovative all-girls school in Dallas.
The unique opportunities SMU offers students, faculty and alumni are only possible because of the ever-increasing generosity of donors. That is why we started the exciting three-year initiative called Pony Power: Strengthening the Stampede to inspire more people to give every year to support current initiatives.
Your annual gift to the SMU Fund – which you can direct to broad areas such as the University’s greatest needs, scholarships or faculty, or to the highest priorities of a school, the libraries, Athletics or Student Affairs – enables you to be a critical part of all the great things that will happen on the Hilltop in the months ahead.
I hope you can see for yourself the incredible things happening at the University – by coming to campus for Homecoming November 2–4 or Family Weekend September 22–24; by attending an event across the U.S. for alumni, family and friends; by seeing a game or performance on campus; or by reading the stories SMU shares online through-out the year.
It is going to be a fantastic year, and we want you to be a part of it.
R. Gerald Turner

2017 Fall 2017 Features September 2017 Main

SMU Helps Shape Pioneering Community Production

How many people does it take to stage a performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest? When you’re using it as a way to forge new relationships across Dallas neighborhoods and community organizations, you’d have as many as 200 people, of whom only a handful were professional actors. And Meadows School of the Arts at SMU played a major role in bringing the event to fruition.
In late February, only one week before this musical version of The Tempest was scheduled to open, an evening rehearsal resembled controlled chaos. Director Kevin Moriarty, also Dallas Theater Center’s artistic director, raised his voice to be heard above the din coming from the rehearsal room on the ninth floor of the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas. Children of all ages (the youngest at 4), who were playing island spirits, squirmed in the staging area while their parents, seated in chairs that lined the sides of the room, chatted with one another.
Other ensemble members were still arriving from work after slogging through Dallas commuter traffic. SMU theatre alumnus Ace Anderson ’13, a member of Dallas Theater Center’s Brierley Resident Acting Company and one of only five professional actors in the cast, rushed in and polished off a fast-food dinner he had picked up on his way in.
Moriarty told the company to start with a banquet in Scene Six. Sitting next to him was Maria Calderon Zavala ’20, a first-year SMU theatre major from Mexico City, who translated into Spanish his directions for many of the adults and children in the ensembles. When words failed him, Moriarty moved to the center of the room and pantomimed his desires for the scene, reminding everyone that time was precious and repetition was necessary to get the movement right.
Not in the room were members of seven local arts groups whose performances would be inserted into the action, including flamenco dancers, an elementary school choir, a high school drumline, a brass band, Aztec dancers, a church choir and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Company, founded by SMU alumnus Joshua Peugh ’06.
An observer couldn’t help but wonder: With only one week left, could this become a polished performance?
‘Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On’
Seeds for the project were planted in 2015, when SMU presented the Meadows Prize to Lear deBessonet, director of Public Works – an initiative of The Public Theater that engages the citizens of New York City as theater creators as well as spectators, blurring the line between professional artists and community members.
In 2013, Public Works staged in New York’s Central Park a contemporary adaptation of The Tempest by Todd Almond, who transformed it with music and lyrics.
The Tempest is a 400-year-old play about magic, vengeance, forgiveness and redemption.
On a remote island the sorcerer Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place. Through illusion, he conjures up a storm to shipwreck on the island his usurping brother, Antonio, and the complicit King Alonso of Naples. His manipulations reveal Antonio’s treachery, the King’s redemption and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso’s son, Ferdinand.
For her Meadows Prize project, deBessonet spearheaded a new co-production of The Tempest between the Meadows School, which made a $200,000 commitment, and the Dallas Theater Center. Moriarty and Clyde Valentín – director of Meadows’ Ignite/Arts Dallas, an engagement initiative between SMU and the local arts community – had witnessed the New York performance. Moriarty said they wondered “if such a New York-specific idea could take root and flourish in Dallas.” Meadows School and SMU’s Ignite/Arts Dallas collaborated withDallas Theater Center to make Dallas the first city outside New York to develop its own version of Public Works.
Since 2015, SMU and Dallas Theater Center have built partnerships with five local organizations that support low-income and underserved populations in Dallas: Jubilee Park and Community Center, Vickery Meadow Learning Center, Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT), Bachman Lake Together and City of Dallas Park and Recreation. Local actors, including SMU theatre alumna Lydia Mackay ’08, and SMU theatre artist-in-residence Will Power led workshops and classes for the last half of 2016 to transform the five organizations’ community members into stage-ready performers.
“I knew this would be a challenging proposition for our respective institutions because it would require us to collaborate more closely than maybe we have in the past,” Valentín said. “I knew it would be a challenging proposition for the actual participants because we were going to work with people who had no real relationship or history with the Dallas Theater Center or the Arts District in general. And it would be a challenge to get our theater students involved in engaging and meaningful ways beyond performing on stage.”
Both Public Works Dallas and Valentín were committed to paying the SMU students who served as teaching artist assistants at the community centers and as production assistants and volunteer coordinators at the Dallas Theater Center. Valentín set aside Ignite/Arts Dallas funds for such a purpose and actively pursued additional gifts from SMU donors through the Mustangs Give Back one-day giving challenge.

‘Be Not Afeard’

Eleven SMU undergraduates worked on The Tempest. Some served as teaching assistants in the workshops that led up to the auditions for the performance. Others assisted on set, costume, hair and makeup design, and with the run crew and dance ensemble. Still others were volunteer and community coordinators. James Michael Williams ’18, who is earning an MA/MBA in Meadows’ arts management program, served as assistant to Dayron Miles, director of Public Works Dallas.
Sophomore theatre major Kassy Amoi ’19 worked with Will Power as a teaching assistant in storytelling and movement workshops at Literacy Instruction for Texas, and during the performances led the sand spirits ensemble.
“Will and Kassy gently involved every single student to bring out hidden talents that even our students didn’t know they had,” said SMU alumna Lisa Hembry ’75, LIFT president and CEO. About 98 percent of LIFT’s students are adults who have learning differences such as dyslexia and ADHD and have never learned to read, or adults who never graduated from high school and are studying to obtain their high school equivalency certificates. As a result, Hembry says, “LIFT’s students are always wary when it comes to working with new people because generally they have suffered embarrassment, ridicule and bullying their entire lives.”
Amoi, who had previously worked on reading programs with children, discovered that working with adults who have literacy issues was very different. “Many were severely shy. I had to learn how to explain things a bit better, and in a more positive and reinforced way,” he said. “I found that while many of them weren’t experienced in school, a lot were experienced in life, with inspired, powerful stories.” Amoi took pride in the fact that one of his students, Felisha Blanton, was cast in the supporting role of Sebastia. “She’s a natural comedienne, and took on the role fully and openly. She went from being unsure in the room to being completely comfortable with what she had to say while on stage. It was nice to see her blossom.”
Volunteer coordinator Kaylyn Buckley ’17, who graduated in May with a degree in theatre studies with concentrations in stage management and directing, thought working with The Tempest in a managerial capacity would provide real-world applications to her studies. She began work in November and visited each of the centers during auditions, collaborated with all department heads to evaluate their volunteer needs, communicated with Public Works Dallas as she developed the architecture of the volunteer program and recruited volunteers from the SMU community.
“I’d never participated in anything like this – I’m not sure that anyone outside of Public Works has,” Buckley said. “It’s truly a beast unlike anything else.”
Dallas Theater Center resident company actor Liz Mikel performs the role of Ariel.
Members of the Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Company, founded by SMU alumnus Joshua Peugh ’06, perform during the wedding scene.
Alex Organ as the monster Caliban plots with clowns Ace Anderson (right) and Rodney Garza against Prospero.
“It’s not just managing 200 cast members, 50-plus crew members and 100-plus volunteers, but also being acutely sensitive to how you’re saying things, the experience you’re creating and navigating a language barrier,” she explains. “You want to cultivate a positive experience for cast members who have never been involved in the arts, many of whom have learning disabilities, are not native English speakers and who are living in poverty. I’d have to be very direct, forward and efficient with 28 Junior League members simultaneously looking to volunteer, then immediately modify my tone and delivery as soon as a cast member approached.”
Theatre/theatre studies major Christina Sittser ’17, who also graduated in May, gained performing experience in her native St. Louis before coming to SMU, attracted by numerous scholarships. For The Tempest, she served as a teaching assistant for acting classes at Bachman Lake Together and at Jubilee Park and Community Center, and during the performances was captain of the water spirits. “I really loved the work. I saw kids so shy at first that they would keep their faces down. It was beautiful to watch them grow as actors and open up more. I didn’t understand that at the end of the show I would leave pieces of my heart behind with these people. It made me think more about the role of community in theater. Listen to what people in the community want and need and then incorporate that into theater.”
‘Our Revels Now Are Ended’
SMU theatre alumnus Ace Anderson ’13 played the clown role of Trinculo.
When the opening performance on March 3 began, the Wyly had been transformed into a remote island, all the performances flowed seamlessly and the production worked like magic. Audiences were astounded by a type of community performance never seen before in Dallas. Theater Jones critic David Novinski described it as “the ‘you had to be there’ theatrical event of the year.”
Valentín said the success of the show was not just in what audiences saw but also what they couldn’t see: the interactions, bonding and trust-building at the community centers. “It shows what’s possible when you take this large-scale participatory theater approach, treating it as you would any other show in the Dallas Theater Center season that requires the same level of quality, rigor and diligence. We did it! We proved that we can create exceptional, high-quality art with nonprofessionals alongside professionals in a nurturing, safe environment for all those participants, so the space and work truly will begin to feel like it’s theirs. And, it was my hope that our students were transformed by this project as well. What we were able to create for those five weeks was truly exceptional.”
SMU and Dallas Theater Center will use the same model and continue the relationship with the community centers for the next Public Works Dallas production, Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, to be staged in September 2018. At that time, Sam Weber ’18 – a Dedman College Scholar majoring in biological sciences, health and society, and chemistry – will be busy applying for medical school but hopes to return as a dance assistant fellow.
“Working with Public Works Dallas is one of the best experiences I’ve had in college,” Weber said. “I’d grown up doing theater and I’ve taught dance and choreography to non-dancers before, so that wasn’t a big shock. But meeting all the extraordinary people and hearing their stories was so special. It was really motivating to work with people who had never done performance art before, but got it; they understood movement and narrative. It really reaffirms how art is truly innate in all people.” Before the final production of The Tempest, director Kevin Moriarty stepped on stage to address the audience. He noted the monumental effort from numerous entities to bring the project to fruition and thanked SMU for its collaboration and support. He said, “Shakespeare belongs to all of us, not only a select few. Our city is at its best when all of us have the opportunity to create, and we are at our strongest and most joyful when we come together.”
– Story by Susan White ’05 with photography by Kim Leeson, unless otherwise credited

Public Works Dallas: A review and panel discussion of research findings from the pilot year

Read more:

2017 Fall 2017 Features

Inside the world of SMU’s Residential Commons

Life in the Residential Commons is never dull. Just ask David Son, professor of chemistry in Dedman College, and wife Heidi – or take a look at photos and memories from a year at Boaz Commons. In 2014, David Son was named Boaz FiR and the 61-year-old residence hall was retrofitted with an apartment that houses the couple and their children, Geoffrey, 14, and Kaylee, 11.
The Sons believe so strongly in the Residential Commons model for living and learning at SMU that they sold their home in Plano to move to campus. And they say they’ve never looked back.
Besides serving as guides to University life, the Sons have been called upon to: pull a splinter from a toe; help light the charcoal in a grill on the Boaz patio; iron a shirt for a tennis player; lend tools; and take a student with a split forehead to the emergency clinic. Basically, they serve as parental figures.
The Sons say Boaz community activities often revolve around food – from “Son-day” night snacks to weekly “family” dinners with students to Korean BBQ night and cookouts on the new Boaz patio.

Uncommon Life photos by Guy Rogers III and Hillsman S. Jackson

In The Thick Of Campus Activities

The Sons participate in many events outside of Boaz – from The Boulevard to Homecoming to intracommons competition. And they aren’t immune to visits from SMU’s famous squirrels.

Enjoying The Comforts Of Home
To help make students feel at home, the Sons host a family meal every Wednesday night in their Boaz apartment, in which a few residents are guests. David Son says that saying grace before each meal is part of the tradition. During the holidays, residents decorate with homey seasonal touches – and creative signage.
“B” Is For Boaz

Like all SMU Residential Commons, Boaz has its own crest. The stars represent the five founding Commons team members as well as the community’s five guiding values: mentorship, community, compassion, integrity and zeal. Each RC also has an official pin, which new residents receive at a special pinning ceremony. Boaz held its pinning ceremony in September.

Let The Games Begin!
With 184 residents, Boaz may be the smallest Residential Commons, but the Sons say it’s one of the tightest. To prove the point, Boaz students won the Commons Cup for 2017 by attending SMU athletic events, participating in community service and competing in the Residential Commons Olympics.

#Corral: The Res Commons Comes to Life

The new academic year is off to a great start! Watch the Hilltop spring to life as new students experience the excitement of move-in day, the tradition of Opening Convocation and all the merriment in between in this collection of videos and photos that capture the spirit of Mustang Corral, August 16–20.

SMU Campus Gets Ready!

Move In Day 2017

Discover Dallas 2017

A Night at the Club

SMU Class of 2021 Photo

SMU Rite of Passage

SMU Opening Convocation

Typewriter Poet

SMU Solar Eclipse

“Evicted” Author Visits SMU

Move In Day

Discover Dallas

Camp Corral

Rotunda Passage and Opening Convocation


Fall 2017 Features News

The Domino Effect: Creating A Chain Reaction Of Achievement

Annual gifts for current use power every part of the University. An investment in study-abroad programs combines with a scholarship gift and another for hands-on learning projects, and suddenly donors have given a world-class educational opportunity to students who might not otherwise afford them. Gifts to research labs link to investments in academic centers and community partnerships, and the combined impact can reveal new solutions to pressing problems. Take a look at how chains of gifts strengthen SMU, and read more about Pony Power – the SMU stampede for current-use gifts.
Real-World Research
Annual support for scholarships and undergraduate research creates unlimited possibilities. Patricia Nance ’17 discovered a mentor in Professor Patty Wisian-Neilson and a passion for research with life-changing potential. After graduation, it was on to a Ph.D. program in chemistry at Caltech. Read more.
Faculty Excellence
Novel Solutions
The SMU Fund propels academic centers and community engagement efforts that make possible hands-on projects such as Evie, an experimental mobile greenhouse developed by students at the Hunt Institute for Engineering to help low-income communities access fresh produce. Read more.
Academic Programs
Community Engagement
Hands-On Learning
Powerful Partners
University-led collaborations sustained by the SMU Fund uplift, inspire and improve communities. From Ignite/Arts Dallas’ free Shakespeare performances to The Budd Center’s research and resources for improving West Dallas’ neediest schools, SMU’s efforts transform lives every day.
Community Engagement
Hands-On Learning
Academic Programs
Living and Learning
A vibrant campus life fueled by annual gifts drives students’ growth and achievement. Their lasting friendships and lifelong memories start with the Residential Commons experience, while leading-edge facilities and services dedicated to health and academic fitness keep them on track for success. Read more.
Campus Communities
Facilities & Technology
Student Support Services
Global Approach
SMU Abroad and other programs funded by annual giving open up a world of learning opportunities for students like Sabrina Janski ’16, ’17. She completed an internship in Seville, Spain, before earning a master’s degree in accounting and landing a job with PwC. See video at
Global Perspectives
Hands-On Learning
Student Support Services

Fall 2017 Features

Meet The SMU Students Behind The Dallas Poke Craze

Credit SMU undergraduates Brandon Cohanim and Francois Reihani for importing Dallas’ latest food craze. Spurred by entrepreneurial cravings and an eye for trends, the California transplants opened Pōk the Raw Bar in January, the city’s first restaurant focused on poke (pronounced poh-kay), a raw fish salad with Hawaiian roots.
Located in the prime Uptown neighborhood, the sleek dining destination is more than just a business to Cohanim and Reihani. It’s also a platform for their “Imagine X Inspire” social impact project, which they launched through SMU’s Engaged Learning program.
Their idea for a job-training program for teens on the cusp of aging out of the foster care system won a $5,000 award at an international business plan competition in April.
“It’s not just about how many people we serve,” Cohanim says. “It’s also about how many people we help.”
Ready For A Big Night
The student restaurateurs welcomed SMU photographer Guy Rogers III behind the scenes shortly after the opening of their new hot spot in Uptown
While Dallas sushi legend Jimmy Park manned the raw bar, Brandon Cohanim and Francois Reihani prepped the staff on the details, including the fine art of matcha tea service.
Among their first guests was SMU Professor Simon Mak. Cohanim says Mak’s entrepreneurship class in the Cox School of Business “opened up our minds and helped us focus on our goals and strategy.”

Fall 2017

Welcoming SMU’s Olamaie Curtiss Graney Design Lab

The Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development dedicated in March the Olamaie Curtiss Graney Design Lab in Harold Simmons Hall. Olamaie G. Fojtasek and Randall S. Fojtasek ’85, ’90 (center) made a $1 million pledge to SMU, with $500,000 directed to the Design Lab and $500,000 for M.B.A. scholarships in Cox School of Business. Also at the ceremony were (from left) SMU Provost Steve Currall, President R. Gerald Turner and Simmons Interim Dean Paige Ware. Graney, Mrs. Fojtasek’s mother, was a public school teacher in Tennessee and Mississippi. In the lab, education students use technology to develop unit and lesson plans and technology applications to support student learning.

2017 August 2017 Fall 2017 News

SMU launches Pony Power initiative

Building on unprecedented accomplishments over the past decade, SMU has launched a three-year giving “stampede” focused on yearly investments that strengthen current efforts in every area of the University.
The drive, named Pony Power: Strengthening the Stampede, sets a goal to raise an average of $50 million a year in current-use gifts from June 1, 2017, to May 31, 2020, for a total of $150 million.
SMU President R. Gerald Turner provided a preview of the stampede to a gathering of the University’s key supporters during Founders’ Day weekend in April.
“The national universities with which SMU now competes have endowments two to three times the size of ours,” Turner said. “Annual fund gifts that bring immediate assistance to enhance what is happening at SMU today enable the University to ‘fight above its weight class’ as its endowment continues to grow.”
A committee of volunteer leaders representing academic schools and constituencies is leading Pony Power. The stampede is chaired by SMU trustees Caren H. Prothro and Carl Sewell ’66, with honorary chairs Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler ’48, Michael M. Boone ’63, ’67, Robert H. Dedman, Jr. ’80, ’84, Gerald J. Ford ’66, ’69, Ray L. Hunt ’65 and David B. Miller ’72, ’73.
Other representatives on the committee include Douglas Smellage ’77, chair of the SMU Alumni Board; Connie ’77 and Chris O’Neill, co-chairs of the SMU Parent Leadership Council; Paul Grindstaff ’15, president of the SMU Mustang Club; Fredrick Olness and Jennifer Jones, co-chairs of SMU Faculty and Staff Giving; SMU Student Giving representative Madison M. Zellers ’18.
Additional committee members include representatives from each school’s executive board: Kirk L. Rimer ’89, Cox School of Business; Jon J. Altschuler ’94, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences; James L. Baldwin ’86, Dedman School of Law; Michael G. Sullivan ’85, ’91, Lyle School of Engineering; Marvin B. Singleton ’89, Meadows School of the Arts; Dodee F. Crockett ’03, Perkins School of Theology; and Richard H. Collins ’69, Simmons School of Education and Human Development.
Pony Power represents a fantastic opportunity for donors and non-donors alike to enhance new initiatives created in recent years – and empower the University to take advantage of new opportunities as they emerge,” Prothro said. “Increasing our investment in these areas will ensure that SMU expands its ambitions and impact.”
Sewell said, “Peggy’s and my support for scholarships to SMU is one of the most rewarding things we have ever done. Current-use gifts fuel student scholarships and fellowships, faculty research and every area of the student experience. If thousands of donors join together to give $50 million each year, SMU can outperform traditional academic powers when it comes to attracting outstanding students, charting new fields of knowledge and solving complex problems.”
To encourage others to experience for themselves the benefits of consistent, increased giving for current use, one strategy SMU will employ is the expanded SMU Fund, which provides flexible support for key priorities and emerging opportunities. SMU Fund donors will be able to designate their gifts to broad areas such as SMU’s greatest needs, scholarships and faculty; to the highest priorities of a school or the libraries; or to campus experiences through Athletics or Student Affairs.
Brad Cheves, vice president for Development and External Affairs, said, “Expanding the SMU culture of annual giving and encouraging donors to commit to extend their annual gifts over a three-year period helps every school and unit plan its efforts to address the University’s strategic priorities.”
To learn more about Pony Power and see a video about the impact of current-use gifts, visit

2017 Fall 2017 News

Meadows Makeover: Joneses’ Gift To Transform Entrance, Launch Renovation of Owen Arts Center

Reflecting their passion for connecting the arts to the community through public spaces, Gene and Jerry Jones have committed $5 million to transform the east entrance to SMU’s Owen Arts Center along Bishop Boulevard, providing a new gateway and venue for student performances and community gatherings.
The Joneses’ commitment will be matched by a $5 million grant from The Meadows Foundation, Inc., generating a total of $10 million to create the Gene and Jerry Jones Grand Atrium and Plaza. The gift launches a $30 million, first-phase initiative to modernize all four floors on the north side of the largest academic structure on campus, which houses Meadows School of the Arts.
The Meadows Foundation provided a $10 million matching grant for the Owen Arts Center renovation project as part of its historic 2015 commitment of $45 million to SMU, creating an incentive to attract donors for the project.

We are proud to invest in nurturing young artists and connecting them with the broader community, both of which the Meadows School successfully achieves. – Gene Jones

Gene Jones is a civic and philanthropic leader, a supporter of the arts and the driving force behind the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Art Collection at AT&T Stadium and The Star. She serves on the Meadows School executive board and the John Goodwin Tower Center board of directors, and is a former member of the SMU Board of Trustees. Jerry Jones is owner, president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys.
“Anyone who has experienced the wonderful artworks that fill AT&T Stadium and The Star has seen that the Joneses have a personal commitment to sharing the arts,” said President R. Gerald Turner. “They are extending their generous support to the Meadows School of the Arts to provide a beautiful gathering space for those attending community events and performances of our outstand-ing students.”
The Gene and Jerry Jones Plaza will feature beautiful landscaping and walkways, and will be ideal for outdoor performances, classes and events.
The enclosure and integration of the east-side outdoor courtyard and expansion of the Bob Hope Theatre Lobby will create the 4,300-square-foot Gene and Jerry Jones Grand Atrium with lofty ceilings and expansive glass. Other features of the renovation project will create and improve academic spaces for the visual arts, art history and creative computation programs.
“Renovation of the Owen Arts Center will transform the environment in which our students and faculty study and create visual art,” said Meadows Dean Samuel S. Holland. “Our aim is to create spaces that will inspire and foster creativity, attract current and future generations of artists, and solidify the Meadows School’s place among the city’s top five arts and cultural institutions.”
For more information, contact the Meadows School of the Arts Office of Development at or 214-768-4421.

2017 Fall 2017 News

The Way Of The Servant Leader

Craig C. Hill joined SMU’s Perkins School of Theology as dean and professor of New Testament in July 2016 from Duke University Divinity School. Although his latest book, Servant of All: Status, Ambition, and the Way of Jesus (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2016), is aimed at church leaders, its lessons can be readily employed by people leading institutions, corporations and even nations – and, he told SMU Magazine with a hint of irony, by him as well.
What is a servant leader?
The term “servant leader” can seem like an oxymoron because we tend to view leaders as persons who dominate and command. By contrast, servants are typically located far down on the ladder of social status and influence. Parents don’t dream of raising their children to be servants. Nevertheless, choosing to engage in a lifetime of service requires a strong sense of personal identity. Ironically, egocentrism is a position of great weakness. If we constantly look to others for affirmation – in effect, to tell us who we are – we place ourselves in a chronically servile position. True service doesn’t come from a place of weakness but rather a place of strength.
Why did you use the foot-washing story found in John 13 to reflect Jesus’ thoughts about status and serving?
Throughout the Gospels, the disciples were the egocentric ones, always worrying about their relative position, competing with each other for status. In this story, Jesus is the only one in the room who truly knows who he is, who isn’t constrained by the opinions of others and, therefore, the only one free to serve. Jesus voluntarily assumed what was then considered the lowest task – that of washing the feet of others – to set an example of true leadership and true standing. Elsewhere when the disciples bickered over rank, Jesus said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). He didn’t say they must empty themselves of meaning or value, or that it is wrong to want to have a life of significance. Instead, he turned on its head the conventional understanding of where significance was to be found: through service, not supremacy. Those who lose themselves in something greater than themselves are the very ones who find themselves.
How does this correlate to positions of authority and power in today’s world?
Researcher and author Jim Collins observed that companies that have transitioned from “good to great” shared a common factor: their leaders didn’t have “larger than life” personalities, as one would expect, but were instead remarkably humble. Their CEOs weren’t focused on drawing attention to themselves but were laser-focused on the mission of the institution. They were unselfconsciously “self-forgetful,” putting their passion for the mission of the company ahead of themselves.
How do you apply this philosophy to your leadership of Perkins Theology?
I often reflect on the story of the “widow’s mite,” about a woman who gave a gift to the temple that everyone but Jesus regarded as insignificant. Jesus saw a person invisible to others and recognized the quality and depth of her sacrifice. It reminds me that the more prominent a position you’re in, the more people will likely recognize you, but also the more tempted you might be to overlook those less noticed whom God would honor ahead of you. Universities are typically hierarchical places, where staff can feel unseen and disregarded. I don’t want Perkins to be guilty of that. Everyone here is a partner in the mission of the school; everyone has a contribution to make.
How did you handle the irony of being named dean of Perkins Theology only months before your book on status and ambition was published?
That put me in an awkward and rather humorous position. It was somewhat safer tackling this topic as a professor. Moreover, the book made a few explicit references to theological school deans. Rather than expunge these, I retained them as an inside joke at my own expense. On a more serious note, it made me all more conscious of the fact that the book contains essential lessons that I myself need to remember and to heed.

Alumni Fall 2017

SMU To Honor 2017 Distinguished Alumni, Emerging Leader

SMU will launch Homecoming Weekend 2017 by honoring four outstanding leaders in education, business and civic life at the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony and dinner on Thursday, November 2, on the historic Main Quad. Randy L. Allen ’73, Richard H. Collins ’69 and Albon O. Head, Jr. ’68, ’71 will receive 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards, and Lacey A. Horn ’04, ’05 will receive the Emerging Leader Award.
Randy L. Allen ’73 has been the head football coach at Highland Park High School since 1999. A 1973 graduate with a bachelor of arts in social studies, Allen attended SMU on a football scholarship and lettered in football and baseball. Climbing the high school ranks an assistant coach, Mr. Allen earned his first head coaching job in 1981 at Ballinger High School. After stops at Brownwood and Abilene Cooper, he led the Scots to state championships in 2005 and 2016. Read more
Richard “Dick” H. Collins ’69, a businessman and entrepreneur, is committed to making quality education available to all children. Collins graduated from SMU in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. A chairman of two commercial banks, real estate developer, wildcatter and media investor, Collins co-founded Istation in 1998. Istation is a global leader in education technology. He has served as its chairman and CEO since 2007. Read more
Albon O. Head ’68, ’71, a partner at Jackson Walker LLP in Fort Worth, is a four-year Mustang football letter winner. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history in 1968 and his juris doctor in 1971. He helped the Mustangs to the 1966 Southwest Conference Championship, and was co-captain of the 1968 Bluebonnet Bowl win over OU. He began his studies at the Dedman School of Law while serving as a graduate assistant coach in 1969 and 1970. Read more
Lacey A. Horn ’04, ’05, treasurer of the Cherokee Nation, is noted for her ability to find optimal solutions for ideal outcomes and making a difference in the governance of organizations and lives of people. Horn earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2004 and master of science in accounting in 2005. Beginning her career with Hunt Oil and KPMG Chicago as an auditor, she has been Cherokee Nation treasurer since 2011.
Read more

2017 Alumni Fall 2017

Mustangs score with the NBA

Newly minted graduates Semi Ojeleye ’17 and Sterling Brown ’17 were selected in the NBA draft on June 22, writing a new chapter in Mustang basketball history.
Ojeleye was selected 37th overall by the Boston Celtics and Brown was picked 46th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. It was the first time multiple Mustangs were tapped in the first two rounds, and the fourth time the Mustangs have had multiple picks in the draft.
Another Mustang standout, Ben Moore ’17, has agreed to a partially-guaranteed contract with the Indiana Pacers as an undrafted free agent.
Ojeleye capped his SMU basketball career as the first player in American Athletic Conference history to garner Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors. He graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
In a Boston Herald profile, writer Mark Murphy describes Ojeleye “as precisely the kind of swing forward the NBA now demands — a player agile enough to guard multiple positions, strong enough to rebound and defend power forwards and accomplished enough offensively to space the floor.”
Brown was named an NABC Division I College All-Star, All-American Athletic Conference Second Team and AAC All-Tournament in his final season with the Mustangs. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management with a minor in sociology from SMU.
On Behind the Buck Pass, the Bucks’ news and fan site, Brown is praised as “a standout shooter who is long enough to defend well in the NBA. For the Bucks, he should provide another shooter off the bench, which is something the team definitely needs.”
Brown and Moore are the all-time leaders in wins for the Mustangs.
Moore was a four-year player at SMU, with 1,214 career points. He became the 39th player in the program’s history to reach 1,000 points, which came on a dunk in the match against Temple on January 4.
Moore, Ojeleye and another SMU alumnus, Markus Kennedy ’16, were among the exciting young players showcased in the NBA Summer League in July.
Kennedy was signed by the Detroit Pistons following a season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets G-League team). While at SMU from 2013–16, he was twice named the American Athletic Conference Sixth Man of the Year. He scored 1,003 points during his SMU career.

2017 Alumni Fall 2017

SMU Hispanic Alumni honor alumnus, award scholarships

Jorge Baldor ’93 was honored with the 2017 Distinguished Hispanic Alumni Award presented by SMU Hispanic Alumni at the chapter’s annual awards celebration on April 27. SMU Hispanic Alumni also presented undergraduate scholarships to Carlos “Alex” Negrete ’18 and Victor Sanchez ’19. Guest speakers included SMU President R. Gerald Turner and Thomas DiPiero, dean and professor of World Languages and Literatures and English, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.
Baldor, pictured at the top of the page with Elizabeth Zamora ’12 (left), chair of SMU Hispanic Alumni, and Cynthia Villanueva ’00, past chair, graduated from SMU with a bachelor’s degree in history. He is co-founder of ResidentCheck, a national tenant background screening service.
An award-winning leader in business and civic affairs, Baldor was named Outstanding Latino Advocate in 2016 by D CEO magazine. He also has been recognized for his support of the Innocence Project and was named an “Amigo de Centroamerica” by Fundación Esquipulas, a nonprofit organization led by Vinicio Cerezo, the former president of Guatamala.
In 2015 Baldor co-founded the Latino Center for Leadership Development (Latino CLD), which strives to develop the next generation of leaders driven by thoughts, values and experiences that will improve the Latino community. Earlier this year, Latino CLD and SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies awarded nine research grants to support meaningful research geared to promoting a stronger understanding of the Latino community and creating a dialogue about key societal issues.
He serves on the executive board of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and as a commissioner-at-large on the City of Dallas’ Cultural Affairs Commission. He also serves on the boards of the Cisneros Center for New Americans, the World Affairs Council and the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce.
SMU Hispanic Alumni also honored scholarship recipients Carlos “Alex” Negrete ’18 of Carrollton, Texas, a business administration major in the Cox School of Business, and Cox finance major Victor Sanchez ’19 of San Antonio, Texas.

2017 Alumni Fall 2017 May 2017

Success started with a ‘no’

Dylan DeMuth ’17 started classes at the University of Texas School of Medicine in San Antonio in July. He credits a “no” from an SMU professor with changing his life and putting him on track for a career in medicine.
When DeMuth wanted to enroll Eric Bing’s global health class, the professor told the premed student that he was not yet qualified and offered a challenge: “Improve your grades and call me in a month.”
A sophomore chemistry and economics major with a 3.0 grade point average at the time, DeMuth sought tutoring before his midterm exams, instead of waiting until he was struggling with challenging science and math courses. He met with Bing, professor of global health and director of SMU’s global health program in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, a month later to report improvement on his midterm tests – the beginning of a mentorship that inspired DeMuth to re-choreograph his life.
DeMuth, determined to fulfill his passion for study and working in global health, followed Bing’s advice to develop a mission and find his strengths. He began each day with what Bing calls “10-10-10,” a daily practice of 10 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of meditating and 10 minutes of journaling.
When the opportunity to enroll in Bing’s global health class rolled around again, DeMuth was the first person admitted to the class.
With Bing’s encouragement, DeMuth has conducted his own global health research.
“Dylan is a natural. He understands people in a way he doesn’t yet realize,” Bing says. “Mentoring him is lighting a torch that someone once lit in me.”
Read more at SMU News.

Alumni Fall 2017

Black Alumni Of SMU Celebrate 2017 History Makers, Scholarship Recipients

By Leah Johnson ’15

It was a night of fun, food and fellowship as alumni, faculty, students and members of the community celebrated achievement at the sixth annual Black Excellence Ball on February 25. Black Alumni of SMU joined the Association of Black Students (ABS) to present “Mustang Masquerade.”
The program included remarks by SMU President R. Gerald Turner and keynote speaker Clint Smith, 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and doctoral candidate in education at Harvard University. The former high school English teacher is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship with research interests that include mass incarceration, the sociology of race and the history of U.S. inequality. His first book of poetry, Counting Descent, won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award.
Performances by SMU’s Voices of Inspiration Gospel Choir and dancers Kendall Lockhart ’19 and Takia Hopson ’19 ushered in the main event: recognition of the 2017 Black History Makers and Black Alumni Scholarship recipients as well as the ABS Legacy Award student and faculty honorees.


Mercury R. Hall ’98, ’03 made University history as the first African American to receive a master’s degree in applied economics from SMU. As an undergraduate, he played on the Mustang football team while earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Today the financial expert and sports entrepreneur serves as an assistant vice president on the trade settlement team at Markit, a global financial information, analytics and services company. He is also the founder and CEO of Mercury Universe, an online community and recruiting tool that enables young athletes to promote themselves to agents, coaches and fans.
In the community, Hall is involved with numerous charitable organizations including Meals on Wheels, Special Olympics and the Markit Social and Charity Committee. He also has served on the Richardson Corporate Challenge Board.
Contessa Hoskins ’09, a senior business engineering and operations consultant for Raytheon, has made her mark across the business spectrum in a wide range of industries, including petrochemicals, industrial commercial manufacturing, telecommunications, defense and aerospace, distributed control systems and automation and integration.
She is a certified Project Management Professional and Lean Six Sigma Certified Black Belt, a designation recognizing her expertise in helping companies improve performance and eliminate waste.
Hoskins has earned multiple awards for mentoring excellence, service, corporate performance and leadership and been profiled in numerous publications, including US Black Engineer and Beta Gamma Sigma honor society magazines.
She earned an MBA from the Cox School of Business and serves on the school’s alumni board.

Moses L. Williams, Jr. ’78, ’81, the first African American to obtain a Ph.D. in anthropology from SMU, founded an innovative education program in 1990 while director of admissions for Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
The program, which was  hosted by SMU for several years, trained minority students for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, beginning in seventh grade and continuing through college. One hundred percent of program participants attended college, 99 percent graduated and 92 percent completed the pipeline project before it ended in 2016.
Through the program, Williams has helped produce hundreds of minority physicians, scientists and engineers.


Autumn Langston ’17, a music therapy major and arts entrepreneurship minor, has served as director of the Voices of Inspiration Gospel Choir for three consecutive years. She also serves as treasurer for the Student Association of Music Therapy and parliamentarian for the Southwestern Region of the American Music Therapy Association for Students.

Lezly Murphy ’19 (left) and Autumn Langston ’17

After completing five semesters of clinical practicum at SMU and serving as an AmeriCorps member, she has developed a passion for working with youth and the psychiatric music therapy setting. Following her graduation in May, she will begin a six-month music therapy internship at a psychiatric hospital that serves children, adolescents and adults. She believes music has the power to heal and connect us all.
“The scholarship means opportunity,” Langston says. “It’s nice to feel appreciated and recognized. I’m grateful.”
Lezly Murphy ’19, a sophomore from Houston, is majoring in electrical engineering with a pre-medicine focus. A Hilltop Scholar, she has served as an assistant for professors in the physics and chemistry departments.
She is active in numerous campus organizations, including ABS, Women in Science and Engineering and Sisters Supporting Sisters, a service and support network for minority students and all women on campus.
After graduation, Murphy plans to attend medical school with the goal of conducting research in drug design, serving with Doctors Without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organization, and designing and reforming medical devices and methodologies.
Murphy said that after a tough semester, it was nice to receive encouragement through the scholarship.
“I’m very grateful,” she said. “This was a miracle and a blessing. I’m supposed to be here at SMU. This is my home.”
Marc Young ’96, chair, Black Alumni of SMU (center) with ABS student award recipients (from left) Gel Greene ’18, Naomi Samuel ’19, Cecily Cox ’18 and Raven C. Harding ’19.


Student honorees:

  • Naomi Samuel ’19, finance and English major, is a member of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc. and a resident assistant.
  • Raven C. Harding ’19, health and society and psychology double major with a minor in Spanish, serves on the executive board of Sisters Supporting Sisters and as president of the Belle Tones, a student-run, all-female a cappella group. She also has served as a resident assistant and a student ambassador. She was named Homecoming Princess for the inaugural Black Homecoming Court.
  • Gel Greene ’18, sports management major, is a member of the SMU Rowing team, SMU Cheer and Pom squads and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she plans to pursue a master of science in sports management at SMU.
  • Cecily Cox ’18, is a pre-law scholar who serves as chair of the Student Senate Diversity Committee, community service chair for Sisters Supporting Sisters and vice president of College Democrats. She is also an Engaged Learning fellow and has served as an intern for Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson ’76.

Faculty honoree:

Professor Maria Dixon (left) was honored by SMU’s Association of Black Students.

Maria Dixon Hall, associate professor of organizational communication and director of Corporate Communication and Public Affairs at Meadows School of the Arts, serves as the SMU Provost’s senior advisor for Campus Cultural Intelligence Initiatives. Professor Dixon Hall is passionate about helping organizations and nonprofits communicate in a way that creates results, community and transformation. She serves as the director of Mustang Consulting, an in-house firm staffed by top communication students, whose global client list includes Southwest Airlines (Dallas), The Dance Theatre of Harlem (New York), the Ugandan American Partnership Organization (Kampala/Dallas), The Lydia Patterson Institute (El Paso) and Lifeworks (Austin).
Dixon Hall maintains an active speaking schedule and is a frequent contributor to national media outlets such as TIME magazine and CNN on issues of race and education.
Recognized throughout her SMU career for her teaching and research, Dixon Hall has been honored with the 2005-06 Willis M. Tate award for service to the student body; the 2009 Golden Mustang Award for outstanding teaching and research by junior faculty; the 2010 Rotunda Award for Outstanding Teaching; and the 2011 “M” Award, SMU’s highest award for service to the University. In 2016, she was named an Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor by SMU’s Center for Teaching Excellence.