“This Program Hasn’t Just Blessed My Life”: Marisa Swanson Reflects on Her Cohort’s Four Years


Marisa Swanson is a UT senior studying social work and Plan II and the recipient of the Tom and Sally Dunning Forty Acres Scholarship. Swanson was a featured speaker at this year’s Texas Exes Dallas Chapter Scholarship Dinner at the Belo Mansion. The following is a transcript of her remarks.

Good evening. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak here tonight. I was lucky enough to speak at this exact same dinner three years ago, when I was just a freshman. Looking back, it’s crazy to think how much in my life has changed since then! I’ve interned with a nonprofit in Dallas, studied the foundations of social work abroad in London, and made connections with inspiring UT faculty members and alumni. I don’t know many 21-year-olds who can say they’ve shaken hands with Laura Bush, Admiral McRaven, Robert Rodriguez AND Matthew McConaughey, but I’m proud to be one of them – and it is all thanks to the Forty Acres Scholars Program. But this program hasn’t just blessed my life; it has aided my entire cohort in seeing our true potential and achieving our dreams.

My cohort, composed of 14 amazing individuals, is one of the most diverse, hard-working, and talented group of young men and women that you could ever hope to meet. It would be impossible for me to go into enough detail to describe all of the fantastic feats my fellow cohort members have accomplished – but I’m going to try. This cohort takes academics seriously, with an overall average GPA of 3.8. Various members have been involved in research on campus, some working on the same projects for multiple semesters or years. One of our members, Arjun Rawal, will be traveling to Washington D.C. next semester to take part in the Archer Fellows Program, and many of us have studied abroad in countries such as England, Italy, Argentina, Egypt, Australia, and Botswana, proving that our influence expands far beyond the UT campus.

We like extracurriculars. A lot. Seven of our 14 members have either founded or served as the President for one or more organizations on campus. Two students were recently inducted in the prestigious (and highly secretive) Friar Society. We have both one Orange Jacket and one Texas Blazer, and four of our members have been or are currently involved in the student government system. We have members in dance clubs, in environmental groups, in fashion clubs. We have members who have served as mentors at Honors Colloquium and at Camp Texas. We have members like Amy Enrione, who literally changed the criteria of the Freshman Interest Group model (or FIG) so that it now includes a mandatory service component. We have, to put it simply, a group of rockstars.

The most exciting aspect of my cohort is that our adventures and accomplishments will not end next May. Already, we have begun planning our next steps. Some of us will remain at UT a little while longer to finish up degree plans and make one last powerful impact on campus. Some, like myself, will go onto graduate school or medical school (although I suppose I have to get into grad school first). Some will be entering the “real world”, like Cole Paxson, who will be working as a petroleum engineer for Anadarko Petroleum, or Caroline Meyerson, who received a job offer to work in New York in L’Oreal’s Management Development Program. Although we will be going our separate ways, it is safe to say we will remain connected for the rest of our lives thanks to this program, and can forever look to one another for support, inspiration, and friendship.

The Forty Acres Scholars Program is doing exactly what it is meant to be doing – bringing the best and the brightest high school students to UT Austin, and offering them the chance to utilize their minds and skillsets at a premiere university nestled in the heart of Texas. I want to sincerely thank you all for your continued support of myself, my cohort, and this program. We wouldn’t be where we are without you. Thank you, and Hook ‘Em!

 Marisa Swanson at the Texas Exes Dallas Chapter Scholarship Dinner with her parents.

Photo courtesy of Marisa Swanson.

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