2019 Alumni January Main 2019 News

Laura Bush ’68 honored as 2018 Texan of the Year

Former First Lady Laura Bush ’68 was honored as the 2018 Texan of the Year for her “uncommon leadership,” education advocacy and dedication to causes around the globe to improve the lives of women, children and families. The Dallas Morning News editorial board announced the selection on December 30, 2018, in an article detailing her extraordinary accomplishments through the years.
Laura Bush earned a bachelor’s degree in education from SMU and currently serves on the SMU Board of Trustees.

Looking across the Lone Star State and surveying the world at large, there is one person who stands out for her quiet ability to unify people behind a common vision, to focus public attention on what’s critical for our society, and to produce change without concern for who gets credit. In a divided world, her graceful style has helped our country move forward on critical issues and enabled her to leave a lasting mark not only in the past year but over a lifetime of work. …

Laura Bush’s life and career have been about learning, and she has helped ingrain in our culture a deeper understanding of the need for public schooling and preserving our history — the need to both develop within our communities the skills necessary to thrive in life and the tools required to understand and expand free and democratic societies. …

Another important area to highlight in Mrs. Bush’s career is her record of leadership in creating new civil institutions. By our count, over the past two decades, she has founded or co-founded at least a half-dozen nonprofits and other initiatives that continue to improve our world. …

Read more at The Dallas Morning News.

Alumni Fall 2010

Transforming Communities, One Woman At A Time

When Brittany Merrill ’06 joined a mission trip to teach in Africa, she never dreamed a 10-minute meeting would change her life.
While in Uganda the summer after her sophomore year at SMU, Merrill briefly met Sarah Kamara, a poor Ugandan mother caring for 24 orphans in her meager home. She was moved by the woman’s selflessness and strength of faith.

Brittany Merrill ’06 and Ugandan women in the Akola Project make handbags.

As Merrill began her junior year, she couldn’t forget Kamara. With support from her family and friends, she founded the Ugandan American Partnership Organization (UAPO). Over the past five years, she has raised more than $2 million, built two orphanages, drilled more than 20 water wells, helped 160 village women earn a living and placed nearly 1,600 Ugandan children on the path toward better lives with steady nutrition, shelter, education and health care.
The University community has played a key role in UAPO’s success – from faculty in journalism and corporate communications and public affairs, who have provided their expertise, to her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, which sponsors a biannual golf tournament and jewelry trunk shows to benefit the charity, Merrill says.
“As a student you don’t think about what being an alumna will be like, but I can’t imagine another school being as encouraging and helpful as SMU has been.”
Since graduating Merrill has lived on two continents, dividing her time between UAPO’s offices in Jinja, Uganda, and her home base in Atlanta. She says her work has challenged her in ways she never imagined possible and has shaped the way she sees the world.
“Human barriers that we put up can be overcome,” she says. “That’s a lesson I can apply to all of life’s circumstances.”
In 2007 UAPO started the Akola Project for widows in rural villages. To date, 160 women in eastern and northern Uganda have learned to make and sell beaded necklaces. The project has generated more than $200,000 in revenue for the craftswomen.
In January Merrill stepped down as executive director and is now pursuing graduate studies at Fuller Theological School in Pasadena, California. She still serves on the UAPO board of directors as founder and president and continues her development role on a part-time basis.
– Cherri Gann