Meet the Forty Acres Scholars Program Class of 2021

The Texas Exes is pleased to announce the Forty Acres Scholars Program Class of 2021. More than 4,998 students applied for The University of Texas at Austin’s premier full-ride, merit-based scholarship, and 14 exceptional scholars were selected from a group of 45 finalists.

These impressive scholars range from writers to musicians, athletes to philanthropists. Among the incoming class is a playwright, an award-winning violinist, and a Presidential Gold Service Award recipient. Many more are student government leaders, AP Scholars, and newspaper editors.

Administered by the Texas Exes, the Forty Acres Scholars Program offers a rich college experience that provides academic, leadership, and cultural opportunities within a close-knit cohort of fellow scholars. Funding provides for tuition, a living stipend, a book stipend, and an enrichment stipend for approved academic, leadership, professional and service activities. Throughout the four years, scholars benefit from a variety of programming opportunities and alumni connections.

Meet the Class of 2021:

Sabrina Benitez from McAllen, Texas is the recipient of the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Forty Acres Scholarship. While attending the Lamar Academy International Baccalaureate Program through McAllen Memorial High School, Benitez was an advisor for the school district’s superintendent, co-founded an organization dedicated to raising self-esteem in young adults, ran a school-wide campaign raising awareness for childhood cancer, and served as editor of the Indelible Ink literary magazine. She was also a National Hispanic Scholar, an AP Scholar with Honors, and a Student SpaceFlight Experiment Program researcher selected to conduct an experiment on the International Space Station. She aspires to become a medical doctor and plans to major in biochemistry as a Health Science Scholar. She is the daughter of Norma Arreola and Juan Benitez.

Mary Margaret Burniston from Kerrville, Texas is the recipient of the Hobby/Beckworth Forty Acres Scholarship. While attending Tivy High School, she co-founded local nonprofit Bark in the Park KTX, working closely with local animal shelters to increase adoptions and decrease euthanasia rates, was president of the mentoring program Peer Assistance and Leadership and president of the community service driven Interact Club, and served as editor-in-chief of the school yearbook. She was also vice president of the National Honors Society, vice chair of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory, and served on the National Remind Student Board. She is the recipient of the Scholastic Arts & Awards’ National Gold Medal for Short Story and National Silver Medal with Distinction for Writing Portfolio. She plans to pursue degrees in radio-television-film and English through the Liberal Arts Honors program. She is daughter to Kathryn and Michael Burniston.

Olivia Cardenas from Houston, Texas is the recipient of the Stamps Forty Acres Scholarship, supported by Jeanne L. and Michael L. Klein. At The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Cardenas served as editor-in-chief of the newspaper and vice president for student council; was a youth playwright at The Alley Theater; founded and acted as president of the HSPVA Library Desk Concert, modeled after NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts series; and coached a middle school debate team. She has written more than a dozen original plays, won the Houston Playwright 360 competition, is a National Hispanic Recognition Program Scholar, winner of the Hispanic Bar Association Scholarship for Excellence, a College Board recognized AP scholar, and is graduating with Highest Art Area Honors. She plans to major in Plan II honors and government. She is the daughter of Lynley and Victor Cardenas.

Ricky Cooks from Texarkana, Texas is the recipient of the Stamps Forty Acres Scholarship, supported by Beverly and Will O’Hara, and the Chevron Enrichment Award. At Texas High School, he served as student body president and as vice president of the Texas Association of Student Councils, was editor of the school newspaper, and was a delegate at the United States Senate Youth Program. He was also an AP Scholar with Distinction and received the Rotary Youth Leadership Award. A true Longhorn at heart, Cooks learned “Texas Fight” and “The Eyes of Texas” at age 15 after touring UT for the first time. He plans to pursue a degree in business honors, with either accounting or Spanish as an additional major. He is the son of Sharon and Ricky Cooks Sr.

Carlyn Crow from Austin, Texas is the recipient of the Charline and Red McCombs Family Forty Acres Scholarship and the Marilyn Marshall White Enrichment Award. At James Bowie High School, Crow served as class president, editor-in-chief of the yearbook, Key Club treasurer, and was a part of PALS (Peer Assistance, Leadership, and Service), Oak Hill United Methodist Church Student Leadership Team, Girl Scouts, the National Honor Society, French Honor Society, and theatre. Crow opened the Austin branch of Top Tier Learning, a start-up peer-to-peer tutoring company, and now serves as the Austin Branch Manager. She was also a National Merit Commended Scholar and an AP Scholar with Honor. Crow is a pun-loving fourth generation Longhorn who plans to major in business honors and Plan II honors. She is the daughter of Jeanna and Brian Crow.

Josh De Anda from El Paso, Texas is the recipient of the Stamps Forty Acres Scholarship, supported by John B. Connally IV. While attending El Paso High School, De Anda served as editor-in-chief of the school literary magazine, concertmaster of the school orchestra, and captain and attorney of the mock trial team. He founded the Bach in the Barrio initiative to bring classical music to underserved El Paso elementary schools, started the COMER! El Paso initiative aimed at researching and promoting healthier eating in El Paso, and was a student in the Mundos Unidos Dual-Language magnet program. He is a National Hispanic Recognition Scholar, an AP Scholar, and a University of Texas at El Paso Honors Convocation Honoree. De Anda is proud to be the second Forty Acres Scholar from El Paso and plans to pursue a career in foreign policy, majoring in business honors and Plan II honors. He is the son of Maria D. De Anda.

Ashley Deutser from Houston, Texas is the recipient of the John and Cynthia Adkins/Texas Exes Houston Chapter Forty Acres Scholarship. Deutser led numerous change initiatives while attending The Kinkaid School, including a Special Headmaster Leadership Project and serving as a chair of the Stress and Wellness Committee. She is deeply involved in philanthropy at a local and national level—including her work as a youth advisor for the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and board member for Youth Philanthropy Connect. An editorial she wrote, “Mantle of Civic Duty Falls to Houston Youth,” was published in the Houston Chronicle. At UT, Deutser plans to major in business honors. She is the daughter of Jill and Bradley Deutser.

Min Jun Kim from Austin, Texas is the recipient of the Stamps Forty Acres Scholarship, supported by S. Todd and Diana Maclin. At Westwood High School, where Kim was the class of 2017’s Salutatorian, he served as co-concertmaster and president of Westwood’s symphony orchestra and captain of the school’s Science Olympiad team. Kim also ran on the varsity cross country team, was president of the National French Honor Society, a U.S. Presidential Scholar Nominee and a three-year Texas Music Scholar. He is a violinist for Austin Korean Presbyterian Church and a three-year all-state violinist. Further, Kim has been named a National Merit Finalist and a National AP Scholar. At UT, Kim plans to major in biochemistry as a Dean’s Scholar. He is the son of Han Won Bae and Woo Jin Kim.

Joe Levin from Pacific Palisades, California is the recipient of the Eugene McDermott Forty Acres Scholarship. While attending Harvard-Westlake High School, Levin founded his own sports blog, therallycaps.com, interned with Texas Monthly magazine, and was the editor-in-chief of the high school’s sports magazine, Big Red. Joe was an intern for the Religion of Sports TV series, which debuted on DirecTV’s Audience Network last fall. When he was a sophomore, Joe travelled to Cuba and helped produce a documentary on Cuban baseball that was selected for multiple film festivals. At UT, Levin plants to major in journalism and Plan II honors. He is the son of Helen and Jordan Levin.

John McDonald from Spring, Texas is the recipient of the Sylvie and Gary Crum Forty Acres Scholarship. At Klein High School, McDonald served as president for both the National Honor Society and Latin Club. He was a four-year member and social officer for the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) and a four-time HOSA International Qualifier. He is a National Hispanic Scholar and received the Presidential Gold Service Award. McDonald plans to major in business honors at UT. He is the son of Nanette McDonald.

Ronen Melloul from Houston, Texas is the recipient of the AIM Foundation Forty Acres Scholarship. While attending Carnegie Vangaurd High School, Ronen served as soccer captain, the Jewish Student Union president, and the Model United Nations treasurer, and served on the Houston Area Youth Council on Service Leadership Committee. He is a National Hispanic Scholar and AP Scholar with Distinction, and was awarded the Beth Israel Brotherhood Award. At UT, he plans to major in business honors. He is the son of Yudith and Rod Melloul.

Yessmeen Moharram from Plano, Texas is the recipient of the Stamps Forty Acres Scholarship, supported by the College of Fine Arts. At Plano Senior High School, Moharram was president of the International Thespian Society Troupe and a member of student congress. She was also a theater technician for various shows at the high school, working as a lighting technician, costumer, stage manager, and more, and won the All Star Tech Crew award at the University Interscholastic League One Act Play Competition two years in a row. Moharram plans to major in theatre design and technology at UT. She is the daughter of Abdellatif and Nagia Moharram.

 

Hannah Penley from Houston, Texas is the recipient of the Mary John and Ralph Spence Forty Acres Scholarship. While at Clear Lake High School, Penley served as the varsity cross country captain, the varsity soccer captain, and the president of the Best Buddies Club, an organization that pairs special education students with their general education peers. She was a four-year Superintendent’s Scholar Award recipient, and works as a volunteer soccer coach for a variety of organizations. At UT, Penley plans to major in special education. She is the daughter of Kaija and Ned Penley.

 

Shilpa Rajagopal from Irvine, California is the recipient of the Erin and Thomas A. Bunkley Forty Acres Scholarship. At Northwood High School, Rajagopal served as editor-in-chief of the school yearbook, president of the Prom Project/Working Wardrobes club that works to raise funds for low-income girls, and Link Crew leader to help mentor incoming freshmen. She was also a National Merit Scholar, four-time Regional/State Finalist for the National History Day competition, and a recipient of the Comcast Leaders and Achievers 2017 Scholarship Award. Outside of school, as a member of the Arpana Dance Company, she performed for various non-profit organizations in Southern California. At UT, Rajagopal plans to pursue a double major in economics and biology as a Health Science Scholar. She is the daughter of Shyamala and Rajagopal Sethuraman.

2 Comments

  1. Yolanda Arreola says:

    To say that I am proud of my niece Sabrina Benitez, is an understatement! It seems like just yesterday when we sat on the floor of the family room and we read many of the Cat in the Hat books. She could barely talk and she was already ahead of children her age. She inspired me as I am sure she will inspire others in her journey. I am very happy she got this great opportunity, I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving. To all the other students, congratulations on this great achievement! Go out there and conquer the world!

  2. There’s little better than a well authored post! Thank you so much
    for this breath of fresh air, I enjoyed every second of the read.
    Will be eagerly awaiting your next post 🙂

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