The Sid W. Richardson Foundation awarded a $265,000 grant to the University Leadership Network last week in accordance with the late Richardson’s mission to serve the people of Texas.
ULN is an incentive-based scholarship program with a focus on leadership and professional development, which serves students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. ULN Director Jennifer Smith said the program began in the fall of 2013 as an initiative to improve the University’s four-year graduation rates.
“It’s a huge goal for [UT] as an institution, and ULN is one mechanism to help get the University closer to that goal,” Smith said. “Our secondary purpose is that [students] are going to graduate as prepared leaders and young professionals who have a wealth of experiential learning opportunities that have prepared them for the next steps after they leave UT Austin.”
Each year, 500 students are selected from the incoming freshman class to join the program, so currently about 2,000 UT students benefit from ULN’s services.
Biochemistry senior Juan Simon Michel said he has learned valuable skills and gained experiences such as an internship and the opportunity to study abroad through ULN.
“I’ve been able to learn a lot through those experiential learning tracks that ULN offers,” Michel said. “It’s the biggest support system that has been offered to me at UT … it’s the reason why I’m here.”
In addition to up to $20,000 in scholarships, ULN students receive access to resources that promote professional and leadership development throughout their four years at the University. These skills are developed through opportunities such as weekly speaker events, internship opportunities, study abroad programs and research.
Pete Geren, Sid W. Richardson Foundation president and CEO, said the low numbers of Texas youth who pursue post-secondary education are troubling.
“The ULN initiative is one of the most promising initiatives underway to try to reverse that trend,” Geren said. “ULN goes right at the heart of one of the biggest challenges we face as a state, and that’s to ensure that our young people are able to have life-supporting and sustaining jobs when they move into their adult years.”
About 80 percent of the first ULN cohort are enrolled this fall in their senior year at the University. Considering that only 33 percent of these students were predicted to graduate in four years, Geren said the increase is a success.