2021 Features News Spring 2021

Seismic-acoustic research awarded an earthshaking $18 million grant

SMU’s Brian Stump and his team will use the grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to continue their work of international nuclear disarmament and peacekeeping significance.
In 2008, when North Texas began experiencing strange underground rumblings in what historically has been a stable region of the country, curious reporters reached out to seismic detective Brian Stump, Albritton Professor of Earth Sciences at SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, to explain what was going on.
Once again, Stump is the center of attention as he and his team have been named the recipients of the largest research grant in SMU history. With the funding, the researchers will use a combination of acoustic and seismic waves to better distinguish between human-made events, such as nuclear tests, and nature’s bumps and jolts, like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
SMU’s seismo-acoustic analysis team has been doing this kind of work for over a quarter century. The team boasts other noteworthy experts in the field, including Stephen Arrowsmith, associate professor and Hamilton Chair in Earth Sciences; Chris Hayward, senior scientist in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences; and Paul Golden, director of the geophysics laboratory in earth sciences.
Using data from two seismic arrays in the Big Bend area of Texas and in Mina, Nevada, SMU scientists analyze data resulting from the acoustic and seismic waves that occur when nuclear weapons are detonated anywhere in the world. These stations, both in extremely quiet areas, record signals accompanying earthquakes and sometimes volcanic eruptions as well. The new funding allows this work to continue.
“In the cases of earthquakes and volcanoes, the waves provide new insight into the physical processes that accompany these natural events,” said Stump. “For human-induced events, the waves similarly allow us to locate the sources as well as the processes that accompany the events. An example is mining explosions at the Earth’s surface, which generate both seismic and infrasound signals that can be used to identify these activities.”
SMU seismologist Brian Stump and his team were awarded the largest research grant in SMU’s history, $18 million, for their work on monitoring the Earth’s acoustic and seismic waves.

2020 Fall 2020 Features

Rising to the challenge

Unprecedented and uncertain: these are the well-worn descriptors of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, it has also given us opportunities to be our best selves. SMU has met the challenges introduced by COVID-19 with innovation, creativity and resilience. In the midst of the pandemic, here are some of the ways that SMU has continued to be Mustang Strong.

Mustangs meet the pandemic head on

Meeting Growing Needs

In 2017, Owen Lynch, an assistant professor in the Division of Corporate Communication, started Restorative Farms, a self-sustaining nonprofit farm that not only grows food, but also trains and nurtures local urban farming professionals. When the pandemic hit, Restorative Farms quickly transitioned to selling box gardens, dubbed GroBoxes, online with the help of 14 SMU communications students.
“Through working with Restorative Farms, I have learned more about the intersection of giving back to a community and capitalism, and how business and service do not have to be mutually exclusive,” says student Palmer Beldy ’22.

Making Math Easier

For many parents trying to help their children with remote learning during COVID-19, panic set in – especially when math instruction was involved. That’s when Candace Walkington came to the rescue.
Walkington, a math education associate professor in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development, produced a series of videos targeting grades 3-8. She used hand-washing, neighborhood walks and other timely topics to make math fun and accessible. She even calculated the number of rubber bands needed to craft a cord to give a beloved Barbie doll the best bungee jumping experience. Watch the video and try it yourself.

President Turner Zooms In

When COVID-19 forced SMU to move to remote learning in the spring, President R. Gerald Turner missed seeing students on campus and decided to drop in on classes via Zoom.
During his visit to an intro to modern physics class, he asked the students if they had any questions he could answer. One quickly replied, “Would you like to come solve the Schrödinger wave equation, President Turner?”
“You know, if I didn’t have an appointment right after this, I would,” Turner responded with a laugh.

Musem Crafternoons

Even while closed during the pandemic, the Meadows Museum continued to act as a leading center for education and exhibition in Spanish arts and culture through its “Museum From Home” webpage of digital resources for anyone to access.
Among the video offerings was the Crafternoon series of weekly at-home art activities for all ages; a Culture Corner revealing insights into various aspects of Spanish culture; and Tiny Tours featuring deep dives into works of art. In addition, the Poest Laureate program provided a platform for SMU students to voice connections between visual art and poetry.

Free telehealth counseling

When times get tough, SMU’s Center for Family Counseling is there to help. Mandatory social distancing forced the clinic to offer remote counseling when patients could not visit in person. As clinic staff began to work with established clients via Zoom, they also realized that many individuals were now dealing with coronavirus-induced isolation and additional stay-at-home issues. That’s when they came up with a plan.
The clinic began offering free telehealth counseling for those struggling during COVID-19. It’s been so successful that even when in-person visits can resume, the clinic will continue to offer remote appointments.

Striking the right chord

Music therapy students in the Meadows School of the Arts found new ways to stay in tune with those they serve. They connected with clients weekly through HIPAA-compliant Zoom accounts and used live music, talking, singing, playing instruments and therapeutic movement to improve physical and mental health.
This new reliance on telehealth methods meant that students had to get creative. When Malley Morales ’22 discovered that some people she works with didn’t have musical instruments at home, she looked to her kitchen for inspiration and found that pots and spoons can become a drum kit in a pinch.

Q&A with Leigh Ann Moffett, SMU Director of Emergency Management

Leigh Ann Moffett, Director of Emergency ManagementEven for someone as experienced as Leigh Ann Moffett, the challenges COVID-19 brings to her role as SMU’s director of emergency management are unique.
For over a decade she’s been preparing for – and managing – complex emergencies like fires and active shooter situations on college campuses. COVID-19, however, has proven to be as demanding as it is far-reaching.
Moffett is up to the task, with a little help. She leads SMU’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a cross section of campus departments that coordinates the University’s comprehensive response to the virus.
Moffett discussed how this group handled myriad issues created by the pandemic with SMU Magazine.
At what point did you realize COVID-19 was going to be consequential?
When cases first started to appear in the U.S. in January, that’s when we immedi-ately pulled together our team. We started reviewing our pandemic plan to ensure we had the capability and capacity to execute it. SMU’s decision not to resume on-campus instruction in the spring was significant. We had to further evaluate what resources we’d need and where to pull them from. That’s why it was critical for the EOC to meet regularly and form a united response.
How is this emergency different from anything else you’ve managed?
It’s challenging to target an end date. With any incident, there will always be unknowns. Not only is the timeline uncertain, but a pan-demic is not a scenario where the threat can be immediately neutralized. Because of that, starting the recovery process is uncertain. It’s quite different from a fire or an active shooter in that sense.
This seems like a stressful role. What keeps you going?
This is a good team and these are really good people in the EOC. Everyone is working just as hard and putting in as many long hours as I am. We all do it for the greater good of our students and the SMU community.

2020 Alumni Fall 2020 Features News

SMU history: Experiencing challenges and triumphs over more than a century

Today’s health crisis and human rights movement may differ from anything we’ve seen before, but Mustangs of every generation have faced challenges in their times. Sometimes we’ve stumbled. Sometimes we’ve triumphed. But for more than 100 years, we’ve been engaged.
World War I and the Roaring Twenties


A financial crisis and the collapse in cotton prices hurt Texas and the nation. SMU scales back its plans for dormitories in the fall, build-ing three temporary halls for under $40,000. (In 1926, all three still-standing dorms were destroyed in a fire.)


World War I dampens enrollment at SMU from 1,114 (1916-1917) to 1,012 (1917-1918). More than 250 students join the Student Army Training Corps through SMU, and 473 current or former students enter the armed forces. Of those students, 11 die in service. The depressed economy leads SMU into debt that will last years. President Robert Stewart Hyer borrows money to pay professors, using his personal possessions as collateral. Trustees put up their own collateral for loans to keep SMU afloat.


The influenza epidemic invades SMU at the opening of school in September. In October, University officials implement health precautions, including canceling all chapel and church services. Four members of the SMU community perish during the epidemic.


National economic boom and the rise of the oil industry in Texas put SMU on secure financial footing. Following the war, enrollment grows to 1,341 (1920-1921).
The Great Depression


The depression forces SMU to reduce salaries by 20% in 1932–1933, and then by 50% in April, May and June of 1934. Due to these financial challenges, SMU offers its first need-based scholarships to 60 incoming freshmen in 1934. Through it all, SMU students establish several traditions, including two that endure: the live mascot Peruna in 1932 and Pigskin Revue in 1933.


Student Council of Religious Activities and the Moorland branch of the YMCA for Negroes campaign to improve Dallas’ Black high school, Booker T. Washington. SMU students speak at several churches about “Our Responsibility for Negro Education in Dallas” and call for an end to prejudice.


The New Deal’s positive impact on college attendance causes SMU’s enrollment to explode – from 2,445 (1934-1935) to 3,831 (1937-1938).
World War II


Before President Umphrey Lee takes office, he tells the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, “There can be no future for our civilization except a future of tolerance.” During uncertain times, he urges SMU to “emphasize its college of liberal arts” and freedom of inquiry.


As the U.S. gets closer to entering WWII, SMU engineering school facilities are used to train military aviators and others. In 1942, male student enrollment drops from 2,308 to 1,886. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, SMU moves to a quarter system, enabling students to earn a degree in only three years. By November 1942, 27 faculty members have been called into military or government service. The Navy College Training Program (V-12) begins in July 1943 at SMU. By the end of the war, 450 men have participated and nearly 50 have earned SMU degrees. Female students form the College Organization for General Service to support the war effort and increasingly take leadership roles in student organizations. By the war’s end, 127 students and 137 alumni have lost their lives in the service of their country.


Trailerville at SMU during World War IIPresident Lee, anticipating the utilization of the GI Bill’s tuition benefits, establishes the General Co-ordinator of Veterans Education office. The School of Business Administration establishes rehabilitation certificate programs for returning veterans. In fall 1946, 6,780 students (nearly 4,000 of them veterans) enroll – 3,000 more than in any previous semester. Dozens of new faculty members are hired. From 1946 to 1953, many veterans with families live in “Trailerville,” a self-con-tained community including 108 trailer homes.
Post-war Years


Dallas and SMU remain strictly segregated. Beginning in 1946, a small number of Black graduate students begin studying in the Perkins School of Theology, though they do not earn any credits. The 1948 Cotton Bowl football game sees SMU face Penn State, which has its first Black players – establishing the first major southern sporting event with Black and white players competing. After the tied (13-13) game, both teams are honored with a joint dinner at the SMU student center. By 1949, a handful of Black students are attending regular theology classes, doing required coursework and taking exams – all unofficially, with grades being forwarded to the students’ chosen institutions. In November 1950, SMU trustees authorize enrolling Black students as regular degree-seeking students. In 1951, Merrimon Cuninggim, dean of the Perkins School, recruits at Black colleges and enrolls five students who become SMU’s first Black graduates in 1955: James Arthur Hawkins, John Wesley Elliott, Negail Rudolph Riley, Allen Cecil Williams and James Vernon Lyles. The students initially eat their meals only in the Perkins cafeteria and room only with one another. In spring 1953, the four unmarried Black students and four white students choose to become sets of roommates, sparking controversy.


Fall sees the departure of 120 male stu-dents for the military at the beginning of the Korean conflict.


The computing revolution enters its second decade, and the Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik. Remington Rand installs a UNIVAC 1103 computing system on SMU’s campus – the first of its kind on any college campus in the southern United States. SMU, the Dallas Chamber of Commerce and Texas Instruments form the Graduate Research Center, a nonprofit organization housed on the SMU campus and focused on research in the pure and applied sciences.
Civil Rights Era


Nationally, protestors challenge Jim Crow laws and the violence and discrimination against Black Americans. In January 1961, Perkins theology students and others commandeer a “white only” lunch counter at the nearby University Pharmacy until the Black protestor in their group is served. In September, after years of Dallas ISD resisting Brown v. Board of Education, 18 Black first-graders enter several Dallas public schools. In April 1962, SMU admits its first Black undergraduate student, Paula Elaine Jones, who graduates in 1966 with a B.A. in speech. By 1969, about 60 Black students – 40 undergraduate and 21 graduate – enroll at SMU, including Jerry LeVias, the first Black athlete in the Southwest Conference to win an athletic scholarship. LeVias later says, “I was a good teammate on the weekends. I got a good academic education, but I didn’t really have a social life.” During this time, SMU has only one Black faculty member: anthropology and sociology professor William S. Willis, Jr. Racist practices such as Old South Week continue throughout the era and beyond.
In March 1965, a contingent of SMU students and faculty participate in the “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol in Montgomery to champion voting rights for Black citizens. After police attack the demonstrators, eight SMU theology students travel to join the second Selma march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For the third march, 56 students and faculty members join 25,000 other protestors. On March 17, 1966, at the invitation of the Student Association, Dr. King becomes the first major civil rights leader to speak on campus.
In 1967, Black students at SMU create the Black League of Afro-American College Students (BLAACS). In April 1969, BLAACS delivers to President Willis M. Tate a 13-page list of demands; it includes the sentence, “We blacks demand an education which will be useful to us as black people, for black people.” One week later, 34 students negotiate with Tate and other administrators until several agreements are reached, including a goal to enroll 200 Black students and hire five Black faculty members by fall 1969. SMU soon hires its first Black administrator – Irving Baker, assistant to the president and head of the Afro-American studies program – and five additional Black faculty members. Hiring two Black students to help with student enrollment, SMU recruits 50 new Black students – a record number but still far short of its 200-student goal.

SMU student carrying protest sign1965–1975

Inspired by the civil rights moment, the U.S. women’s liberation movement grows. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 extends nondiscrimination protections to educational institutions. By 1965-1966, anachronistic dress codes for women are eliminated. As part of SMU’s 50th anniversary in 1966, the first Women’s Symposium is held, becoming an annual event. By 1970-1971, SMU relaxes or eliminates curfews at women’s residence halls. In 1970, the national Women’s Equity Action League files sex discrimination complaints against more than 300 institutions, including SMU. At this time, women account for only 16% of the faculty, with more than half only being instructors. In 1972, the 15-member Commission on the Status of Women is formed, and one year later, it delivers recommendations for reaching full compliance by 1976. President James


Across the nation, students protest the U.S. military presence in Vietnam. In April 1967, SMU students form a chapter of a national student antiwar group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In May 1972, more than 300 SMU students march to Willis Tate’s office in protest of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon’s extending the Vietnam War by mining the harbor of Haiphong, North Vietnam.
Late 20th Century
1972 Los Chicanos


In 1971, the approximately 50 Hispanic students on campus form the Chicano Association, which soon becomes Los Chicanos. Like BLAACS two years earlier, the group delivers a list of demands to President Paul Hardin III. In 1974, the University names a full-time advisor to Chicano students and establishes the Chicano Studies Council. In 1976, José Gonzalez, SMU’s first Chicano professor, helps establish the Chicano Studies program.


In 1975, four Black students are added to SMU’s cheerleading squad, joining nine white members and officially integrating the group, which is later named best varsity team at a major college campus in August. In 1976, students vote to eliminate quotas for the cheerleading team, which resulted in the team’s having only one Black cheerleader in 1977. SMU student sign: Senat, if you take our votes, you take our voices.In 1978-1979, 230 students are Black, and in an unprecedented write-in campaign, David Huntley is elected as the first Black student body president.


The gay liberation movement surfaces at SMU with the Perkins School admitting gay and lesbian students for theological studies. In 1975, the Student Senate rejects a student organization for gay students, who in 1980 form the Gay/Lesbian Student Support Organization. In 1983, the Student Senate again denies recognition. In response, 3,500 students sign a petition in opposition, and several alumni and faculty write letters of protest. Students on both sides appear on Phil Donahue’s national television program in December. Active debate continues until 1991, when the Student Senate charters the organization, officially renamed Spectrum in 2006.


The Office of Admission hires staff focused on recruiting and retaining students from ethnic minorities. In 1987, President A. Kenneth Pye joins SMU and emphasizes the importance of attracting Black, Hispanic and Jewish students. The Campus Jewish Network is created. New faculty are hired to direct the Mexican American Studies and African American Studies programs, which are combined into the Ethnic Studies program. From 1987–1991, minority enrollment increases 40%. By 1993–1994, minority students comprise 22% of first-year undergraduates and 16% of the entire student body.SOURCES:
Darwin Payne, One Hundred Years on the Hilltop (2016)
SMU Archives/SMU Libraries

2020 Alumni Features News Spring 2020

Carolyn and David B. Miller ’72, ’73 make $50 million commitment to SMU and the Cox School of Business

When former Mustang basketball standout David B. Miller ’72, ’73 and his wife, Carolyn, made the largest single alumni gift in SMU history, the Hilltop milestone made headlines in Dallas. Longtime business columnist Cheryl Hall ’73, who earned her journalism degree from the University, wrote about the publicity-shy couple for The Dallas Morning News. In this excerpt of the newspaper profile, their generous spirit and their love for family, community and SMU shine through.
How does a guy who went to Southern Methodist University on a basketball scholarship strike it so rich that he can give his alma mater more than $100 million?
Carolyn and David B. MillerHe parlays the finance education that he earned at its Edwin L. Cox School of Business into co-founding one of the world’s largest private equity firms.
And just how David B. Miller came to do that is one of those under-the-radar success tales that Dallas is so famous for.
Miller and his wife, Carolyn, pictured at right, made headlines in October 2019 when they gave SMU $50 million — the biggest individual donation in the University’s 108-year history.
The Millers’ moment in the spotlight was unusual for this Highland Park couple who have quietly given tens of millions of philanthropic dollars since 2006.
The Miller name is already on the event center of Moody Coliseum and the floor of its basketball court, the campus student center at SMU-in-Taos and the ballroom of the new indoor training center.
The couple’s latest donation is intended to keep the Cox School competitive by modernizing and building facilities, hiring additional endowed faculty and expanding undergraduate and graduate scholarships to increase student diversity.
But frankly, a lot of people outside the SMU community don’t know who Carolyn and David are.

“He treats people with dignity and respect regardless of what their lot is in life.
He’s a believer in collective thinking from smart minds.”

– Kyle Miller ’01 speaking about his father, David Miller ’72, ’73

David was a three-year varsity standout center from 1968-72 and earned his undergraduate degree and M.B.A. in finance at Cox in the early 1970s.
Today Miller is a co-founder and managing partner of global private equity firm EnCap Investments LP, which completed its 21st fund last year with 350 institutional partners. That brought the total amount of funds under its management to nearly $40 billion since its inception in 1988.
Carolyn, a former elementary school teacher in Garland and social worker, closely guards her privacy while rolling up her sleeves to work for social causes such as aiding seniors, protecting battered women and sheltering the homeless.
But $50 million is hard to keep under wraps, especially when one intent of the Millers’ huge gift was to lead others to SMU’s next major fundraising campaign.
The Millers sat down for the first time ever as a couple to share how they came to spread such enormous largesse.
David Miller keeps a scrapbook close at hand in his home office. Its title: “A Dream Come True.”
“That dream was to play basketball at SMU,” he says, flipping through the worn pages of newsclips and mementos assembled by his mother.
As Miller was about to graduate from Richland High School, the team’s star center had nearly a dozen scholarship offers but not the one that really mattered to him – SMU.
“There was just nothing bigger in the southwestern part of the country than SMU basketball,” he recalls. “Doc Hayes was their legendary coach. My senior year, SMU beat Louisville, the No. 2 team in the country, in the NCAA regional tournament. I was a passionate fan.”
Two days after National Signing Day, the first day high school players can commit to a college, David told his mother at breakfast that he’d reconciled himself to becoming a Red Raider at Texas Tech University. But Fay Ann Miller, now a 92-year-old SMU alum, urged her son to hold out for one more day.

Celebrating the naming of Moody Coliseum’s David B. Miller Court in 2018.

“It was magical,” he recalls. “I show up at the high school the next day, and there is the legendary coach Doc Hayes and his replacement, Bob Prewitt, who was actually my coach, and they offer me a scholarship. And the rest is history. My dream came true.”
Miller earned his undergraduate degree on a basketball scholarship and his M.B.A. in finance on a teaching fellowship, so he never paid a dime in tuition. He says that as he crossed the stage to receive his M.B.A. diploma, he promised himself that he would give back if he ever could.
His first donation was a $25 gift to the Mustang Club and a $100 pledge to SMU’s general operational fund in 1979.
Little did he know just how much he’d be able to pay it forward.
He started his career in energy lending for Dallas’ Republic National Bank, which was one of the largest financial institutions in the Southwest.
In 1980, the 30-year-old and his buddy, Bob Zorich, left Republic to form an oil and gas company in Denver. Seven years later, when energy boom times went bust, the partners sold out and moved back to Texas.
That same year, Miller — backed by the late, legendary oilman L. Frank Pitts and his son-in-law, Bill Custard — formed PMC for Pitts, Miller and Custard, scraping together energy properties viewed as worthless by most investors.
“The major oil companies had all decided that domestic onshore opportunities wouldn’t move the needle,” Miller recalls. “So they had moved to the deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico and international exploration and were selling their domestic properties. There was a wealth of opportunity to buy. You just had to find the money.”
PMC’s first fund raised $20 million with three institutional investors: Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a huge medical foundation in Washington, D.C., and two major insurance companies.
PMC eventually became part of EnCap (short for Energy Capital) Investments — co-founded by Miller, Zorich and three other friends from Republic Bank. Frank Pitts considered Miller his adopted son, says Linda Pitts Custard, Pitts’ daughter and wife of Bill.
“Daddy was a wildcatter, as you know, and he appreciated David’s entrepreneurship and his ethical approach to business,” she says. “David is a very personable, warm, affable man. None of his success has gone to his head. He remains just as down-to-earth as he was when I met him 30 years ago.
“The business partnership separated, but the deep friendship remained.”
David’s son, Kyle Miller, made headlines of his own three years ago.
In 2012, Kyle started Silver Hill Energy Partners LLC, an independent oil and gas company, with $12 million in seed money. He sold it four years later for $2.4 billion to Dallas-based RSP Permian Inc., a publicly held Permian producer. The Oil & Gas Journal called it the “2016 M&A Deal of the Year.”
Kyle says his father taught him and his sister, Meredith Miller Bebee, that their most valuable assets were their word and integrity.
“He treats people with dignity and respect regardless of what their lot in life is. He’s a believer in collective thinking from smart minds,” says the 40-year-old founder of Silver Hill Energy Holdings LLC, which he founded last year.
David and Carolyn married 19 years ago — the second marriage for each.
“I have massive respect for her and what she thinks,” David says, looking over at Carolyn on the couch. “And while I may not agree with some of her political leanings, I respect them. Frankly, if you think about the discord that’s going on in the country, that’s probably the solution.
“She’s softened me.”
Carolyn grew up in Magnolia, Arkansas, a town of about 12,000, before earning her degree in elementary education at Hendrix College in 1974. She also holds master’s degrees in elementary education and in gerontology.

“She’s an extraordinary person who has a great humanitarian persona.”

– SMU Trustee Caren Prothro speaking about Carolyn Miller

The causes closest to her heart are The Senior Source and Shelter Ministries of Dallas, parent of the Austin Street Center and Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.
“It’s so important for women to feel empowered to leave an abusive relationship,” Carolyn says. “Most abusers are controllers. So Genesis gives women a sense of control over their lives. And with the increase in homelessness in Dallas County, the need for the Austin Street Center is obvious.”
SMU trustee Caren Prothro says Carolyn is a story in her own right. “She’s an extraordinary person who has a great humanitarian persona. An example of that is her involvement with New Friends New Life, a program for trafficked girls,” Prothro says. “She and David are a wonderful duo. They both have their great strengths and passions. Carolyn holds her own and then some.”

Alumni Features News Spring 2020

Pastor Richie Butler ’93 creates opportunities for crucial conversations about race

Pastor Richie Butler ’93 remembers a particularly heated discussion during a town hall shortly after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on a street in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, 2014. The conversation grew fiery among the many members of the community in attendance to speak with the leadership of the Dallas Police Department, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and the Dallas County Sheriff’’s Office.
“I noticed every negative emotion and energy – division, anger, mistrust, frustration, hate,” and many in attendance felt that justice would not be served, he says.
But out of that meeting, Butler says, came a calling from God: to serve as an activist in Dallas race relations, to unite factions on both sides of a fractious issue and to build bridges among people of all colors. That’s where Project Unity was born.
Through Project Unity, Butler has galvanized the community around the idea that conversations, not confrontations, will create and sustain relationships among diverse groups. And he has brought the topic to a place where many avoid discussing the issues of politics and religion altogether – the dining table – as well as to a place where differences are put aside during the heat of athletic competition – the basketball court.
“What unites us is greater than what divides us,” Butler says.
This year, Butler took on a new post that positions him to build on the social movement he started. He left his pulpit at St. Paul United Methodist Church, which was founded in 1865 by enslaved people in Dallas, to become pastor of St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church, long considered a seat for social change in Texas. “This is a historical church, but we also want to make history here,” Butler says.
What unites us is greater than what divides us.
Project Unity has developed various events aimed at helping heal race relationships between law enforcement and Dallas citizens. One of the earliest, “Together We Ball,” is an annual day of family activities for the community culminating in a basketball game between pastors, police officers and community leaders held each August at the P.C. Cobb Stadium in Dallas. The event draws more than 1,500 participants.
“Together We Learn” is a partnership among the Dallas Police Department, the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, Dallas ISD, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and others to provide opportunities for teens to interact with law enforcement. Several hundred high school students have lunched with officers and received instructions on how to handle traffic or pedestrian stops.
However, Butler knew he needed broader engagement from the community after five police officers were ambushed and gunned down at a peaceful rally in downtown Dallas in July 2016. The gunman, killed in a standoff with police, was an Army Reserve Afghan War veteran who was angry over police shootings of black citizens and stated that he wanted to kill white people, particularly police officers.
After multiple conversations with faith and community leaders across the city, Butler called for a Year of Unity in 2017. In partnership with white Dallas attorney Rob Crain, then-incoming Dallas Bar Association president, the pair engaged leaders statewide and from organizations, businesses and faith institutions, with former President George W. Bush serving as honorary chair.
Richie Butler: It's hard to demonize 'other' when you have a relationship with them.
Year of Unity rolled out more events with “Together We Heal,” a day of activities at the American Airlines Center that honored the fallen officers. A Year of Unity Choir was created with more than 100 diverse voices, and the group performed at the 2017 State Fair of Texas and at a benefit for Hurricane Harvey victims.
The signature event from Year of Unity, one that is close to Butler’s heart, is “Together We Dine.” The project is a series of safe conversations about race over dinner. At tables of six to eight diners and a facilitator, they answer questions about race while others at the table listen. After everyone answers the question, the table opens for discussion.
Highland Park United Methodist Church hosted a “Together We Dine” in December 2019. The event has been held by design several times at the church, in majority white and affluent University Park, to send a message, Butler says, because it is an area where people of color perceive they are not welcome.
Dozens of members from the church have participated in “Together We Dine,” which has provided “enlightening experiences for our congregation,” says the Rev. Paul Rasmussen ’04, HPUMC senior pastor and a member of SMU’s Board of Trustees. “Sharing a meal and being in conversation with people from different parts of Dallas, who had different experiences growing up around race and discrimination, was powerful. It reminded me that the more we understand what someone else has lived through, the greater the possibility for connection and relationship, even if opinions differ.”
Some of the diners have continued to participate in small, diverse groups around the topic after dining together to learn more “about the realities of racism in our community in a setting that allows for openness and honesty,” Rasmussen says. Others have taken “Together We Dine” back to their places of employment, where there were racial tensions that aren’t discussed openly.
Butler hopes that individuals at “Together We Dine,” who come from across racial, economic and social spectrums, experience an epiphanic moment when hearing stories of encounters with racism, just as he did.
Richie Butler: Activism is in my blood.
Butler was raised by a single mother in a low-income area of East Austin. He attended a Baptist church and excelled in athletics, which led to a scholarship to play football at SMU in 1989, when the football program was being revived after a two-year ban because of sanctions (known as the “death penalty) imposed by the NCAA for recruiting violations. He was recruited out of high school to play defensive back by the late SMU alumnus and pro football great Forrest Gregg ’55, whom Butler still considers a mentor.
“He was good man who modeled hard work, discipline and focus, and didn’t allow us to settle for second-rate,” Butler recalls. “Even though the odds were stacked against us (the team went 2-9 in 1989), win, lose or draw, we were to fight, to give our best effort and not back down.”
Other mentors for the double major in psychology and religious studies included Clarence Glover, who taught the course “Black and White”; history Professor Kenneth Hamilton; law Professor C. Paul Rogers III, who has served as the SMU faculty athletics representative since 1987; and religious studies Associate Professor Richard Cogley. He also interned with then-Congressman Martin Frost (D-Texas) in Washington, D.C. “I found people who saw potential and took an interest in my development,” Butler says. “They encouraged me to push forward, to be all that God wants me to be.”
As an undergraduate, Butler knew he had a calling to preach.
Butler says his SMU experience helped shape who he is today. “I learned how to think critically and reflect on the information I was receiving, rather than just memorize and regurgitate facts. At SMU I was exposed to a world different from my working-class upbringing in East Austin.”
While a member of the football team, Butler reached out to other student-athletes around the Southwest Conference (of which SMU was a member at the time) to launch initiatives to help improve opportunities for them, and he lobbied the SMU Student Senate to create a seat for a student-athlete representative. “Activism is in my blood, and SMU helps foster that by directing students’ energies in a productive way toward improving the community,” he says.
Butler continues that activism today, and gives back to his alma mater by serving on the SMU Board of Trustees and Dedman College Executive Board, as well as on the Communities Foundation of Texas board of trustees, the Dallas Assembly and the Real Estate Executive Council. He has received numerous awards for his efforts on behalf of racial reconciliation, including SMU’s Emerging Leader Award in 2008; the 2018 Silver Anniversary Mustang Award; the Dallas Bar Association 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Award; Dallas Business Journal’s 2018 Minority Business Leader honoree; and the 2019 Juanita Craft Humanitarian Awards Visionary recipient, among others.
Richie Butler and Dallas civic leaders and police.
While at SMU, Butler established lifelong relationships and networks among his classmates, including his wife, whom he met as a freshman. Neisha Strambler-Butler ’93, vice president of compensation and benefits at American Airlines, serves on the advisory board of directors for Project Unity. Butler credits her with keeping him balanced.
“God brings people into our lives for a reason. She recognizes my calling and cares deeply about social ills in society and how to make them right. She’s a brilliant woman, and I leverage her knowledge and experience with American Airlines for social good. We are partners in ministry together,” he says.
Former classmate Paige Dawson ’94, founder and president of MPD Ventures in Dallas, provides marketing and communications pro bono for Project Unity. She and Butler met while living across from each other in Shuttles Hall. When she read in the newspaper about Butler’s work with Project Unity, she reached out to reconnect.
“A great community builder and fundraiser, Richie has that rare ability to get people to say yes, so naturally my firm joined on to support the mission and raise awareness,” Dawson says. She also has served as a host for several “Together We Dine” tables. “At every one there has been some poignant statement or example from a minority attendee that has literally left me stunned at what people still experience.”
Butler knew he had a calling to preach as an undergraduate, even preaching on occasion while in school. He earned his Master of Theological Studies from Harvard in 1996. When he moved back to Dallas in 1998, he put together his first real estate development deal in South Dallas called Unity Estates, a planned community of 285 single-family homes sponsored by the 70-member African-American Pastors’ Coalition.
Solutions will have to come from the people.
Today, he chooses to go by “pastor” rather than the traditional “reverend” because the invocation of the shepherd brings him joy and affirmation, he says. “There’s a greater level of responsibility that goes along with being someone’s pastor.
He contends that solutions to issues of racism will have to come from the people, not the politicians. And he takes comfort in the knowledge that he is making a difference for his two children and their generation through his efforts to bring diverse groups together.
Charlene Edwards ’95, another classmate of Butler’s, holds out that hope for transformative relationships, as well. She became involved with Project Unity in 2017 when he was seeking program and event planning support to launch the Year of Unity, because she was compelled by Butler’s vision to bridge the divide between Dallas citizens and law enforcement.
Early on, she observed at “Together We Ball” events the “camaraderie among the different groups as they came together,” she says. “People’s lives, perceptions and actions are changed. They think before they say something that might be offen- sive, learn to become more compassion-ate about others.”
Adds Butler: “It’s hard to demonize the ‘other’ when you have a relationship with them, when you see them as a human being.”

2018 Alumni Fall 2018 Features

Whitney Wolfe Herd ’11: Empowering women to make the first move

Whitney Wolfe Herd ’11, founder and CEO of Bumble Inc., became the youngest woman in the U.S. to take a company public when she celebrated the initial offering of her dating app shares in February 2021. In May 2021, the 31-year-old entrepreneur returned to the Hilltop as the featured speaker at SMU’s May Commencement Convocation. In the following profile of Wolfe Herd, which was published in the fall 2018 issue of SMU Magazine, she traces her evolution as a tech powerhouse and talks about her time on the Hilltop as an SMU student. “I think SMU has a remarkable way for charting students on the right course.”
Take a look behind the scenes at Bumble in this profile of Wolfe Herd that first appeared in the fall 2018 issue of SMU Magazine.

By Meredith McBee ’19
Whitney Wolfe Herd ’11 is inside her second-floor office at the Bumble headquarters in Austin, Texas, pacing back and forth. One hand clutches her phone, while her free hand slices the air. She buzzes around the room, navigating her way through the plush pink chairs as if she is running an obstacle course.
Herd is the founder and CEO of Bumble, a social connection app that empowers women to make the first move. In just four years, her female-centric business has grown to more than 35 million users in 160 countries.
In tech speak, her company is a unicorn, a startup valued at a billion dollars or more. Wolfe Herd is something of a mythological creature herself as one of the creative disruptors behind the digital romance revolution. She is a co-founder of the Tinder dating app and the visionary force behind Bumble, America’s fastest-growing dating app.
Drawing on her own experience as the target of cyberbullying, Wolfe Herd reinvented the dating space with Bumble. She shaped an environment where users were required to mind their manners and women felt safe, respected and in control. The app’s basic interface is familiar. Users swipe right on the profiles of potential dates in whom they are interested, and left on those they’re not. Bumble upends the archaic tradition of men making the initial contact; instead, in heterosexual matches, women must start a chat within 24 hours or the match expires.
Two vertical expansions of the original platform connect other aspects of womanhood. There is Bumble BFF for those seeking a friendly connection and Bumble Bizz for those looking for a business connection.
The young entrepreneur’s achievements have earned major accolades. In December, she appeared on the cover of Forbes’ 30 under 30 issue, after making the list for the second consecutive year. She also was named to the TIME 100, Time magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people of 2018. In July, she was tapped for the board of Imagine Entertainment, the film and television production company founded by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.
Despite her success, Wolfe Herd remains humble.
“It’s not that I’m some rare breed of human,” she says. “Everybody has the ingredients to achieve what I’ve achieved.”
Her efforts are all linked to her desire to end abusive and misogynistic behavior.
“I get out of bed to reverse engineer that every day,” she says.

WATCH: ‘For any young woman, or girl, out there who has ambitions or dreams, just remember that anything is possible.’

Wolfe Herd moves fast, both in person and in her work, jumping from one conversation to another, one potential idea to another.
Back in her office, she is still pacing. The nerve center of the Bumble hive overlooks the sunny workspace below, decorated with hexagonal cushions and a fluorescent “Bee Kind” sign. The apiary theme is carried throughout the interior, from the honeycomb motif accents to the bright yellow walls. The warm, fun and feminine vibe may not be the norm for a tech company, but it intentionally reflects Bumble’s celebration of female kindness, creativity and collaboration.
Members of her core team, some of whom have been with her from the beginning, are usually nearby. They’re accustomed to reacting at lightning speed to keep up with their CEO.
“If an opportunity comes to further our mission, Whitney’s going to have it done by the time she’s off the phone,” says Samantha Fulgham, director of field marketing who has been with Bumble from the start.
Wolfe Herd reached back to her SMU roots when creating a team to launch her startup. She recruited Alex Williamson ’10, her Kappa Kappa Gamma Big Sister who now serves as Bumble’s chief brand officer, and Caroline Ellis Roche ’14, Wolfe Herd’s chief of staff.
“She was always entrepreneurial,” says Williamson. “She could figure out how to make things happen.”

SMU NETWORK Writer Meredith McBee ’19 (left), an SMU senior from Atlanta, Georgia, interviewed Whitney Wolfe Herd ’11 at Bumble headquarters.

As Wolfe Herd has demonstrated throughout her career, life’s lemons become a valuable commodity in her hands.
She arrived on the Hilltop in 2007 from Salt Lake City, Utah, intending to major in advertising, but she didn’t make the cut for admission to the Temerlin Advertising Institute for Education and Research in Meadows School of the Arts.
“Maybe the reason I failed that test is because that wasn’t the right place for me,” Wolfe Herd says.
Instead, she majored in international studies in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, which she says provided a solid marketing foundation that has been pivotal to her career.
“I think SMU has this remarkable way for charting students on the right course,” she says. “People will work with you to make sure you’re taking the right classes to achieve your ‘big picture’ dreams.”
While at SMU, Wolfe Herd founded two companies, each in response to a problem she saw in the world. Tender Heart was a clothing line that brought a message of fair trade. The Help Us Project was a line of grocery bags that benefited the Oceans Future Project, which was a direct response to the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
After graduating, she served as a volunteer at orphanages overseas. She returned to the U.S. determined to do something creative and philanthropic, but she wasn’t sure what that was. At the time, she had no employment possibilities lined up. She was living at home, an arrangement her parents told her had an expiration date.
So, she found a job at Cardify, a customer rewards app. During her brief tenure, she had no idea that her next career move would turn the dating world upside down and change her life forever.

BUMBLE HQ Bumble’s Austin, Texas, headquarters – affectionately known as “the hive” – exudes a warm, fun and feminine vibe that may not be the norm in the tech industry, but it intentionally reflects the company’s celebration of female creativity and collaboration.

In 2012, she co-founded the game-changing dating app Tinder. She marketed the platform at SMU and on other college campuses. That early success – with all its thrilling highs – also led to a life and career crisis. She left in 2014 and filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging sexual harassment and wrongful termination.
She was bullied online by complete strangers during this period. While she had once viewed social networking as a conduit for connecting people and building community, she watched as online interactions became weaponized, and she became the target of misogynistic and hate-filled attacks collapsing on me,” she says.
At the time, she thought her career was over.
“It is unbelievable how that negativity can completely control your life,” she says. “There were moments when I let that fear engulf me to the core.”
The experience gave Wolfe Herd a new perspective on social media. She wondered what it looked like for younger people and what it would turn into for future generations. She soon had a new mission: to reinvent the Internet for women.
In her entrepreneurial fashion, she developed the framework for a female-only social network called Merci. On this platform, women could only give each other compliments.
This idea morphed into a dating app after her investor and business partner, Andrey Andrev, encouraged her to transfer her passion for a kind social network into the dating sphere.
“I said no, I’m never going back into the dating world, absolutely not,” Wolfe Herd says. “With a lot of convincing, we agreed to start this company together.”
Snippets of Merci remain in the Bumble DNA.
“When you think about it, women are making the first move, which is empowering,” Wolfe Herd says. “We tolerate zero abusive behavior, so that kindness piece is there, too.”
Wolfe Herd returned to her alma mater with her new idea. She bought dozens of cookies at JD’s Chippery in Snider Plaza, plastered each box with Bumble stickers and passed out the sweet rewards to students who downloaded the app.
To help spread the word, she created a network of Bumble Ambassadors, college women who live the brand’s core message of being kind and embody its stylish coolness and cheeky attitude.
A week before the woman-first app launched, Wolfe Herd called her team and told them to book a flight to Austin the next day. When they arrived, she announced they would be filming a promotional video of them skydiving. None of her colleagues questioned the idea.
“The whole point of it was that if we can jump out of an airplane, we can message a guy first,” Fulgham says.

MUSTANGS IN THE HIVE Proud SMU alumnae members of the Bumble team are (from left) Chelsea Cain Maclin ’12, Alex Williamson ’10, Caroline Ellis Roche ’14 and Whitney Wolfe Herd ’11.

Nearly four years and 500 million first moves later, Wolfe Herd is never short of new ideas.
“I think that’s part of her genius, not only coming up with ideas that resonate on a personal level and have empathy and kindness at their core, but also the ability to get everybody in the room excited and passionate about the same project” says SMU alumna Cain Maclin ’12, Bumble’s vice president of marketing.
Wolfe Herd’s genuine commitment to female empowerment has made her a role model for young women, as illustrated during a recent encounter on the streets of Austin during a company field day.
Dressed in Bumble gear, the team chalked sidewalks with “Download Bumble” and posted yellow fliers advertising the app around the downtown area. They happened upon a bachelorette party, and the honoree told Wolfe Herd that one of her dreams was to meet the Bumble founder. She had no idea that the woman standing next to her was, indeed, the “queen bee.”
When she found out, she burst into tears.
“I don’t think Whitney had ever seen a fan like that,” Fulgham says. “She has no idea how many women look up to her across the world.”
Last fall, her admirers everywhere swooned over photos of her storybook wedding in Positano, Italy, to businessman Michael Herd. They met through friends several years ago. Although she didn’t know it when they met, he is the son of one of her favorite SMU professors, Kelly Herd, a filmmaker and former lecturer in the Meadows School.
“That just goes to show the serendipitous nature of an SMU education,” Wolfe Herd says. “I looked up to her for her caring, articulate and creative abilities as a professor. She’s proof that you meet professors who will have a lifelong impact on you and stay with you long after your graduation date.
“I always say I would trade almost anything to just go back to SMU for a day,” she adds.
Wolfe Herd believes her SMU experience helped her become strong and confident enough to change the dating world.
“SMU gave me the foundation to become an adult and evolve into the woman I am today,” she says.
Today, Wolfe Herd is a very busy executive. She finally puts down her phone and collapses on a plush chair for a few seconds. Then, she gets up, arms moving as she talks to a colleague. Back to work she goes.

2018 Fall 2018 Features October 2018

Growing green, sowing hope in Dallas’ food desert

By Susan White ’05

Owen Lynch harbors a “crazy” idea – one that just might help eliminate the food deserts scattered throughout South Dallas. Driving through the impoverished area surrounding the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, Lynch points out abandoned lots and vacant dirt areas under nearby freeways that hold possibilities as future community gardens.

“One of the unexpected assets of a food desert is the large availability of property or lots for farming and food system development,” Lynch says. “These properties are at best eyesores detracting from their neighborhood’s home values, but at worst they are a breeding ground for vermin, wild dogs and other negative neighborhood effects.”
Lynch is associate professor of corporate communication and public affairs in Meadows School of the Arts and a senior research fellow in SMU’s Hunt Institute for Humanity and Engineering. But he and his Hunt Institute colleagues are looking at a bigger picture for South Dallas, advocating for something more sustainable than community gardens through an extensive food production system.
“Each lot could become part of a functioning food system by providing the city with a local, sustainable food source and creating jobs for the immediate community,” he says. “There is a large amount of unemployed or underemployed people and youth in these local communities who could gain employment and training within these urban farms.”
South Dallas is one of the largest food deserts in the country, Lynch says. Urban food deserts are short on fresh food providers, especially fruits and vegetables; instead they are rife with quick marts selling processed foods heavy in sugar and filled with fats. In South Dallas many residents live at least a mile from a grocery store and don’t always have access to ready transportation to drive farther.


Lynch, who also serves as president of the nonprofit, urban farm consulting agency Get Healthy Dallas, and the Hunt Institute took the first step toward reducing the gap in available healthy food sources by establishing the Seedling Farm, dedicated at the MLK Freedom Garden last November, in collaboration with numerous local urban farm organizations. The Seedling Farm aims to overcome some of the barriers to successful local agricultural production and help improve the health of South Dallas residents.

During a visit to the Seedling Farm on a cool but sunny April morning, manager and horticulturalist Tyrone Day shows off the seedlings that have sprouted in the recently built greenhouse and soon will be transferred to local private and community gardens and farmers markets. The greenhouse packs in up to 4,000 4-inch plants started from seedlings that will grow into a variety of vegetables ranging from asparagus to zucchini, as well as herbs such as cilantro, basil and thyme.

Plans are to produce 20,000 seedlings each year through all four seasons to sell at a discount to area residents who grow their own produce. Providing seedlings is an important factor. “The process of going from a seed to a seedling is the most vulnerable stage in a plant’s life,” Day says. “At the farm, we raise them in controlled conditions with constant monitoring, and also prepare them for transportation to community and home gardens.” Jump-starting gardens by planting viable young seedlings means the plants are more likely to survive, mature faster and produce fruits or vegetables more quickly, he adds.


Lynch involved several of his corporate communication students in the development of the Seedling Farm. Caroline Davis, a senior majoring in corporate communication and public affairs and public relations and strategic communication, knew little about food deserts until taking several courses from Lynch. She helped plan and coordinate the launch of the Seedling Farm, and asked area residents about their food knowledge and access to various foods, particularly vegetables. “The Seedling Farm is about much more than food for these communities and farmers,” Davis says. “Community members have the chance to receive the necessary education and training to co-develop a self-sustaining resource.”
Sara Langone ’17, who received degrees in political science and corporate communication and public affairs from SMU, and DeAngelo Garner ’18, who graduated in May with degrees in organizational communications and public relations with a minor in Spanish, conducted a survey with the area residents on the need for the Seedling Farm. Garner, who will begin a master’s degree in business analytics in fall 2018 at Cox School of Business, says the experience helped drive him toward his interest in data analytics.
“It was eye opening seeing the human aspect of statistical information that I had previously studied,” he says. “Having the hands-on experience humanized the very real problems that residents of South and West Dallas experience.”
Lynch, who was designated a 2018 Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Fellow, is moving to Rhode Island where his wife has a job, but will return weekly to Dallas to teach at SMU and continue to build on the Seedling Farm initiative. He emphasizes that a local food production system requires well-organized distribution systems, which includes support from community foundations, nonprofits and experts. And investment in local micro-urban farms requires upfront capital and experience to design, build and maintain, but the payoff is huge. Micro-food systems have the potential to provide innovative and economical solutions to reducing food poverty and unemployment, Lynch adds.
“Hundreds of micro-farms, community gardens, personal gardens, greenhouses or even small raised beds can be linked into a vibrant food chain providing sustainable fresh local produce to the DFW market.”
A “crazy” idea that is blooming where it’s planted.

2018 Fall 2018 Features

All in: How Candice Bledsoe ’07 shows students ‘no dream is out of reach’

A year ago, Brenda Carmona escaped an attempted assault. The experience left the Dallas high school junior determined to pursue a future in criminology or law “to fight for justice for all the people who aren’t as lucky as I was.” The teen admits she wasn’t sure about the steps she needed to take to realize her ambitions until she spent the day at the Cutting Edge Youth Summit at SMU.
“It gave me so much to think about, as far as considering which are the best colleges and programs to help me achieve my goals,” she says. “And it also made me think about the possibility of getting scholarships and what I need to do to qualify.”
Now in its seventh year, the summit brought nearly 300 students, parents and community leaders from historically underrepresented communities to campus on April 21 during SMU’s Founders’ Day Weekend. Conference sessions provided insights about college admission, scholarships, science and technology-focused careers, social entrepreneurship and more.
Candice Bledsoe ’07, founder and executive director of the Action Research Center, which conducts research in schools, communities and nonprofits to advance student and community leadership development, created the one-day event. The program is designed to help middle and high school students with big dreams visualize a future powered by higher education. Community college transfer students planning to continue their education at a four-year institution are also welcome.
During discussions and interactive programs, SMU professors, staff and alumni joined a host of community experts contributing their insights about exploring career paths, developing leadership skills and making the most of a university experience.
Students also learn about the avenues open to them for affording college. At SMU, for example, three out of four students receive scholarships and/or financial aid.
“Our message to students is that no dream is out of reach,” says Bledsoe, who teaches in SMU’s Master of Liberal Arts program in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. “We give them advice on the college application process as well as tips for seeking out scholarships. We also talk to them about channeling their passions as social innovators and leaders in their schools and the community. Perhaps equally important, students are able to ‘see’ themselves on a college campus and realize they have a rightful place here.”
The information shared at the summit “fills in the gaps,” says Saella Ware, who graduated from Mansfield High School in May. “I wasn’t sure about all the steps before I came, but the speakers provided a sort of layout of when to take the SAT and ACT, finish your application, apply for scholarships and submit financial aid information. That helps for getting things done in a timely manner and establishing helpful habits prior to attending college.”
It’s a learning opportunity for parents, too, Bledsoe says. “Parents are often overwhelmed because their children are preparing for such a different experience than they’ve had. Those parents aren’t always sure how to navigate the complexities of the system, so they’re grateful to get information and connect with people who can help them.”
James Muhammad found the grant and scholarship information particularly useful as his son, Jamaal, begins his junior year at the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in Dallas. Muhammad has always been actively involved in his son’s education, and when a teacher sent an email about the summit, he jumped at the chance to attend.
“The sessions helped clarify the steps he needs to take this year to prepare for the future,” he says.
According to the Action Research Center, the research arm of Bledsoe’s program, the Cutting Edge Youth Summit has helped 1,903 middle, high school and community college students since it was launched in 2011. Ninety-nine percent of student participants have earned a high school diploma, and 90 percent have gone on to college.
The University offers a portfolio of opportunities like the summit that show ambitious younger students from all walks of life that a college education is attainable.
Perhaps the best-known college access program is Upward Bound. This year, SMU celebrates 50 years of graduates of the program geared for high school students from low-income families or from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree. As students build the academic credentials they’ll need to succeed in a college classroom, they also develop the confidence and resilience they’ll rely on to attain goals throughout their lives.
High school students from Dallas, Garland, Lancaster and Duncanville school districts participate in SMU’s year-round Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math Science programs. In-school tutoring, college visits, Saturday academies and regular mentoring are designed to amp up students’ precollege scholastic performance and prepare them for postsecondary pursuits.
The proof of success is in the numbers: 90 percent of participants attend college after high school graduation.
Even a campus visit can have a huge impact on young minds. “Just being on the SMU campus is exciting to so many students attending the summit,” Bledsoe says. “It can jumpstart the process of thinking about the future and saying, ‘Yes, I can see myself here.’”
SMU welcomes hundreds of youngsters from Dallas-area schools to campus each year so they can become acquainted with college life. One recent example is a special experience created by the University for about 200 eighth-graders and their teachers from Dallas’ Rusk Middle School. When the students dramatically improved their test scores, their teachers wanted to build on that academic momentum and reward their hard work with a trip to a college campus. But school district budget challenges stalled the plan.
That’s when SMU came to the rescue by arranging a campus visit like no other. The Rusk students participated in science and engineering demonstrations, visited with Head Football Coach Sonny Dykes and tossed some footballs in Ford Stadium, explored the campus during a scavenger hunt and learned about the importance of a college education from SMU President R. Gerald Turner.
At the end of the day, many of the youngsters vowed to return – as SMU students.

“Our message to students is that no dream is out of reach. We give them advice on the college
application process as well as tips for seeking out scholarships. We also talk to them about
channeling their passions as social innovators and leaders in their schools and the community.
Perhaps equally important, students are able to ‘see’ themselves on a college campus
and realize they have a rightful place here.”

As the daughter of parents serving in the military, Bledsoe grew up primarily in Germany. She learned the language and took advantage of the European location to travel extensively on the continent. That early exposure to different cultures shaped her global perspective and belief that travel is an invaluable teaching tool. Today, family vacations with husband Horace and their children Jeremiah, 14, and Jasmine, 8, often include tours of historical sites. They’ve recently traveled the path of the civil rights movement and visited the Lincoln Home historic district in Springfield, Illinois.
Her worldview also informs an international component of each youth summit. This year the focus was on opportunities across the globe in engineering and technology fields.
Bledsoe’s aim with the summit is to get kids excited about college the way that passion was ignited in her as a youngster.
In a thought-provoking presentation at TEDxSMUWomen in 2016, Bledsoe said, “To know who I am, you must know my grandmother.” Women’s issues were the focus of the event. Bledsoe, founder of the Black Women’s Collective, a creative arts group devoted to sharing the stories of women of color, discussed the power of narrative to bring the experiences of the underrepresented to light, an academic passion inspired by the matriarch.
She describes her grandmother, Johnnie Mae “M’dear” Lucas, as “her first teacher.” Lucas grew up during segregation, with few higher education options open to her, but she never gave up on her dream of becoming a teacher. When she decided to pursue a master’s degree, her entire family relocated to Houston so that she could attend Texas Southern University, a historically black public university. The trailblazer who prized her degrees made sure her granddaughter always understood the value of an education.
When Bledsoe was living abroad, summer vacations were reserved for spending time with Lucas in Texas.
Thanks to her grandmother, she was steeped in great literature from an early age, especially the poetry of Langston Hughes. Bledsoe remembers hearing her friends playing outside while she was inside, following her grandmother’s “summer school” curriculum, which included a robust reading list and book reports. One of the books she was assigned to read was a biography of Mary McCloud Bethune, a story that became pivotal to her own story.
Bethune was “one of the most important black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders and government officials of the 20th century,” according to the National Women’s Museum. “The college she founded set educational standards for today’s black colleges, and her role as an advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave African Americans an advocate in government.”
“I was blown away when I first read about her and how she used education to open doors of opportunity for others,” Bledsoe says. “Her commitment to education, access and the community has inspired my work to this day.”
Bledsoe’s grandmother died at 97, but she lived long enough to see her favorite pupil earn three degrees: Bledsoe received a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University, her MLS from SMU and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Southern California.

Candice Bledsoe and members of the SMU community shared their insights with students attending the Cutting Edge Youth Summit at SMU in April.

Her academic research explores the impact of race, gender and class in higher education contexts. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Humanities, New Leadership Academy, National Center for Institutional Diversity, University of Michigan and Boone Texas Project for Human Rights Education.
In 2013, she was honored with a Profiles of Community Leadership Award, presented by the SMU Women’s Symposium. The award celebrates the accomplishments of women who have made a significant impact on the city of Dallas and on the quality of life for women overall.
So much of what drives Bledsoe circles back to the example set by her grandmother and the wisdom she shared.
“She taught me that without a college education, my options would be limited, and that stuck with me,” she says.
It’s a message she stresses today when guiding aspiring college students.
The right mentor can make all the difference, says James Samuel ’19, a double major in political science and advertising at SMU. He’s in his thirties and met Bledsoe through her husband. Samuel had attended a Texas community college and was on the fence about pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
“I kept second-guessing myself and making excuses, like ‘I’m not ready’ or ‘I can’t afford it.’ Candice talked me through that. She told me I had to get out there and try.”
He did, and SMU has been a great fit for him.
“It’s like you become a member of the family at SMU. Everyone is so willing to help you succeed,” Samuel says. “When you show a passion for a subject, there is an army of people ready to help you pursue your goals. I never thought I’d have the opportunities I’ve had at SMU, and I’ll be forever grateful to Candice for her confidence in me.”

2018 Fall 2018 Features

Navigating the intersection of commerce and compassion

Neha Husein ’19 turned Just Drive, her mobile app that rewards users who lock their phones while driving, into a full-time career. In the summer, she’ll participate in a Women’s Business Enterprise National Council program in Washington, D.C., then return to Dallas to focus on building app usage and expanding rewards partnerships.
By Nancy Lowell George ’79
Neha Husein ’19 gripped the steering wheel as her car jolted forward, hit from behind on one of Dallas’ busiest and most dangerous freeways. Shaken, but not injured, the high school senior surveyed the significant damage to her car. The cause of the crash? The driver behind her was texting while driving.
The SMU senior admits to being “a little paranoid” on the road since that 2014 collision. That unease eventually inspired her to develop Just Drive, a mobile app that awards points to drivers who lock their phones while driving. Users redeem points for coupons and gift cards for food, drinks and merchandise.
In less than a year, Husein piloted Just Drive from a class assignment into a viable startup. Along the way, SMU’s innovation ecosystem put her on track for success. Her venture won financial awards from SMU, and faculty mentors helped steer her in the right direction. She even tapped into the Mustang alumni network to bring her idea to life.
Her enterprising spirit also shines through in her academic passions. She’s a double major in marketing in the Cox School of Business and human rights in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. “People sometimes question my combination of majors,” Husein says. “When they do, I point out that so much of my campus involvement – everything from planning and organizing cultural awareness events to serving as the social media and marketing coordinator for the Embrey Human Rights Program – demonstrates how beautifully they mesh together.”
In fact, her mobile app started out as a paper for her “Ethics and Human Rights” class, taught by Brad Klein, associate director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights program. A requirement for human rights majors, the course examines ethics as part of everyday life, work and relationships. The final project challenges students to develop something that will benefit society and create a proposal for implementation.
“Neha came to class with an embryo of an idea based on an experience that touched her deeply,” Klein says. “I encourage students to develop projects that match their skills. As a marketing major, she brought the skills to develop and market an app. By the end of the class she had everything in place – goals, timeline, funding, partnerships.”
She also had a new identity as a social entrepreneur.
Husein aims to change drivers’ behavior through positive reinforcement. Just Drive users collect points that can be redeemed for products and services, so they are rewarding themselves for resisting the temptation to use their phones.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT), one in five car crashes in 2017 was attributable to people behind the wheel not paying attention while they were driving, and cellphone use was a top reason. Distracted driving resulted in 100,687 accidents, 444 deaths and 2,889 serious injuries.
It is now illegal for drivers to read, write or send a text and drive in Texas, but many can’t seem to break their bad habits. The state has issued hundreds of citations and thousands of warnings since the law went into effect last fall.
TXDoT statistics show that drivers ages 16 to 34 are most likely to text while driving, but Husein is betting the app will appeal to all ages. “Expecting incentives is a generational thing, but it’s a human thing, too,” she says. “People enjoy rewards.”
Her incentive-based approach struck a chord with judges at SMU’s Big Ideas pitch contest, where she won $1,000 for her 90-second elevator speech about her app. The multi-stage competition is part of SMU’s Engaged Learning program, a campus-wide experiential learning initiative that encourages students to turn their passions into signature projects.
Her project mentor, SMU law professor Keith Robinson, a specialist in patent, intellectual property (IP) and technology law, co-directs the Tsai Center for Law, Science and Innovation in SMU’s Dedman School of Law. He also teaches a class for law students on designing legal apps.
I like people who show initiative and are willing to bet on themselves,” says Robinson, who met weekly with Husein to discuss IP issues and trademark application. “Neha has developed an app for a relatable problem, one that can save lives.”

VIDEO – CBS DFW: SMU Launching Business Incubator To Support Big Ideas

Husein grew up with an entrepreneurial mindset. As a child, the Carrollton, Texas, native manned a toy cash register alongside her father at his convenience store. He was on hand to see his daughter present her business plan during the second stage of the Big iDdeas competition – and win $5,000 in seed funding.
“I had the biggest smile in the room,” says her father, Malik Husein. “I am so proud of her.”
Memories of her father pulling over to offer assistance whenever he saw someone on the roadside with car trouble influenced her desire to help others, she says. Husein counts herself fortunate to have grown up in a multigenerational household, with the support and guidance of her parents and two sets of grandparents.
Her SMU activities reflect her caring spirit and the examples of community engagement she grew up with. Husein begins her third year as a resident adviser at Kathy Crow Commons this fall. She was the president of Circle K International service organization and has performed community service as a Caswell Leadership Fellow and Human Rights Community Outreach Fellow. She is also a Hilltop Scholar, which recognizes academic achievement and commitment to service, and a McNair Scholar, a University undergraduate research program.

“People sometimes question my combination of majors. When they do, I point out that so much of
my campus involvement – everything from planning and organizing cultural awareness events to serving
as the social media and marketing coordinator for the Embrey Human Rights Program – demonstrates
how beautifully they mesh together.”

In March, Husein was invited to share Just Drive on one of the world’s biggest stages for entrepreneurs, South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin. Red Bull selected Husein and seven other Texas college students to participate in its SXSW Launch Institute, a three-day workshop filled with one-on-one mentoring, idea pitching and media training.
“I was able to refine my pitch and iron out some of the details about Just Drive that I hadn’t even thought about,” she says.
She also experienced a game-changing transformation.
My mindset shifted from student to entrepreneur,” she says. “Instead of introducing myself as a college student and handing out my résumé, I began handing out my business card.”
In the spring, she focused on moving her concept into development. A mutual friend introduced her to Jayce Miller ’16, ’18, a software engineer at Toyota Connected by day and an app wizard by night. Miller, who earned undergraduate degrees in accounting and math as well as a master’s degree in computer science from SMU, has enjoyed the creative challenge.
“We’ve had to find the right balance between ease of use and control,” he explains. “Some similar apps go to the extreme, making it almost impossible to use your phone at all. Others basically give you points regardless, so that defeats the purpose. Our goal is to make something that people will use again and again, which also encourages the safe driving goal.”
He applauds Husein for laying the groundwork for a strong launch. “It could be the best piece of technology in the world, but it only matters if people know about it, and Neha has done a fine job of getting people interested.”
She credits her Cox affiliation with helping her stand out at networking events. “It’s so easy to connect with someone who has taken the same managerial accounting course, from the same professor, as you,” she says.
Over the summer, she pitched prospective restaurant and retail partners when she wasn’t working as a business systems analyst intern for global marketing giant Epsilon in Irving, Texas.
Her goal is to have a consumer-ready app before the end of the year and expand it beyond the Dallas area.
“After graduation, I hope to create an ambassadorship program at local high schools, colleges and driving schools to emphasize the importance of undistracted driving,” she says. “I also hope to continue to upgrade and promote Just Drive until distracted driving becomes a thing of the past.”

2018 Features News Spring 2018

SMU and LIFT team up to reduce adult illiteracy in Dallas

Game artist Jackie Gan-Glatz ’05 knows how confusing it can be to try to piece together unfamiliar words into an intelligible sentence. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she spoke only her parents’ native language until she started preschool. Although she mastered English quickly, she occasionally experiences linguistic hiccups. “I might use an English word a bit differently or think of a phrase in Chinese before it comes to me in English,” she explains.
She draws on her own language acquisition journey to understand the challenges faced by the adult learners testing Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis. Gan-Glatz and other SMU video game developers and education experts created the puzzle-solving app in collaboration with Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT), a nonprofit service provider for low-literate adults in Dallas.
The engaging game with an educational mission earned the SMU/LIFT team, People ForWords, a place among the eight semifinalists chosen from 109 international teams competing for the $7 million Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

The People ForWords team includes (clockwise, from top left) Simmons Ph.D. candidate Dawn Woods ’09, ’18; Corey Clark, deputy director for research at SMU Guildhall and development lead for the project; Guildhall alumni Brian Rust ’15, Jackie Gan-Glatz ’05 and Victoria Rehfeld Smith ’14. Skyping in on the screen is Lauren Breeding ’18, Guildhall master’s candidate.

The first-of-its-kind global competition aims to transform the lives of adult learners reading English at or below a third-grade level. Adult illiteracy has been described as a “crisis hiding in plain sight.” Low literacy is linked to high rates of poverty, high health care costs and low labor productivity. According to the American Journal of Public Health and the National Council for Adult Learning, low-literacy skills cost the United States an estimated $225 billion in lost productivity and tax revenue each year and add an estimated $230 billion to the country’s annual health care costs.
Near SMU, the number of adults needing intervention is staggering. “There are about 600,000 adults in Dallas County who have less than a third-grade reading level,” says Corey Clark, deputy director for research in the SMU Guildhall game development program and People ForWords development lead. “If we could help 10 percent of those people, that’s 60,000 people who could learn to read proficiently. That makes a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
SMU alumna Lisa Hembry ’75, LIFT president and CEO emerita, brought the idea of joining forces for the XPRIZE competition to SMU. Founded in 1961, LIFT spearheads the effort to mitigate the problem by delivering the educational resources, tools, teaching and support needed by struggling adults learning to read and write.
“Here we are, two years later, with a viable phonics-based app in a gamified solution that helps low-literate people learn to read the English language while having fun,” Hembry says. “In North Texas, where one in five adults cannot read, this is more than a competition,” she adds. “This is a dedicated effort by our team to tackle the growing issue of low literacy and poverty.”
SMU’s strong relationship with Dallas and the surrounding region offers myriad opportunities for students, faculty and alumni to gain meaningful experiences while strengthening the community and making a difference in the lives of others. The city provides a unique launch pad for realizing an ambition, making an impact or developing a revolutionary innovation.
“Working with LIFT and SMU Guildhall in the Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition highlights how communities and academia can collaborate to improve the public sphere,” says Paige Ware, the Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Endowed Professor in the Simmons School.
A national leader in K-12 literacy research, the Simmons School became involved with the initiative to expand its work on literacy issues. Diane Gifford, a clinical assistant professor, and Tony Cuevas, director of Instructional Design and clinical professor, both in the school’s Department of Teaching and Learning, oversee the instructional design and curriculum of the game, ensuring that it improves the literacy levels of users.
“I started my career teaching children to read, but low-literacy adults face different challenges. Just opening the door to walk into an adult literacy class can be challenging for them,” Gifford says. “We have the potential to touch millions of people who never walk through that door.”
Even though national studies show more than 36 million U.S. adults lack basic English literacy skills, “there hasn’t been as much significant research as you might expect, considering the magnitude of the problem, and there is almost no research on the use of video games to teach low-literacy adults,” Cuevas says.

“I started my career teaching children to read, but low-literacy adults face different challenges. Just opening the door to walk into an adult literacy class can be challenging for them. We have the potential to touch millions of people who never walk through that door.”

– Diane Gifford

Teaching and technology weave together throughout Cuevas’ career. He designed SMU Guildhall’s top-rated master of interactive technology degree program and served as the program’s academic director before joining the Simmons faculty. He specializes in integrating emerging technologies into teaching and learning and serves as director of Simmons’ Teacher Development Studio, where simulated pre-K-12 classroom environments and other leading-edge technologies are used to train SMU students to become effective teachers.
For Cuevas, the long-term goals at the heart of the project strike close to home. “I have two sons with special needs who have struggled to learn to read, so I understand how children can fall through the cracks easily into adult illiteracy,” he says. His sons, ages 13 and 18, have used the app and found it engaging and helpful. Both Cuevas and Gifford see future potential in modifying the game for use in a structured K-12 classroom setting.
While struggling children and adults share some learning weaknesses, the approach for ameliorating those deficits is very different, says Gifford, which is why the app development process started with focus group sessions with more than 20 LIFT adult students. “We heard firsthand about what interested, motivated and concerned them about using a mobile app to learn to read,” Cuevas says.
Those conversations and playtesting revealed that maintaining motivation is key, meaning harried adult learners have to feel that playing the game is worth their scant free time. “They need chunks of learning, instead of small pieces, so that they feel a more immediate benefit,” Gifford says.
Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis whisks participants to Egypt, where they play as enterprising archaeologists solving puzzles as they hunt for relics of the once-great civilization of Atlantis. Audible prompts for each letter and sound that appear on the screen teach the look and feel of written English. To minimize frustration, players learn to read very simple sentences from the beginning.
“We want them to have a sense of accomplishment immediately so they keep moving forward,” Gifford explains.
The 24/7 convenience of the app obliterates other obstacles, such as a lack of childcare, transportation and free time during the day. “Users can download it at home and play to their heart’s content when it’s most convenient for them, even if that’s at 3 a.m.,” Gifford explains.
Games also provide safe environments for learning, says the Guildhall’s Clark. “They allow you to fail in ways that aren’t overwhelming. They let you keep trying until you succeed.”
The XPRIZE project serves as one example of how research is incorporated into the curriculum at SMU Guildhall. Students explore a vast range of interests within video game development and its global implications and diverse uses. Both current students and alumni are able to apply their analytical and research skills by participating as funded research assistants on an array of Guildhall’s “games for good” projects.
LIFT adult learners tested the puzzle-solving app and provided feedback that helped the developers improve it. Gamers learn something new with every move they make. Take the app for a test drive:  Download the Codex: The Lost Words Of Atlantis app for Android at Google Play.
“All research is based on the idea that games have more purpose and value to society than just entertainment,” says Clark, whose expertise lies in finding solutions to large-scale problems by combining several areas of study, such as gaming, distributed computing, analytics and artificial intelligence. His recent work in reverse engineering gene regulatory networks and integrating gaming techniques into cancer research led to his appointment as adjunct research associate professor of biological sciences in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.
Out of the gate, the Guildhall team had to grapple with the vexing issues of designing an adventure for gamers who can barely read and write and have likely never touched a computer. “This was the first time some participants had used a desktop computer,” Clark says. “Registering was a challenge for them, clicking and dragging was a challenge. So we had to think about how to make a game that’s fun and interactive, yet simple and intuitive enough to be a first experience with technology.”
He and his colleagues collected and analyzed data on game elements such as the amount of time players stuck with a task, how many times they repeated moves, how quickly they progressed and whether performing the game actions translated into the desired learning outcomes.
“First, games have to be fun,” Clark says. “From story to characters, you want to engage people enough for them to play over and over again. And this is the same process that reinforces learning.” And at its core, every game is about learning. “You learn something new with every move you make,” Clark says.

Out of the gate, the Guildhall team had to grapple with the vexing issues of designing an adventure for gamers who can barely read and write and have likely never touched a computer.
People ForWords takes players from Egypt to Sydney, Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef for its next learn-as-you-go adventure. The Guildhall team includes Gan-Glatz, programmer Brian Rust ’15, artist Victoria Rehfeld Smith ’14 and research assistant Lauren Breeding ’18, a level designer working on her thesis for a Master of Interactive Technology degree from SMU Guildhall. They are joined by Dawn Woods ’09, ’18, a Simmons Ph.D. candidate, for weekly meetings where they dive into the nitty-gritty of development. Nuance matters for beauty, function and efficacy, so the conversation zigzags from topic to topic: Should an orb be recolored to look like an empty crystal? Where should punctuation marks appear? How should the capitalization of words be introduced?
They also discuss supplemental mini games that will synthesize skills and guide players to test themselves in real-life situations, such as reading street signs and a bus route map, within the safe haven of the app.
Meanwhile, Clark, Gifford and Cuevas meet periodically to deliberate progress and strategy. People ForWords has until April 2018 to complete additions and modifications.
Testing of the literacy software created by the semifinalists began in July 2017, with the participation of 12,000 adults who read English at a third-grade level or lower in Dallas, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Postgame evaluation of the literacy gains among test subjects will help determine up to five finalists, to be announced in June 2018. The winner will be named in 2019.
Two years into the project, all involved admit that maintaining momentum over the protracted timeline has been a challenge, but they believe this critical experiment in improving adult literacy will be world-changing.
“I’ve volunteered with nonprofits that help people who have fallen on hard times for a number of reasons. I feel like this project would give some of them a second chance in life,” says Gan-Glatz. “Literacy would open doors of opportunity and allow them to contribute to society in ways they never thought possible.”