December 2018 News

Marine vet marches toward a costume design career

At the end of her first year in SMU’s M.F.A. program in theatre design, Yvonne Johnston earned a career-influencing costume design internship with the Television Academy in Los Angeles. “It was the most epic experience of my life,” she says.
That’s saying a lot.
A Marine veteran, Johnston was in boot camp when the 9/11 attacks occurred. It wasn’t long before she was an ammunition technician providing supplies to soldiers in Kuwait.
Toward the end of her almost five years of service, she was back in the U.S. giving birth to her first son. Taking stock of her future, she tapped into resources provided by the Veterans Administration Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment to earn her undergraduate degree.
She enrolled in the University of North Texas’ competitive fashion design program in 2006, but had difficulties transitioning out of the military. She not only had to readjust to civilian life, but also to life as a brand-new mother. It took her six years to finish her B.F.A. degree in fashion design, and points to the discipline she gained in the Marines with helping her persevere.
After working in the local fashion industry, where her credits include designing a shirt for Big Tex, the 55-foot animatronic cowboy who greets visitors to the State Fair of Texas, she was accepted into the Meadows School of the Arts’ M.F.A. program.
Johnson has worked as an assistant costume designer on Dallas Theater Center’s production of A Winter’s Tale. Her most recent work was designing costumes for A Lie of the Mind, presented by the Meadows Theatre Division.
“It’s a demanding program,” she says. “Me, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m worn down, but I love it. I’m getting to better myself, I’m getting to do something fun. I’ve been where I’m not doing anything fun – like getting shot at in the desert – so I’m like, this is nothing. I get to meet new people and interact with them, and have these ideas, and I get to be creative!”
Read more at SMU Meadows.

2018 News November 2018

No argument here. SMU Debate ranks No. 1.

After earning first-place rankings in four divisions at the Mendoza Debate Tournament in Houston, SMU Debate elevated its standing in the International Public Debate Association to No. 1 in the nation.
Over the course of more than 70 debate matches, SMU’s wins included first place in the professional, team varsity, junior varsity and novice divisions, and second place team overall in sweepstakes points behind Louisiana State University. SMU defeated opponents from Drury University, University of North Texas, Texas A&M International University, Stephen F. Austin, University of Arkansas, Abilene Christian University, Lee College, East Texas Baptist University and several other regional colleges and universities.
Read more at SMU Meadows.


Jennifer Burr Altabef ’78, ’81: ‘Scholarships changed my life’

By Kevin Richardson
Growing up in Kansas, Jennifer Burr Altabef dreamed of going away to college as her older siblings had. She had met several SMU graduates, and had set her heart on attending the University.

Jennifer Burr Altabef (left) with Meadows Scholar Gabrielle Bear ’17 at a luncheon honoring donors of student scholarships and support as part of SMU's centennial commemoration on November 17.
Jennifer Burr Altabef (left) with Meadows Scholar Gabrielle Bear ’17 at a luncheon on November 17 honoring donors of student scholarships and support as part of SMU’s centennial commemoration.

But when she was 15, Altabef’s father called her into his office to impart some difficult news that might have shattered that dream permanently. He told her he had lost his job and would be unable to pay for her education after she graduated from high school.
Determined to earn enough money to pay for college, Altabef worked minimum-wage jobs throughout most of her high school career. She ultimately applied and earned acceptance to SMU, but with a little more than $3,000 saved, the Hilltop seemed out of reach.
Then, she received a letter from SMU informing her that she would receive scholarship support that would make her education possible.
Altabef was overwhelmed.
“I almost couldn’t believe that people who didn’t even know me had made it possible for me to attend SMU,” she says about the donors who created her scholarships. “It was life-changing. I was determined to do well because I didn’t want to let them down.”
Fascinated by the Watergate scandal and the role played by reporters, Altabef studied journalism and earned her bachelor’s degree from Meadows School of the Arts in 1978. She eventually decided to pursue a legal career and credits her Meadows professors with teaching her to write, a skill she has relied on throughout her professional life.
“The ability to write well is one of the most important and useful skills a person can have,” she says. “I am so lucky for the rigorous training that I received from my journalism professors. It’s helped me in everything I have ever done.”
When Altabef applied to law schools, she badly wanted to stay in Dallas and knew the SMU Dedman School of Law would offer the best path into the Dallas legal community. The University of Kansas offered a full scholarship that might have taken her back to Kansas. But once again, SMU scholarship support — combined with loans — helped her achieve her dream.
After Altabef graduated from Dedman School of Law in 1981, she began what became a distinguished career in labor and employment law and litigation. She never forgot what had helped enable her achieve so much success.


“Every morning that I went to the office, I was aware that someone whom I did not know had made it possible for me to stay in Dallas, made it possible for me to practice law, and made it possible for me to have the life I chose,” Altabef says.
Altabef became involved with SMU as a volunteer after a former dean of the Meadows School asked her to lunch. He told her about the exciting educational experiences students were having at Meadows and throughout SMU. Memories of her own experiences on the Hilltop and what she heard about today’s SMU inspired her to serve her alma mater.
Altabef has served as a member of the SMU Libraries Executive Board and the Meadows School of the Arts Executive Board, on which she is slated to serve as the next chair. “I feel grateful to SMU for essentially giving me my life,” she says. “So I jumped at the opportunity to be involved.”
In her work on behalf of the Meadows School, Altabef has developed a strong connection with the Meadows Scholars Program, which raises annual and endowed resources to bring top-caliber students in the arts and communications to SMU.
“The simple truth is that scholarships change lives,” Altabef says. “I know that because scholarships changed my life. For that reason, it is also true that people who receive scholarships are the people who most want to give them.”