Senior wins award for providing passports to 100 children

Sara Johnson

Community engagement has changed the way Valorie Marks, biology and prepharmacy senior, looks at the world around her. Last week, Marks received the College of Natural Sciences’ Community Engagement Award for her work on several community service initiatives. 

One of the projects Marks is involved with is the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement’s Passport to Success program. 

The Passport to Success program seeks to provide 100 underrepresented middle school students in Austin with free passports with the goal of sending the students to study abroad in Beijing, China. It is headed by Devin Walker, the division’s director of global leadership and social impact.

“Val is one of the most dynamic student leaders I have ever worked with,” Walker said. “She assessed the situation, took initiative and made decisions instead of continuously coming to me with questions.”

Marks’ role in the program is to teach students about Beijing as well as help procure the actual passports. She said her decision to join the program came from her personal experience studying abroad in Beijing in 2017.

“We were able to volunteer at a middle school once a week and teach them English,” Marks said. “These kids were amazing. They were really motivated to learn. It was very humbling.”


Marks was nominated by her peers for the award and was selected by alumni during the final decision process, said Marsha Reardon, CNS assistant director of alumni programs and annual giving.

“Our alumni make their selections based on the caliber of the student’s service and leadership involvement at UT-Austin and in the greater community,” Reardon said. “Each year, the award is given at the college’s Pass the Baton event.”

After graduation, Marks will be taking a gap year but said she wants to continue giving back.

“Seeing the world and different facets, I realized pharmacy work was more clinical,” Marks said. “I realized I wanted more of an upstream change.”

Marks is planning on attending law school in the fall of 2020, with the goal of working in health care or international law. The service projects, Marks said, made her more passionate about bringing opportunities such as the Passport to Success program to underserved communities.  

“Being able to have a small impact on a few people makes me feel like I’m actually doing something,” Marks said. “It makes me feel like I have a little bit of power where society has told me I don’t.”