While applying for the Gail McKay Student Support Award, Calep Smith did not know the $20,000 scholarship was donated to UT by Trevante Rhodes, Oscar award-winning actor and UT alumnus.
Corporate communications senior Smith found out about the donor during his final interview of the application process. Before Smith was awarded this scholarship, which covers rent and tuition for the 2017-2018 year, he said he struggled to fund his education.
“I was always thinking ‘Well, I got my tuition covered, but what am I going to do about rent?’ or ‘What am I going to do about food?’” Smith said. “So I wasn’t able to actually focus on, ‘I’m here at UT to learn.’ I was kind of out here trying to survive almost, on my own.”
Rhodes said he hopes the scholarship helps students realize their purpose, according to the 2016–2017 Impact Report by the Division of Student Affairs.
“I was told life is about how you make people feel,” Rhodes said in the report. “My time at UT Austin gifted me the opportunity to find purpose. I hope to help others find theirs.”
Smith said now that his basic needs are covered, he can plan for the future.
“I have already put some up in a savings account for when I do graduate and have to start paying off loans,” Smith said. “I have something … I can fall back on, which I didn’t have before the scholarship. It has put me in a very comfortable place as a student.”
Smith found out about the Gail McKay scholarship, named for Rhodes’ grandmother, through Horns Helping Horns, which assists financially independent students.
Shiloh Modisett, New Student Services coordinator, said independent students who don’t always have traditional family structures may struggle to navigate through UT.
“(Independent students) may not know where to start in terms of asking questions,” Modisett said. “A lot of it is overcoming the burden of the cost associated with attending the University, and we try to make that a little less overwhelming.”
Bianca Bellavia, executive director of marketing and communication for the Development Office, said gifts from donors make up a little more than 10 percent of the University budget.
“We are fortunate to have donors who are always interested in supporting scholarships for students,” Bellavia said. “They see it as a great investment in the future of UT and Texas and the greater society as a whole.”